What is it about lighthouses that people find so fascinating?
Maybe it is the stories they tell, or that we tell about them. Stories of heroism and bravery, tragedy and destruction. Stories that give us hope against enormous odds.
It could be as simple as lighthouses are cool.
My own fascination with lighthouses begins with what I see as their humility. These beacons of warning and safety have a simple and humble task. Stay put, stand strong, and give warning. That’s all. Shine light.
I found a great quote of Anne Lamott that sums up the humble task of lighthouses.
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
Shining their light could sound a little like they are saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” That doesn’t sound very humble. Dwight L. Moody puts it a little differently saying,
“Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining—they just shine.”
That sounds better.
Then there’s what may be my favorite lighthouse quote. It comes from George Bernard Shaw.
“I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.”
As a sailor I had some experience depending on lighthouses. Miles out at sea, looking over charts and plotting positions, I understood the value of lights on shore piercing the inky blackness on a moonless night. The lights not only kept me from plotting a dangerous course, they also made it possible to very accurately plot my ship’s position. We couldn’t just take out our cell phones and depend on GPS. There were basically two really good reasons. No cell phones, and no GPS.
Never once did I see a lighthouse do anything but shine light. In the dark of night, in the light of day. Standing tall. Humbly shining light. Doing what they were made to do.
This, perhaps, is why people are fascinated by them.
St. George Island Lighthouse
The St. George Island Lighthouse has a great story. It would have been easy to give up on it several times. The light was deactivated in 1994 after beach erosion caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 convinced the Coast Guard that the light was doomed.
Then along came Hurricane Opal in 1995 and the light became the Leaning Tower of St. George Island. (Photograph courtesy of State Archives of Florida)
Eventually, the light was saved, but not before it literally fell into the ocean. The St. George Lighthouse Association launched an effort to salvage the remains of the lighthouse. Today it is open to the public and there is a great view from the top.
If you find yourself on the gulf coast of Florida near Apalachicola and St. George Island, I recommend a stop at the lighthouse. Unless lighthouses don’t fascinate you.
Here are some places you might want to explore if you found this, uh, fascinating.