Monday, May 21, 2018

Waddah Island Light

Most people have never heard of Waddah Island, but if you journey to Neah Bay at the very northwest point of Washington, you'll see the island offshore. It encompasses 33 acres and sits a third of a mile off Baada Point. The Makah tribe, who still live at Neah Bay and nearby Ozette, once used the island for fishing camps and gardening. They grew mainly potatoes on Waddah Island.

The tiny Waddah Island Lighthouse stands on a cleared spot 63 feet above water on the west end of the island. Photo taken in 2002 by www.seaotter.com

My interest in the island concerns the little lighthouse that sits on the northwestern end. It had a fog signal years ago, but I believe that's gone now. When I lived in Washington, I made the long drive to Neah Bay several times and attempted to get across the breakwater from Baada Point to Waddah Island, without success. The weather usually foiled my attempts (or a sensible husband who knows how clumsy I am). So I was never able to visit the light up close. Every summer, the Coast Guard families at Neah Bay have a picnic on Waddah Island. I was invited to join them one summer, but as luck would have it, a heavy summer fog rolled in dense as pea soup, and the picnic was held ashore.

Here are some maps to help you orient the location of the island and lighthouse.





The lighthouse was established in 1877 as a post beacon, a very common navigational aid at this time in the Northwest. An eight day lens-lantern light hung from the post. It's likely the lifesavers stationed on the island tended the beacon. 

In 1888, because of the many perils around the island, buoys were anchored. Here's a report from the U.S. Lighthouse Board. It includes other locations in Washington.



The lifesaving service set up a manned station on Waddah Island in 1877 after the U.S. Government had purchased the island (1860). So many wrecks occurred inside the entrance to the strait, lifesaving services were needed. The lighthouse at Cape Flattery helped ships find the entrance to the strait, but once inside, they were on their own until they sighted Slip Point Lighthouse at Clallam Bay. If there was fog, or a storm raging, it was easy to go aground on the many rocks inside the entrance to the strait.

Slip Point Lighthouse was some 30 miles east of Waddah Island. It's lighthouse was in service from the early years of 1900 until about 1940 when a landslide pushed it into the strait. Note the foghorn--a necessity on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Photo from the Coast Guard Historian.) Today, the light is on a steel tower.


An old postcard shows the lifesaving station after it was moved to Baada Point.

Among the rocks mariners had to avoid were the fingers of Waddah Island, extending northwest off the island. They were not only a danger if passing vessels ran off course, they also endangered ships headed into the small harbor at Neah Bay. For a look at the Waddah Island Fingers, click here. You'll also see the breakwater and Waddah Point, where the lighthouse sits.


Here's a picture of a ship wrecked on the "fingers" in 1910 at Waddah Island. Photo courtesy of the Nautical Research Center.--


At various times over the years, people have resided on Waddah Island. The Makah gardeners and fishermen were there, of course. Then the lifesavers came in 1877. They left in 1910 when their station was moved to Baada Point.

A few residents remained, but by World War II everyone was gone. The Coast Guard continued to maintain the tiny lighthouse, but keeping the pathway clear up to the lighthouse was a challenge. The solution was to station a few goats on the island. The photo below, given to me by the Coast Guard Museum Northwest, shows those rowdy goats, with their big appetites for salal, blackberry bramble, and other invasive plants. A Coastie holds them by their horns. Otherwise, they'd be pummeling and butting him.

The goats must have reproduced because even in recent years they've been reported on the island. They greet visitors and mooch food. Be careful if you meet them. They can be overwhelming!

In 1944, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the breakwater between Waddah Island and Neah Bay. It made the tiny harbor much calmer. It also gave interested hikers a way to reach the island...that is if the weather is cooperative. It's a very slippery hike, so if you go, be careful. And don't tell any wardens I sent you!

While you're in Neah Bay, visit the Makah Cultural Center. It has a fascinating history of the tribe and archaeological artifacts from an old village exhumed at Ozette. Nearby is the town store where you can get lots of goodies, including ice cream.

Then drive to the parking area at the trailhead for Cape Flattery Lighthouse and park. (I think there's a fee. Ask anyone in town for directions if you don't see the sign for the trailhead.) Walk the plank-board trail through the ancient forest to a viewing landing for the lighthouse. On one of my visits to the landing, there was a wedding party getting hitched. They wanted to tie the knot with their fave lighthouse in view.

