Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2015

Lighthouses - Return Visit and New Experiences

By Shalana Millard

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Looking inside the Fresnel lens at Drum Point ...
Photo by: Shalana Mallard

I first visited Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City, New Jersey in September 2013 (I chronicled that journey in the March/April 2014 issue of Lighthouse Digest magazine).

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Drum Point Lighthouse at the Calvert Marine ...
Photo by: Donald Gipe

I feel a special affinity for Absecon Lighthouse, partly because I view it as such a beautiful and magical place, and also because it is the first lighthouse I ever visited and climbed. After visiting “Abby” (as she is affectionately called) in 2013, I knew immediately that I would be back.

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Absecon Lighthouse, Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Photo by: Karen Carlomano

Sure enough, I found myself back at New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse exactly one year later. On September 20, 2014, I sensed the beginning of a tradition as I spent my second birthday in a row at Absecon Lighthouse. Upon arriving in Atlantic City on my birthday, I made sure Absecon Lighthouse was the very first stop on the trip.

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Plaque at Drum Point Lighthouse honoring Anna ...
Photo by: Shalana Mallard

I spent a few moments outside on what was a beautiful late summer day, basking in the sunshine and comfortable temperature. I meditated on the wonderment and beauty around me, and how fortunate I was to be spending yet another birthday at the place I wanted to be most: Atlantic City, New Jersey, where I could again indulge my fascination for lighthouses. Soon, I went inside Absecon Lighthouse and began the now familiar climb up its 228 steps. As the wonderful staff at Absecon are fond of saying: “228 steps - one amazing journey!”

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The author, Shalana Mallard at the interior base ...
Photo by: Shalana Mallard

After stopping on each of the six landings to catch my breath, I finally arrived at the top and was greeted by Bayard, the lightkeeper on duty that day. As I anticipated, Bayard presented me with an “I Saw The Light” card acknowledging my successfully reaching the top of Absecon Lighthouse. I listened to him speak, engaged in conversation with him, and took some new pictures of Absecon’s first order Fresnel lens to add to my collection. I then stepped out onto the lantern room’s outer walkway and soaked in my view of Atlantic City. Immediately upon stepping out onto the walkway, I felt the wind brush against my face in a way I had not experienced the previous year. Once again, I was impressed with just how physically demanding the job of a lighthouse keeper once was. How did the lighthouse keepers of years past manage to climb Abby’s 228 steps, no doubt sometimes subjecting themselves to strong wind gusts if they stepped outside the lantern room to stand watch? But the incredible wind gusts that day, and the tasks of lighthouse keepers, was not the only thing on my mind. As I stood outside the lantern room, I knew that I was looking at a swiftly changing Atlantic City, one very different from my visit the previous year. Within my view were two hotels which had closed just weeks before my visit, one of which I had stayed at in 2013. What a difference a year makes. After coming back inside the lantern room and saying goodbye to Bayard, I began making my way back down to the main level of the lighthouse. In spite of having just climbed up and down 228 stairs, I found the energy I needed, walked to Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk, and got an up-close view of the “closed” sign affixed to the doors of the hotel I had stayed at the previous year. Atlantic City is in the midst of change. And it is my hope that both residents and tourists alike will support Absecon Lighthouse and Atlantic City as a whole. I had made a promise to myself that, in addition to returning to Absecon, I would have at least one new lighthouse experience in 2014. I accomplished that on September 22, when I visited the Drum Point lighthouse in Solomons, Maryland. This light-house was originally built on Drum Point, off the mouth of the Patuxtent River. It was eventually moved and is now located on the grounds of the Calvert Marine Museum.

Upon arriving at the museum, I learned that tours of the lighthouse are conducted about every hour. So my first order of business was to take some time to tour the exhibits inside the Calvert Marine Museum. The museum has exhibits on marine life, maritime history, boats, etc. It is an enlightening and educational experience for the young and the young at heart!

After exploring the museum, it was time to step back outside for the tour of Drum Point lighthouse. We were greeted by a very knowledgeable guide, and I was fascinated as he explained that Drum Point was one of the few remaining screwpile, cottage style lighthouses in Maryland. After a few more minutes outside, he led us into the lighthouse. I was enthralled by what I saw. Inside the lighthouse are replicas of living quarters, including a kitchen, dining area, and adult and children’s bedrooms. I noticed a photo tribute on one wall to a former lighthouse resident, Anna Weems Ewalt, who was born in the Drum Point lighthouse on July 13, 1906. As a final stop on the tour, our guide led us to the tower room, where Drum Point’s fourth order Fresnel lens is located.

Each lighthouse experience is different. During my visit to Drum Point, what I most enjoyed was the sense I got of how a lighthouse family actually resided there. I could only imagine the daily grind of living full time in a lighthouse and all the responsibilities that would come with that - not only raising a family and maintaining a home, but maintaining the actual light apparatus that guided mariners safely to shore. It’s worth noting, also, that the salary lighthouse keepers received was traditionally a meager one.

If, like me, you have a fascination with maritime history, marine life, and lighthouses, and one day find yourself in or near Solomons, Maryland, a stop at the Calvert Marine Museum and the Drum Point lighthouse is a must! I guarantee that you will enjoy it!

Most importantly, when you support lighthouses, you are helping to maintain a vital piece of our country’s history. It would be a disservice to the memory of lighthouse keepers (some who lost their lives in the line of duty), and to the people who they helped guide to safety, if the history of U.S. lighthouses were to be lost forever. May we never allow that to happen.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2015 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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