Monday, April 29, 2013

Gothic Lighthouses

Architects for the old Lighthouse Service sometimes produced unique designs combining both function and beauty. This was the case with architect Paul J.Pelz's Gothic style lighthouses. He designed about eight of them in the 1870s through the 1890s, and several still stand. Only one was situated on the East Coast. The others were built in California. You can see subtle differences in the designs. Look for the position of the square tower, sometimes in the center of the structure and sometimes off to the side.

First among the Gothic sentinels was Mare Island Lighthouse in San Francisco, inaugurated in 1873 and pictured above (collection of the Coast Guard Archives). It was discontinued and razed in favor of a lighthouse in Carquinez Strait.

Next to be lighted was East Brother Island Lighthouse. It's still working and doubles as a B&B off Point Richmond, California. It was placed in service March 1, 1874. Today, it's a charming destination. The caretakers sometimes fire off the old fog signal for visitors and B&B guests.

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse was lighted a month later on March 30, 1874. It was the only Gothic lighthouse on the East Coast. It stands at Wildwood, New Jersey. It's a well-kept museum today, the highlight being its impeccably groomed gardens. I spent a wonderful day here in October in the late 1990s during New Jersey's "Lighthouse Challenge," signing books on the porch and meeting visitors. Jon snapped the photo below at the front gate. The bottom photo is courtesy of the New Jersey Lighthouse Society, sponsor of the annual "Lighthouse Challenge." It shows the plank boardwalk over the sand and some of the garden plantings.

Point Hueneme Lighthouse in Southern California had its beginnings as a Carpenter Gothic structure. Today the tower is a modern Art Deco structure. The original sentinels was much prettier, though no more functional than the current lighthouse. We need to remember that a lighthouse doesn't have to be beautiful to do good work. The historic photo of the original Point Hueneme Light is reproduced on a postcard. Below it is the modern concrete lighthouse now on duty. It serves as a museum.

Another lighthouse of Pelz's unique Gothic design was Point Fermin Light at San Pablo, California. This lovely old sentry is a museum today, with a rich maritime history. It had several women keepers, including Thelma Austin. Her grand-niece is active with the lighthouse restoration and operation. The grounds are well-kept, and the docents are knowledgeable and friendly. The photo below was taken by my friend Derith Bennett about 2005 when the two of visited the lighthouse.

Point San Luis Lighthouse at San Luis Obispo, California is another Gothic beauty. It was built in 1890. It has been lovingly restored and is open for tours by special arrangement. Accessing the lighthouse requires permission, as the road is narrow and travels along a steep cliff adjacent to a power plant. I visited the site about eight years ago. A highlight was seeing the old concrete cistern and rainwater catchment area behind the lighthouse. This is a dry area, and water was needed not only for the household but for the fog signal machinery to produce steam. Some of the water was caught on the roofs of the buildings. The catchment area is a broad concrete pad sloped toward the cistern. You can see the roof catchment system in the historic photo below from the Coast Guard Archives. The bottom image is from my friend Kraig Anderson (

Table Bluff Lighthouse at Humboldt Bay was of the same design as Point San Luis Light. It was first lighted in 1892 and was, at first, called Humboldt Bay Lighthouse (pictured below courtesy of the Coast Guard Archives). Later, to avoid confusion with the old light at Humboldt Bay, the name became Table Bluff Light. In the 1950s the site underwent physical changes, with only the square tower left and then, eventually, a skeleton tower to replace it. Table Bluff Light was deactivated completely in 1975. The square tower was moved Woodley Island Marina in 1987 to be used as a decorative piece. It's still there and is shown in a 2011 photo by The Lighthouse People, Bob and Sandra Shanklin. (

Ballast Point Light was of the same design. It stood guard over the old whaling station at San Diego Bay and was first placed in service in 1888. It was discontinued many years ago. The archival photo below is from the Coast Guard Archives. It shows the lightkeeper and his family and the second dwelling in the background.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from a Lighthouse

About twenty years ago, I parodied the popular "Everything I Ever Needed to Know..." piece by Robert Fulghum, but with a lighthouse theme. My spinoff appeared in Lighthouse Victuals & Verse (out of print) and The Lighthouse Activity Book (coming back in print soon and shown below). The parody has been a fun piece to share. When I talk to groups, I ask foir additions. Here it is. Add a line or two of your own--

Stand up straight and be proud of who you are. Always look on the bright side. Take the stairs; it's better for your health. Aim high. Don't look down. It's okay to wear horizontal stripes. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Never fall down on the job. If you want to be noticed, look conspicuous. Don't look conspicuous during a thunderstorm. Pay your electric bill. It's okay to stay up late. Don't make waves. Life can be a little stormy now and then. The taller you are, the harder you fall. You can make it through the night. Keep an eye out for others. Write in your journal every day. If it gets foggy, just say 'booo!' Never fall asleep on the job. Rise to great heights. Always keep spare lightbulbs on hand. Do windows. Hold the handrail for safety. Don't drink and shine. Leave a light on for those who aren't home yet.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lighthouse License Plates