Photo from the Makah Nation

The view from the landing. This is a postcard from the 1970s when the trail to the viewing spot was just a muddy path through the woods. Today, it's much nicer.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Favorite Photos

I have no accurate count on the lighthouse photos in my collection. Suffice it to say, I've been photographing lighthouses since 1973 and collecting old postcards and pictures of them too, so there are several thousand images. I thought I'd share some and caption them about why I like each one, what makes it special to me.



This 1933 image of the old and new Barbers Point Lighthouses in Hawai'i exemplifies the change many lighthouses have undergone. Old, original towers were replaced with new, better ones. In the case of Barbers Point, the new lighthouse was over twice as tall; yet, the old lantern and lens were installed in the new tower. The original tower was eventually torn down. Photo from the Coast Guard Historian.






I took this shot in 2010 on a visit to Nootka Lighthouse on the west side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Resident keepers and their dog were there to greet my group and give us a tour. The place had all the conveniences of modern life. While I was there, a supply tender arrived and unloaded crates and boxes of food and other items the keepers needed. I spied several packages of Oreos! I found lots of pretty shells and rocks around the property, tossed up from the sea during nasty storms. The keeper's wife collected these and made beautiful jewelry with them. Canada still staffs about two dozen lighthouses. This was a chance to see how modern keepers live.






Jupiter Lighthouse has come a long way since I first visited it in the late 1970s. It's now a wonderful museum, and the public can climb the tower. When I first visited it, I walked around the grounds taking pictures. A young Coastie came out of the residence and greeted me. I told him about my interest in lighthouses and he offered to take me up the tower. It was such fun, and I got to see the unique lens in the tower. The magnificent lens had been repaired after one bulls-eye was damaged in a hurricane years ago. This photo was taken much more recently and appears in the third edition of my A Guide to Florida Lighthouses. I captured the lighthouse through the leaders of an old banyan tree on the grounds, planted many years ago by one of the lightkeepers.





No, there's no lighthouse in this picture---just a lighthouse cat. I photographed Ida Lewis the cat at Boston Lighthouse in the late 1980s. She was the pet and permanent resident of the island, along with a dog named Shadwell. He was named for a black slave owned by the first Boston lightkeeper. Ida Lewis was a bit shy about having her picture taken. She hid in the grasses around the edge of the island, but I crept on my hands and knees slowly, and she allowed me this shot. The Coasties assured me Ida did her duty catching rodents on the island, and she sometimes climbed the tower and enjoyed the high view from the gallery. Meowza! Photos and stories of Shadwell and Ida are in my Guardians of the Lights.






On the waterfront of Savannah, Georgia stands this statue of Florence Martus, sister of a lighthouse keeper. She lived with her brother on the river at the Elba Island Light Station--providing channel guidance through the winding Savannah River into the port. The collie was her watchdog and pet and went everywhere with her. The two waved a white handkerchief at passing ships for many years. There's a reason for that, a story of unrequited love. A sailor who came to port in Savannah met Florence, and the two fell in love. Before he left he promised to return and marry her. She promised to wave at his ship as it left and returned, making its way on the river. That rascal sailor never did return! Florence was heartbroken but would not let go of hope. She began waving at every ship that passed, hoping her lover was on it. Forty-some years of waving made her an icon of the river and the waterfront. In memory of Florence Martus, this beautiful statue was erected with a plague telling her story. I think Florence would be glad to know there's a permanent, eternal hankie waving in her honor.







I loved this August day, back in the early 1990s. The photo was taken at Lighthouse Depot in Maine (gone now, sadly) on Author Day. All the folks pictured were authors of lighthouse books. Tim Harrison organized the event and took the photo. I was in the  middle, the shortest author! I don't recall all the names, but to my left was Bruce Roberts and Cheryl Shelton Roberts. Courtney Thompson is there to my right. It was a really fun day, and all of us met a lot of people--fans of lighthouses and curious visitors too. Book signings can be fun.






This is one of those trick shots, taken before I had a cell phone camera. I propped my small digital camera on a piece of driftwood and set the shutter delay. A quick run backwards and a half-decent pose--click!--resulted in this nice shot from my first week as a keeper at New Dungeness Lighthouse. I think it was 2004. I ended up writing a lengthy journal about the week and eventually published it as an eBook. It will come out in paperback this summer. If you've never been a volunteer lightkeeper here, read my book Sojourn at the Lighthouse.










