My files are rife with slips of paper on which little bits of lighthouse lore and facts are handwritten. I have a couple of drawers full of notebooks with similar grist. (Someday I must cut up the notebooks and file the info where it belongs.)
So, I've decided to drop some notes into a blog. I hope you enjoy the trivia. At the next party you attend, break the ice with one of these!
· In 1925 a typhoon hit China. The lighthouse family near the town of Reiyushan took refuge in their lighthouse. The roof of the fog signal building was torn off and all outside equipment was washed away. A sampan was lifted up by the storm surge and deposited on the 120-foot-high lighthouse. It balanced perfectly for some time, then was taken away by the wind.
· The lens in place at Point Vicente Lighthouse served at a lighthouse in Sitka, Alaska for forty years before being sent to Palos Verdes for use in Point Vicente Lighthouse.
|Keeper and the lens courtesy of the Nautical Research Center.|
· Augustin Fresnel, inventor of the Fresnel lens, opposed Napoleon and was banished from his Royal State position as a builder of bridges and roads. He used this period of banishment to experiment with optics. In 1815, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Fresnel was reinstated, this time by the French Bureau of Lighthouses. In 1823 he exhibited the first Fresnel lens.
· At Flat Island Lighthouse on the island of Mauritius, wild donkeys roamed. Bill Scott, an engineer for Chance Brothers of England, was sent to the island to build the lighthouse in the 1920s. His crew had made a makeshift latrine—a hole over which was placed a bench and the entire thing enclosed in a canvas hut with a flap for a door. A workmen went to the latrine one night and was quietly attending to his business when one of the wild donkeys stuck its head through the flap and heehawed loudly. The workman was so surprised he fell off the bench down into the hole. He could not get out and had to wait until morning for help to come. The rest of the workmen were so amused by the event, they could not work. Bill Scott, himself wracked with laughter, gave everyone the day off.
|Courtesy of Mauritius Attractions|
· In the late 1960s, Jack Roche was keeper at Kish Lighthouse in Ireland, marking the entrance to Dublin Harbor. Bird migrations were always amazing at this lighthouse. Roche wrote of one night when the birds came: “It was a kind of soft, slightly misty night, and I came on watch at 12:00 a.m. When I went out on the balcony, I just couldn’t get over it. In the rays of the light, the birds must have been in countless thousands. I went up onto the helicopter platform, and there wasn’t a vacant space on that. All the little balcony rails were lined with birds, shoulder to shoulder, everywhere.”
|Kish Lighthouse photographed by Paul O'Donnell for Wikimedia Commons.|
· In 1612, two years after it was completed, lightning hit the Corduoan Lighthouse off the coast of France. The top portion was knocked off and fell into the sea. It was hastily rebuilt, as this was the King’s lighthouse, with an apartment for him, should he wish to stay in the lighthouse, and even a chapel should he be there on a Sunday.
|The original Cordouan Lighthouse from Wikimedia Commons.|
· In July 1894, keeper Conrad Hansen and his wife left their children alone at Robben Island Lighthouse, Table Bay, South Africa, while they went ashore to a funeral. The kids decided to make coffee so they could act like adults. They added a number of ingredients to it, thinking to make it taste good. But when it was ready, it tasted very bitter. So the older kids threw it out. Little William, aged 4, got a cup of it though and drank several swallows. By the time Hansen and his wife returned, the kids were frantic. William was convulsing and crying in pain. The little boy later died. An investigation determined the child had consumed strychnine poison. A few of the other kids fell slightly ill, but did not die. Mrs. Hansen was so traumatized by the event, she committed suicide.
|Robben Island Lighthouse by Manfred Leiter.|
· Augustin Fresnel was the first to suggest revolving his lenses in mercury, a high-density but frictionless element that could support a heavy object but allow it to move effortlessly. The French did not act upon the suggestion until Monsieur Leon Bourdelles built and experimented with a mercury float in 1890 at La Teignouse Lighthouse. The first lighthouse to officially use a mercury float was Cape Le Heve Lighthouse in 1893. Scotland adopted the mercury float technology in 1898. Dr. John Hopkinson and Sir James Timmins Chance of England together worked on improving the mercury float idea. Many mercury floats have been removed from lighthouses, due to the dangers inherent in mercury. A few lighthouses worldwide still use them.
· A Finnish lighthouse first lit in 1753 on the Island of Utö used candles in its lantern. During its first year of service, it consumed 936 pounds of candles.
|Utö Lighthouse today.|
· In the late 1880s, Jones Point Lighthouse at Alexandria, Virginia was the site of experiments with natural gas lighting. Pipes were laid out to the lighthouse from the city, but problems ensued. The pipes often broke and allowed water to intrude, fouling the gas. There also were dangerous gas leaks. In 1900 the experiment ended and the Jones Point Lighthouse was given an Incandescent Oil Vapor lamp fueled by kerosene.
|Me...at Jones Point Lighthouse in 1999. The lighthouse must have liked the tilt of my head; it followed suit! Photo by Jonathan DeWire.|
· In 1912 there were 351 portable oak-case libraries circulating to remote lighthouses in the United States. These were exchanged every quarter and provided much-desired reading materials for lightkeepers and their families.
|The reproduction traveling library on display at Admiralty Head Lighthouse.|
· Famous writer Ernest Hemingway visited Key West Lighthouse early in his career. He loved the sentinel so much he later returned to Key West and bought the house across the street from the lighthouse. He said he wanted the beacon to shine in his window.
|Ernest Hemingway loved lighthouses and cats. My kind of guy! Wikimedia Commons photo.|
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had a guiding light shining in our window!