Today, I'm thinking about license plates that feature lighthouses. There are a number of them, and most are recent. I'm reminded of this topic because today I have a conference call with the Washington Lighthouse License Plate Grant Committee to review the Step 1 applications for grant money awards. I'm a member of the grant committee, along with Capt. Gene Davis of the Coast Guard Museum NW, Gene Grulich, a Puget Sound architect who has done work on Northwest lighthouses, and Julie Pigot and Linda Crow of the Lighthouse Environmental Programs at Admiralty Head Lighthouse. Washington's lighthouse license plate became available in 2006, and each year some of the funds earned from its sale go to lighthouse preservation in the state. The plate features a generic Northwest lighthouse in the style of Alki Light and Point Robinson Light. The image is based on a watercolor painting by artist Janet Orso. Each year, the committee awards about $25,000 in grants for local lighthouse projects.

Most of the lighthouse license plates in the Unites States support a particular lighthouse or group of lighthouses. Purchase of these plates provides a charitable donation and a lovely and functional plate for your car. They also raise the profile of ligthhouses and stress the importance of saving them. Some plates are available to collectors as "samples" only. Below are some examples of lighthouse license plates from various states.

Barnegat Lighthouse at Long Beach Island is featured on a New Jersey license plate. Nicknamed "Old Barney," it was built by George Gorden Meade, who later distinguished himself as the Union general who defeated Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. I've visited this lighthouse several times. The beach here is a lovely place to relax, but I'm told Hurricane Sandy did some serious damage to the area. A local summer newspaper I contribute to is published here--The Beachcomber.

North Carolina's famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is available on a license plate. It is the tallest lighthouse in the United States and was moved back from the sea some years ago to prevent erosion from undermining and destroying it. I like the tagline, "Guardian of the Graveyard of the Atlantic." The Outer Banks is one of several Eastern Seaboard locales that lays claim to the title "Graveyard of the Atlantic." I've read there about 2,400 shipwrecks off the OB.

The rescue of Rhode Island's Plum Beach Lighthouse is an amazing lighthouse preservation story. This small caisson lighthouse sits near the Jamestown Bridge in the notoriously foggy Narragansett Bay. In the 1970s and again in the 1980s and 90s, when I lived in Connecticut and often drove to Newport, I saw this lighthouse from the bridge. It was such an eyesore--decommissioned and deteriorated. It was my go-to lighthouse picture during my public talks to rouse interest in lighthouse preservation. A grassroots group formed in the 1990s and, after considerable effort, restored the light. Their story is replete with government red tape and the challenges often experienced in lighthouse restoration, including a difficult and dangerous removal of bird guamo from the interior and exterior of the lighthouse. Plum Beach Light certainly deserves a place on a license plate, and the funds earned through the purchase of the plate have helped in its restoration.
I have at Connecticut plate like this one, featuring the breakwater lighthouse at the mouth of the Connecticut River. The plate supports the Long Island Sound Project. This was one of the first lighthouse license plates (perhaps even the first one!). My plate was retired to my office wall when I left Connecticut in 1999.
Delaware offers this generic lighthouse plate. Though a small state, Delaware has a number of coastal lighthouses and many sentinels in the Delaware Bay, the major portal to Philadelphia. I think this is a representation of the cast iron lighthouse at Lewes.
Florida's lighthouse license plate features St. Augustine Lighthouse. (FYI--St. Augustine Light and Cape Hatteras Light look similar. The differences are easy to spot though. For one, St.Augustine Light wears a red hat and Cape Hatteras Light wears a black hat.) The Florida Lighthouse Association is the recipient of license plate funds and uses them for deserving projects at Florida lighthouses. I'm proud of this very successful group. When I lived in Florida in the late 1970s no one cared much about the Sunshine State lighthouses. I couldn't find any books about them, so I ended up writing one (my first book). It's still in print.
The Nauset Light is featured on a Massachusetts plate. It has an interesting history and was moved back from the sea to prevent its loss. This was the second move for the lighthouse. Originally, it sat at Chatham as one of a set of twin lights. It was moved by barge to Nauset Beach after the twin lights were discontinued. Visit Chatham Light today, and you'll see Nauset's twin sister sentry. The twins wear different dresses and hats these days, but their towers are the same cast iron shape. The dwelling at Nauset Beach was privately owned for many years after the station was automated. I spent a pleasant afternoon at the Nauset dwelling in about 1990 visiting with the owner and talking about lighthouses over a cup of tea. It was spring and the surf was pounding loudly--like claps of thunder--on the beach far below. It was a reminder of how tenuous and tortured the backside of Cape Cod is and how difficult it was for the old Lighthouse Service to keep this dangerous coast lighted. The dwelling now belongs to the National Park Service and has been moved next to the lighthouse to preserve it. Not far away are the very historic Three Sisters of Nauset, the nation's only triple lights. They have been preserved by the NPS.
Lovely Biloxi Lighthouse is featured on a Mississippi plate. The lighthouse stands in a highway median not far from the historic home of Confederate president, Jefferson Davis.
Yes, Ohio has lighthouses! Lake Erie is a dangerous and much-traveled body of inland water and its shore has many lighthouses. Marblehead Lighthouse is shown on this plate. Visit in the autumn for a picture perfect view of colored folliage and the crisp white lighthouse with its red lantern.
I lived in Virginia in the mid-1970s, but this plate wasn't available at the time. It features three iconic Virginia lighthouses--Assateague Light, Old Cape Henry Light, and New Cape Henry Light. On a visit to Assateague Light in the early 1990s, I had fun photographing the wild ponies on the island. Some of them were mooching snacks from tourists in the parking area!
If you love lighthouses, and your state offers a lighthouse license plate, purchase one to support lighthouse preservation and other charitable projects. The portion of the plate cost that supports a charity is tax deductible, and you'll be able to advertise your hobby wherever you drive. People often stop by my car in parking lots or pull up next to me at traffic lights and ask about my plate. It's beautiful and supports a good cause.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Writers' Bible for Newbies and Veteran Writers