The lens at Umpqua Lighthouse, Oregon is like nothing you've ever seen. How can such a functional object be so beautiful? I poked my head through the opening into the lens from the bottom to capture this image. Ruby glass heaven!!!






Speaking of lenses, here's the Cabrillo Lighthouse lens (California) at twilight--a crepuscular delight! Lighthouses are lovely during the day, but at night they truly reveal their purpose and soul. This light station is one where you can lodge. The quarters are restored nicely, and most of the old-time light station milieu is there. The lighthouse itself looks like a little country church.






Minots Ledge Lighthouse has always captivated me. I'm not alone! I see many Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts of it. This image is attributed to NOAA, but it may have a different original credit line. Winter waves had done their work in this shot! Without lightkeepers (the lighthouse was de-staffed about 1947), the ice continued to build up and obscure the light. Lighthouse Ice Box! This is an amazing tower. It's taken loads of punishment over its career, since 1860. It's sturdy.





I have the full collection of Hassan cigarette cards featuring lighthouses. I love all of them, even those with inaccuracies. This one is Montauk Point Lighthouse, missing its octagonal shape. I suppose the artist was in a hurry or didn't notice the tower's eight sides. Montauk is near and dear to me for many reasons. I've done a few appearances there to sign books and talk with visitors. I had the pleasure of editing three of Henry Osmers' books about the lighthouse and its surroundings. On Eagles Beak is my favorite. Henry is a volunteer docent at the lighthouse and knows its history inside-out.





So many of my treasured lighthouse goodies are from kids. I keep all the letters, pictures, and trinkets kids give me. They are a firm reminder that we must educate and prepare kids to take over as lighthouse preservationists and educators. I used to design and write a column for Lighthouse Digest called "Kids on the Beam." My rag-doll cat, ZsaZsa was the mascot called Lighthouse Kitty. LK and I received lots of mail. Here's a picture drawn for us by a sweet little girl named Sydney. Not bad for a 4th grader!






This one will give you a chuckle. It's a photo of a lighthouse in the UK (I'm not sure which one) given to me by an old penpal named John Mobbs. He was so generous with postcards and pictures. He was stationed on Inner Dowsing Lighthouse in the North Sea at the time and we corresponded regularly. I love this photo because it's so real--life as it truly is, not life posed for the camera. That lighthouse dog just raised a leg as John's camera clicked. I love it!!! Arf!







I see lots of pictures of Owls Head Lighthouse on Facebook, thanks to Bob Trapani and his son, Dominic. This tiny Maine lighthouse is one of my favorites, despite my husband's truck being broken into on a visit there many years ago. That was before it became a museum of sorts and was not uninhabited and at the end of a spooky road. This photo from the National Archives shows lots of details from the past. Note the fogbell on the far right. There were fences, probably for livestock. On the far left might be a person, or a photo flaw that looks like a person. That big slash down the middle is a scratch. There was no date on the image. Maybe someone reading this knows.







I found this photo in the Coast Guard Historian's Office in Washington, D.C. It shows a lady lamplighter and her lens-lamp beacon on the Mississippi River. She could reach the lamp by ladder to fuel it with kerosene. The windows had to be kept clean. The caption on the photo did not reveal the location on the river, but my research tells me there were numerous lights  on Mark Twain's famous waterway. They were mostly tripod lights like this one. Someone should write a book about the Mississippi River lights. Maybe I should!







Let me just say: "There are no lighthouse ghosts." Hmmm. Maybe there are. I have so many lighthouse ghost stories in my files. I love the stories, but I hope they don't upstage the real history of lighthouses. This is Point No Point Lighthouse in Hansville, Washington---home to the HQ of the U.S. Lighthouse Society. I was pleased to help secure the society a home here. I was a resident of Washington and Kitsap County, where PNP is located, when the society decided to move here. I was quite vocal about the opportunity! In fact, some people thought I was witchy at times. Well, if the hat fits...





Point Conception Lighthouse in a remote spot in California is a difficult place to access. I was lucky to get to visit it and climb the tower in the early 2000s. A former Coastie went along---one who served at the lighthouse in the early '70s. His name was Larry Desy, and he gave me some fascinating info about the light station. It was heartwarming to see his nostalgia for the place. The Coast Guard ANT team who took us out to the lighthouse used the visit to clean the beacon--polish the lens, check the electric light, wash the windows in the lantern inside and out. The old girl needs some work, but I have been assured that is happening.





