Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2014

228 Steps – A Fascination Fulfilled

By Shalana M. Millard

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The author’s view of Absecon Lighthouse at night.
Photo by: Shalana Millard

Lighthouses have long been a fascination of mine. I’m often asked when I first became interested in these aids to navigation. The truth is, I don’t recall when I first became fascinated with the world of lighthouses. Perhaps it was a picture I saw, or maybe it was a story I read of a lighthouse family living in isolation.

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Shalana is excited to have made it to Absecon ...

However, one thing is for certain; from the moment I became interested in lighthouses, I longed to visit one and climb its spiral staircase. Finally, I did just that in September, 2013 while visiting Atlantic City, New Jersey for my birthday. In fact, the visit to Absecon Lighthouse was the primary reason for my trip to Atlantic City.

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“I Saw The Light” card given to Shalana after she ...

Atlantic City is known for its beautiful boardwalk, towers and casinos, and so much more. But for me, its main attraction is the Absecon Lighthouse: the tallest lighthouse in the Garden State, and third tallest in the United States.

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Absecon Lighthouse volunteer keeper Buddy Grover.

I arrived in Atlantic City the day before my birthday. Upon settling into the hotel room, I was excited to discover that we had a view of the top of Absecon Lighthouse right from our room, although a great portion of the lighthouse was obscured due to the many tall buildings that have gone up around Atlantic City. During our stay in Atlantic City, if we happened to be in our hotel room after 7 PM, I would watch as the light at Absecon came on.

On my first evening there, we walked down to the lighthouse for an up-close view. Absecon (or “Abby” as she is affectionately called) shone brightly. I noticed a young man riding his bike past the lighthouse. As we stared at Abby in all of her beauty, I couldn’t help but wonder how the residents of Atlantic City feel while passing this amazing structure every day. For tourists like me, the lighthouse captures the imagination. But I wondered: Do any of the residents of Atlantic City stop to appreciate the lighthouse as well, as they go about their daily tasks (work, school, etc)? Or is it just another part of Atlantic City’s landscape for them?

On our second day, we ventured out for breakfast at Constantino’s, a small establishment with a home-like feel with the aromas of bacon, eggs, French toast, home fried potatoes, and other tasty breakfast delights filling the air, teasing your palate as you await your very own order. After consuming a hearty meal at Constantino’s, you may need to take a long walk on the Boardwalk to burn off some of the calories that you have just taken in. This restaurant reminds me of the kind you might find Guy Fieri enjoying as he showcases some of the finest establishments in various cities on his hit Food Network TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

After fortifying ourselves with food, we walked to Absecon Lighthouse. My excitement was growing and we were there within minutes. Before going into the lighthouse, we stopped to take pictures. Upon entering the lighthouse, we were greeted by a friendly staff member who asked if we were interested in climbing the lighthouse. When we responded that indeed we didn’t just want to take a “look see” from the ground floor, but certainly wanted to experience the climb. One of the staff members immediately put us at ease about the climb up, and advised that there were landings where we could take a break as we ventured up Abby’s 228 stairs.

We began ascending the stairs. And indeed, we did take a break at each landing, where there were pictures and more information about the lighthouse that you can read while you catch your breath before continuing the climb. At each landing, you can step to the side and look out the window at the view, as well as soak in the images and information on the wall. As we climbed to the top, we chatted briefly with others who were ascending the lighthouse, which made the climb easier with each step. We were encouraged by those coming back down the lighthouse after their journey to the top. I recall how one visitor very enthusiastically remarked to us that the view made the climb well worth it!

As we continued climbing the spiral staircase, I kept thinking about one item in particular, showcased on the main level of the lighthouse: an oil canister of the type that lighthouse keepers used to have to physically carry up the 228 stairs to maintain the light. And I wondered: how did they do it? It was enough for me to simply try to maintain appropriate breathing as I climbed the stairs. I could not fathom myself having to do that and carry an oil canister. This only served to increase my respect for lighthouse keepers and the physically demanding roles they once had to undertake.

As we stopped at each landing, I noticed that there was a different view from each window. On some of the landings, you see the ocean. On other landings, you see a lot of buildings and the construction and revitalization that is taking place near the lighthouse.

Upon reaching the top of the lighthouse, we were warmly greeted by a vibrant, friendly, and vivacious man named Buddy Grover. In his 80s, Buddy is a volunteer lighthouse keeper at Absecon. He is engaging, and so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the lighthouse.

It was a delight to hear Buddy talk about the lighthouse (even mentioning the minimal impact they received from Hurricane Sandy). We continued to listen as Buddy provided a talk on Absecon Lighthouse. And then a moment happened that still takes my breath away when I remember it: Buddy smiled and told us “Now look up.” We did as told and there was the Fresnel lens.

After Buddy pointed out the Fresnel lens, I asked him what order the Fresnel lens was, “A first order Fresnel lens,” he replied. I smiled appreciatively as Buddy expressed that I was one of the few people he had heard pronounce “Fresnel” properly as “fray-nell.”

We stepped out on the lantern room’s outer walkway and looked at the landscape of Atlantic City. There was the ocean, and of course the casinos and hotels (including the one my family and I were staying at), and again I was awe-struck by all of the construction and building that has taken place in Atlantic City.

After snapping a few more pictures and again thanking Buddy for his hospitality and wealth of knowledge, we began our journey back to the main floor of the lighthouse. Along life’s way, we are blessed when we meet people who inspire us, especially those whom we know who we will never forget. With his enthusiasm, friendly demeanor, and passion for the lighthouse, Buddy is one of those people I will never forget.

However, before saying goodbye to Buddy and making our way back to the main level of the lighthouse, Buddy presented us with a card containing the day’s date, and a congratulatory note on successfully climbing Abby. It was a special moment for me to get this card. It will forever be a reminder to me that on my 41st birthday, I climbed my first lighthouse!

I can now cross off “visiting a lighthouse” from my mental bucket list. Absecon Lighthouse may have been my first lighthouse visit, and I’m pretty sure it took my interest in lighthouses to another level. I anticipate that this won’t be my only visit to a lighthouse. This spring, I plan to visit more lighthouses!

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2014 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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