A Celebration of the Historic Move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
-- by John Havel
On Monday, July 1st, 2019 the National Park Service celebrated the 20th anniversary of the historic move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1999. More than 150 people gathered under a large tent at the base of the lighthouse to mark the event.
Organized by a handful of Park Service employees and aided by several members of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, the half-day celebration offered lighthouse guests and visitors a fee-free climbing day, speeches by seven dignitaries with widely varied perspectives on the move, a panel Q&A session by six veterans of the move, musical numbers by two North Carolina natives, and a new exhibit on the move installed in the Double Keepers Quarters also known as the "Museum of the Sea."
The speeches and comments were filled with humor, wonderful stories, and personal recollections that delighted and educated the audience about this remarkable achievement and the people, organizations, and companies that made it happen. Everyone praised the engineering accomplishment of moving a 198-foot tall, 4,800-ton brick and granite tower—the tallest in the nation—over one half mile inland and out of harm's way.
Bett Padgett, former President of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, was emcee for the event and also, during a break performed her haunting and beautiful song tribute "Hatteras: If a Lighthouse Could Speak" written in 1998 and first performed in 1999 at the relighting ceremony just after the move.
Scott Babinowich, Acting Chief of Interpretation for the Park Service welcomed the assembled guests and said of the famous lighthouse, “We saved the stories and ideals that it represents.”
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park Superintendent Dave Hallac and Dare County Commissioner Bob Woodard each welcomed the guests and speakers and noted the enormity and significance of the project and how quickly the time had passed. Superintendent Dave Hallac made a particular point to ask everyone, before they left the park for the day.... "I am going to ask you to do one thing today. Go down to the old lighthouse parking lot and walk out onto the beach... and you will see something special there... thanks to John Havel... He has done something that we have failed to do in 20 years and that is to help us mark the original site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Please go out there.... spend a few moments it's really peaceful... its incredible to think of the accomplishment that we made."
Bob Woody, former Park Service Public Information Officer, recalled that scientific studies commissioned by the Park Service made clear that the best option was to move the lighthouse. But even though planning was already underway, the money just was not there in the Federal budget. According to Woody, then-Senate President Pro Tem and Outer Banks native-son Marc Basnight met with President Bill Clinton during a visit to the state and asked that a line item be inserted into the federal budget to move the lighthouse.
Woody’s speech was filled with numerous humorous anecdotes. At one point he turned and fixed his gaze on Chair of the Dare County Board of Commissioners Bob Woodard, telling the audience that “even while the move activity was underway, the federal courts ruled in favor of the injunction that was filed by the Dare County Commissioners to stop the move,” he said. Fortunately, a short time later the injunction was overturned and the move project proceeded as planned.
Speaker Danny Couch, a current County Commissioner and recognized island historian, freely admitted that he had been opposed to the move and acknowledged that he and others were wrong. “I was a fierce and outspoken critic of the move. So if you want to say, ‘How did that work out for you, Bro,’ go ahead,” he remarked.
But Couch also used his time to trace the change in opinion of the Hatteras residents to the move, noting that the effort and expense that was put into preserving such an important part of the Island’s heritage changed minds about the relationship between residents and the National Park Service. "It is difficult to fathom how monumental an achievement it was," he said. "It was a raging success, from top to bottom."
One of the more moving speeches of the day was made by the granddaughter of the longest-serving and last keepers of the lighthouse, Unaka Jennette. Terry Ann Jennette Ponton, daughter of Rany Jennette said, "You saved it," said. "You saved my lighthouse. I always say it's mine. I just let the Park Service take care of it."
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. My dad and his sister were born in this house over here,” she said, indicating the lighthouse keeper’s house. Ponton remembered that the distance between the ocean and the lighthouse was so wide decades ago that her grandfather and many locals formed teams and played baseball on the beach. But over time the sand eroded until recent times when the waves crashed against the tower's foundation.
When the moving of the lighthouse was first presented to the community twenty years ago, Ponton said she once spoke in favor of the move in a relative's home and was told to leave. Many did not believe it could be done. "These people are crazy," Ponton said of the local sentiment as she talked about the strife within her own family. “They loved this place. It was very difficult for them to wrap their heads around the fact that you could move a lighthouse. It was conversation in our household for years. It was a very emotional time.”
After a short break a long table was set up on stage and a panel of six "move veterans" and experts was begun. Panelists included Bob Woody and Danny Couch mentioned above as well as Joe Jakubik with International Chimney Corporation (ICC) who was the prime contractor for the move along with Jerry Matyiko of Expert House Movers who partnered with ICC to do the heavy lifting and moving of the giant structure. Also on the panel were Mike Booher, official photographer for the move project, and noted geologist Dr. Stanley Riggs and Historic Preservation Specialist Reid Thomas. Aida Havel, a member of the Lighthouse Society moderated the panel.
A closing musical number, "The Hope of Diamond Shoals" was performed by local singer/songwriter Mojo Collins.
Four members of the OBLHS Board of Directors, Doug Stover, John Havel, Aida Havel, and Judy Moon worked closely with members of the NPS for approximately four months on the planning and organizing of the event. Afterwards, Superintendent Hallac commented, "Today's event was spectacular. It was meaningful, entertaining, and informative."
John Havel describes himself as a graphic designer, webmaster for this website, and an ardent researcher and writer on the history of the
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which he someday wishes to write an authoritative book on. He and his wife Aida Havel, who is an attorney, live
in Salvo, on Hatteras Island, and enjoy researching the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
PHOTO GALLERY --- all photos by John M. Havel
© 2019 OBLHS John M. Havel
Bett Padgett, former OBLHS Pesident emcee'd the event.
Superintendent Dave Hallac welcomed the assembled crowd and spoke of the significance of the move event.
Terry Ann Jennette Ponton, granddaughter of the longest-serving and last keeper, Unaka Jennette,
spoke passionately about the "saving" of "her family's"lighthouse.
Panelists answered pre-written as well as audience questions. Left-to-right are: Bob Woody, Dr. Stanley Riggs, Danny Couch, Joe Jakubik, Mike Booher, and Jerry Matyiko.
On a very hot July Monday, the tent was crowded with dignitaries and an overflow audience.
Hatteras Lighthouse "Move Royalty," L-R--Joe Jakubik, International Chimney, Project Manager; Bob Woody, NPS Public Information Officer; Jerry Matyiko, Principal, Expert House Movers; Mike Booher, Official Move Photographer; Jimmy Matyiko, Expert House Movers.
Richie Meekins, who was a foreman on the move team
for ICC, Jerry Matyiko with Expert House Movers chat
with Terry Jennette Ponton, granddaughter of keeper
Geologists and coastal studies experts Dr. Orrin Pilkey, Dr. Rob Young, and Dr. Stanley Riggs.