Hawai'i has many lighthouses. I was fortunate to see a number of them when I lived on Oahu in the 1980s. This one is gone now, replaced by a pole beacon. The name, written in beautiful cursive by someone in the lighthouse district in Honolulu, is Lae o Ha Laau. Hawaiian is a lovely language. Words roll out of the speaker's mouth as if he/she is chewing caramel while talking. Check out the details of this old Coast Guard Historian's photo. There are ladders. There's a cloth covering the lens to protect it from the intense tropical sun. There's a man on the right--the keeper perhaps? Are those lava rocks built up around the lighthouse to protect it?





Finally, here's an old postcard of Cap Frehel Lighthouse in Brittany, France. I love it for the sturdy tower and buildings, and the cute donkey by the tree. I'll be seeing this place in July when I tour the lighthouses of Brittany with the U.S. Lighthouse Society.  Yippee!



I hope you enjoyed the pictures. I'll post more in a future blog. These images aren't meant to hide in files and archives. They're meant to be seen!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tales of Lighthouse Animals

I thought readers might enjoy some excerpts from my 2007 book, "The Lightkeepers' Menagerie." Of all my books (and I think there are 22 of them now), I get the most mail and comments on this one. I think it must be because people love animals so much. The stories range from heartwarming to frightening to fun.

That's Lucy on the cover at Lime Kiln Lighthouse in Washington. She passed away a few years after the book was published---a fine, sweet lighthouse dog for sure!


My scanner is unavailable this morning, so I snapped a few images of pages in the book. Click on the images to make them larger so you can read the print and see the photos. Let me know your favorite tale!


First up, some dog tails...er...uh...tales.






Here's a page that's slithery and dangerous!





A few hee-haws.








A recipe for a cold and rainy day.




The book is 328 pages with a glossy color cover and inside photos and illustrations. It was published for me by Pineapple Press of Sarasota, Florida. It's truly a good read, if I do say so myself!

Purchase "The Lightkeepers' Menagerie" here.







Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Cape Cod Entrepreneur

Photo from New York Public Library



Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
                                                Chinese Proverb

            Lighthouse construction and technology in the early 19th century was a growing science.  Advancements in illumination and engineering were largely made in Europe by the French and English lighthouse authorities, but in America inventors were at work too.  One of them, Winslow Lewis, left his mark at lighthouse sites from Maine to Florida.  Though his career is checkered by accusations of poor workmanship and self-interest, his contributions to the Lighthouse Service are undeniable.
            Lewis was born to a seafaring family in 1770 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.  He went to sea as a youth and worked his way up the ranks to become master and owner of his own vessel.  In 1797 at the age of 27, he became a member of the prestigious Boston Marine Society, eventually becoming president, and he operated a successful maritime business as a cargo shipmaster until 1807 when the Embargo shut down trade with Europe.  Lewis then turned his talents to other pursuits in order to support his family.  Perhaps his reliance on lighthouses during his years at sea led him to consider ways to improve them. 
In 1807 he began experiments in Boston with a new illuminating apparatus and installed a patented version of his Lewis Reflecting and Magnifying Lantern in the famous Boston Light in 1810.  His design combined the clean-burning, hollow wick Argand lamp with the parabolic reflector, which had been invented in France nearly three decades earlier.  Lewis added a plano-convex lens to magnify the light.  Had he been better grounded in physics he would have recognized the problems with the poorly ground, misaligned lens and perhaps been able to improve the apparatus, but he was too anxious to sell it to the Lighthouse Service to do further refinements.
            Though Lewis’ new lighting system had imperfections, it was superior to the old pan and spider lamps then in use in American lighthouses.  Through his friendship with Henry Dearborn, the Collector of Customs in Boston, Lewis arranged a trial for his new design at the twin light station on Thacher Island south of Boston.  His system was installed in one of the towers and was observed by Henry Dearborn, who reported Lewis’ beacon appeared “as a large brilliant star” while the other beacon shone only as “a small common star.”