I purchase this book every year. It' s a terrific resourse for writers, whether new or old-hands in the business. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for information from publishers in any modality or genre--books, newspaper and magazine articles, poetry, you name it. Publishers of all types are flooded with submissions of manuscripts every month. Unfortuantely, many good writing efforts go into the "slush pile" or the trash because writers haven't played by the rules. Publishers want to find the gems, the writers who reach audiences and sell books and magazines. Thus, they contribute information to the Writer's Market each year to help writers do a better job at targeting readers.

I've sold a number of articles to magazines by using the guidelines publishers submit to Writer's Market. In the early 1980s, I found Sea Frontiers and Mobil Oil's The Compass, two of my earliest article sales, and established a longtime relationship with several hobbyist, boating, and maritime magazines with contacts I made through this resource. I even found my first book publisher, Pineapple Press, Inc., using the Writer's Market.

In addition to an expansive listing of book publishers, magazines (by topic and region), and literary publications, Writer's Market also includes lists of agents, contests and prizes for writers, a glossary of sorts of terms writers and publishers know ("simultaneous submissions," "slush pile," "kill fee," etc.) and how-to articles written by writers for writers, such as how to write a solid query letter/email, what a book proposal should look like, developing characters in fiction, the sales process for writing, and what writers need to do to keep the IRS happy. Lately, I've seen information on eBook publishing as well.

The cover pictured above is the general, all-inclusive Writer's Market. You can find it in hardcopy at most bookstores and on Amazon at There are other versions--for novel and short story writers, children's books, photography, poetry, christian writing, and probably more that I'm forgetting here. There's a deluxe version that comes with a CD of additional resources. I recommend the hardcopy version of any Writer's Market, as I think it's actually easier to use, though a burden if you carry around the general title--it goes a couple of hundred pages. A spin-off (or perhaps a predecessor) is Writer's Digest magazine. It's a good monthly by the same company that offers Writer's Market.

I consume my copy of Writer's Market each year! It's usually available by October for the coming year. I order it on Amazon, and then when it arrives I set aside a day or two to study it--see what's new and make a list of some of the publishers I might contact and the projects I have that fit their requirements. I heavily annotate my copy with a pencil and highlighter and make lots of bookmarks with skinny sticky notes. I am old-school in terms of this activity; I need a hard copy and hands-on writing tools for annotation.

One of the lucrative aspects of freelance writing is re-selling articles or recyling topics. The trick? Write it once and sell it again and again, or write it once and do basic updates for new buyers. I've done this with a number of articles. Rule one of this activity is: If possible, never sell a magazine anything but "First North American Rights." This returns the rights to the article back to you for re-sale or re-use of any kind--to another magazine, to include in a book or anthology, or whatever other use you can find for it. It's surprising how many magazines will buy an article that's been previously published or republish an article from an earlier issue once sufficient time has passed. You'll see this listed in their Writer's Market entry as "buys reprints." They pay less for this second-round, and because it's already been in print, they know it's well done. (Some other magazine or editor has deemed it publishable.) So this is economical for them in terms of money and time. But it's also economical for writers. We can get some serious mileage (a.k.a. income) out of articles, even books if enough time has elapsed since initial publication. Writer's Market is a wonderful resource for possible re-sale.

Be aware that simply picking out a magazine or book publisher in Writer's Market and then sending in a manuscript is not likely to bring you a contract or sale. It's not catalogue shopping. There's a lot more to selling a piece of writing. You don't want to contact a publisher or publication until you've done all your homework (e.g. studied the publication you're pursuing from cover to cover and back again, written for a well-defined and appropriate audience, adhered to length requirements, and observed the courtesies all publishers expect). I'll cover some of that information in a different post in the coming months. Here, I'm just tossing out a good resource for writers, seasoned or new.

For the record, WD, as writers call this important book, is not paying me a fee to offer all these platitudes. Writers share information, just as any occupation might. I see writers toting arounf the WD at conferences and meetings. It's become a standard for reference and research. Currently, Amazon and other booksellers are offering WD for about $15. I'm saying here, that it's worth every penny.