The Lewis Light from the U.S. Coast Guard

            At the suggestion of Dearborn, Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, asked Congress to authorize the purchase of Lewis’ patent and contract with him for a period of seven years to illuminate and maintain all 49 U.S. lighthouses then in existence.  It was a windfall for Lewis.  He was well paid, his employment was secure, and he had the trust of government officials. Gallatin purchased a schooner, refit it for lighthouse work, and hired a small crew.  By 1812 when war broke out, Lewis had modified 40 lighthouses with his new system.  He continued the task, but in March 1813, as Lewis was en route to Charleston Lighthouse, a British frigate captured the schooner, and stripped and burned it.  Lewis was taken prisoner for a short time, then released.  He was not able to return to and complete his lighthouse work until 1815.
            In the meantime, he had established several businesses in Boston, including a ropewalk and a textile mill, and become involved in politics.  His political connections were far-reaching and allowed him, once again, to contract with the Lighthouse Service. In 1816 the Commissioner of Revenue, in whose hands lighthouses had been placed after the war, suggested that the usual competitive bidding for a contractor to supply oil and maintain lighthouse beacons be waived.  He felt Lewis had done such excellent work installing his systems that he should be given the contract outright.  Apparently, the Treasury Department concurred, and Lewis was allotted $1700 per year for a 7-year contract.
            It was not only a lucrative arrangement, but a powerful one as well.  Lewis made all decisions regarding the lights and in 1817 published the first light list in the U.S. called Description of the Lighthouses, which he sold at a profit. Additionally, Lewis was paid for 24,731 gallons of oil annually to be distributed among all U.S. lighthouses, but if they used less he was free to take the surfeit for private use in his own businesses.
            In 1819, Rhode Island scientist, David Melville, attempted to introduce illuminating gas to the Lighthouse Service and received permission to test it at Beavertail Light at the entrance to the Narragansett Bay.  The test was a success, but when Melville asked for a contract with the government, he was denied. He claimed Lewis, in conspiracy with the whaling industry, had used his political connections to influence the decision. Though Lewis had helped finance Melville’s experiments with gas lighting of factories in 1813, he objected to Melville’s encroachment on his contract.  Nothing came of Melville’s accusation or his experimental light, and whale oil continued to be the fuel of choice.
            When Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, Stephen Pleasanton, took over administration of lighthouses in 1820, Lewis was at his side to provide guidance and support.  His contract was renewed in 1822, and though his allotment for oil was reduced, his pay was increased. By this time Lewis also had become a lighthouse builder.  His first tower was completed at Franks Island near the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1822, and he was soon outbidding everyone for building contracts.
Lewis devised customized plans for five different sizes of lighthouses, all conical shaped, of masonry construction, and ranging in height from 25 to 65 feet.  By the end of his career, he had built 80 lighthouses, refitted 90, and planned countless others.  His work is evident in the existing towers at Cove Point, Turkey Point, Piney Point, and Concord Point in the Chesapeake Bay and Robbins Reef in New York Harbor.

Florida's Amelia Island Lighthouse was one of many designed and built by Winslow Lewis. He was asked to rebuild it, however, when his workmanship was found faulty. The rebuild was a good one; the lighthouse still stands today.

Lewis was not without detractors.  E. & G.W. Blunt, who published books for navigators, repeatedly condemned Lewis’ illuminating systems as far inferior to those of Europe and accused him of shoddy workmanship in the construction of lighthouses.  They also hinted at scandalous friendships with certain men in government.  Surprisingly, Lewis’ biggest critic was his nephew, I.W. P. Lewis, a civil engineer from Boston.  The younger Lewis was hired to oversee lighthouse construction sites in the South and quickly discovered problems with many of the projects his uncle had done.
When expenditures for lighthouses rose sharply in 1837, an inspection of the nation’s lighthouses was ordered to determine the need for improvements.  Several Navy officers undertook the task and submitted negative appraisals of the existing system.  In 1842, I.W.P. Lewis was hired to make a survey of New England lighthouses to assess their needs.  His 302-page report was damning, especially for Winslow Lewis.  It revealed shoddy construction, stations in disrepair, inferior illumination systems, questionable management, and an unhappy corps of lightkeepers.  Worse, I.W.P. Lewis claimed his uncle’s patented lighting system had been copied from an English design.
The system desperately needed overhauling.  As the 1840s came to a close, Winslow Lewis found himself in disfavor, especially after a new Fresnel lens from France was tested at Navesink Twin Lights in New Jersey and found to be far superior to Lewis’ apparatus.  He furiously defended his work and denied accusations of abuse of his personal friendships with government officials, but change was on the horizon.  Nearing age eighty, Lewis faded into the background.  He died in 1850 just as plans were being laid to create a stronger and better-organized lighthouse administration. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Point Vicente Lighthouse




Point Vicente Lighthouse, eight miles north of Los Angeles Harbor, marks the prominent Palos Verdes Peninsula, a turning point for ships heading for San Pedro Channel and Long Beach. It's breezy and sunny there most days, and dry. The site on which the lighthouse is perched rises up from the sea in myriad colors--ocher, rust, saffron, and cream, punctuated by mounds of green scrub clinging to the precipitous cliff.

Merchants and sailors began lobbying for a lighthouse here in the late nineteenth century. Funding was a problem due to the bad state of the economy and laxity about spending on West Coast projects. The Klondike Gold Rush hanged all of that, as ships rushed rushed around Cape Horn to the Pacific and north to Alaska. 

Requests were made again for a lighthouse at Point Vicente. It took the opening of the Panama Canal to really convince Congress to mark the busy point north of Los Angeles. Plans for the lighthouse finally were approved in 1916. But then, a war-stressed economy put off the work for almost a decade.



The fog signal—a 10 inch chime whistle that gave two blasts a minute—went into operation first in June 1925. The Mission Revival-style, 67 foot, cylindrical concrete lighthouse first flashed its warnings seaward on April 14, 1926. At this time, the U.S. Lighthouse Board noted that 27-million tons of cargo annually passed the point, underscoring the lighthouse’s importance for navigation and justifying its $100,000 price tag.



The third order, revolving clamshell lens had been purchased from France in 1886 and used in an Alaskan lighthouse prior to its installation at Point Vicente. The focal plane of the beacon was 185 feet above the sea.  By now, electricity powered many lighthouses, and Point Vicente was equipped with an electric plant to run the beacon and fog signal. A 1000 watt lightbulb was intensified by the lens to produce a flashing light visible some 20 miles at sea. Electricity was not wired into the dwellings, however, so keepers still cooked on coal stoves and used kerosene lamps for light.







The entire station was electrified by World War II, but blackout curtains were hung in the lantern to prevent the light from aiding enemy ships. After the war the landward panes of lantern glass were painted white to prevent the light from disturbing the many homes that had been built on the peninsula.

The lighthouse was automated in 1971. The classical lens still flashes a warning to shipping, and the site is a popular tourist stop for whale watching. The grounds are open during daylight hours. A local Coast Guard Auxiliary offers tours of the station and has set up an exhibit in one of the buildings. Views of the lighthouse are also spectacular from the nearby Point Vicente Interpretive Center, which showcases the human and natural history of the peninsula.



One of the most fascinating stories I've discovered about Point Vicente Lighthouse came from the late author, Jim Gibbs of Yachats, Oregon. Jim was a great chronicler of West Coast lighthouses, with about a half dozen books on the topic to his credit. He knew about lighthouse and lightkeeping first-hand, having served a stint at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in Oregon in the 1950s.

Jim related a story about a ghost at Point Vicente that appeared nightly, especially when the air was clear--no fog or ocean mists. The ghost made her debut the first night the lighthouse flashed on in April 1926. Lightkeepers returning to their bungalows after "lighting up" the tower noticed the image of a shapely woman dancing along the perimeter of the site, her skirt flaring as she passed each tree or building. She also appeared in the lantern itself, dancing over the blank white panels placed behind the lens to prevent the light from disturbing neighbors at night.

There was plenty of fodder to explain her appearance. The best-known (and most winsome) explanation involved a Victorian era woman, unrequited in love and dressed only in her white, flowing nightgown, who had thrown herself over the cliff at the point before the lighthouse was built. She drowned after crashing onto the rocks below the cliff.



Since suicide in the prevalent Catholic faith of the area places one in purgatory, awaiting God's forgiveness, it was decided the woman spent her nights in limbo, roaming the point penitently. The story persisted for years until a lampist visiting Point Vicente gave a more reasonable explanation.

Author Collection


It seems the great, third-order clamshell lens created a playful phenomenon on the grounds and in the lantern each night---an hourglass-shaped, faint reflection of light that moved along as the lens revolved. Each time light encountered the intersection of the diagonal astragals of the lantern windows, the phantom appeared to make a little hop. Thus, the womanly, dancing specter was explained.

My last visit to Point Vicente Lighthouse was fascinating. The Castroban family of Coast Guard auxiliarists gave a tour. My group saw the detailed exhibit inside the fog signal building and climbed the lighthouse. I took some amazing pictures, but I did not stay until night came on. Thus, I cannot vouch for or against the Lady of the Light, as the Point Vicente ghost has come to be known.


All b&w images, except where otherwise noted, are courtesy of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.