Happy National Lighthouse Day! August 7, 2018
Senate Resolution 507 declared August 7, 2013,
National Lighthouse & Lighthouse
It’s Throw-Back Tuesday!
There is a story I would like to share with you about one of our state’s and nation’s greatest lighthouses: Cape Hatteras. From the day it was completed in 1870, it was the sparkle in the eye of the U.S. Lighthouse Service (then known as “U.S. Lighthouse Board) and the icon exhibiting talents of professionally trained American architects and engineers.
Were you around during the relocation in 1999 and did you read stories about how it was moved and the long struggle to accomplish this task? Do you know why the National Park Service (NPS) had to move the lighthouse? If you said “erosion,” you are partially right, but there was another critical factor that put the NPS one hand up on winning Congressional approval for funding and pushing the move project forward.
In spring 1998, Bruce Roberts and I met with then Maritime Initiative staff, Candace Clifford and Ralph Eshelman, at the former Flying Fish Café in Kill Devil Hills. The controversy surrounding the relocation project of the Cape Hatteras Light Station had all but brought plans to a halt. At the time, Candace and Ralph worked for the National Maritime Initiative, an organization within the National Park Service, which is within the Department of the Interior. Both have been involved in important issues having to do with American lighthouses. Their passion then is as strong today with intense involvement with the U.S. Lighthouse Society and other maritime groups. Personally, Candace has been a beacon of encouragement and a source for valuable copies of archived documents reaching back to the original deed for the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse begun in the 1790s. When I think of her, I think of light.
At the time of the relocation planning, I could not support the move before asking the chief engineer of the project about the elephant in the room: How long had the technology been around to get the move done safely?
The strongest opinion of one of the most respected business owners in the room expressed why the lighthouse could not be moved: “You can’t move that lighthouse because that lighthouse cannot be moved.” A high-profile group “Save Cape Hatteras Committee” spread propaganda.
In late 1997, things looked bad. Unbelievably, those against the move said they would rather see the lighthouse in a heap of bricks than to accept a change of its position—its tentative hold with a shallow timber foundation being inundated by saltwater. Later, at a meeting April 1998 on Roanoke Island, strong feelings on both sides of opinion were expressed. But disturbing was the evident anger on those opposing the move. Although intimidated, pro-movers leaned into the headwinds.
And, slowly, as news reached the public, science got the upper hand. The two greatest factors for moving the relocation project forward despite efforts to stop it had begun in 1997 when Chancellor Larry Monteith appointed a N.C. State University Ad Hoc committee at the request of N.C. State Senator Marc Basnight. After reviewing the National Academy of Sciences’ report, the committee announced solid support for the move. Once the public was aware, science and reason gained traction.
Media that had slowly trickled in as supporters of the move turned into a torrent. For the first time in its history, things were falling into place in favor of relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The Park Service committed to the move, public officials favored it, environmentalists advocated it, the lighthouse community applauded it, the budget supported it, and the ocean demanded it.
What was the final push that brought it all together? Candace and Ralph had left that café meeting, headed for their D.C. office, submitted a nomination application and within four months, the lighthouse earned National Historic Landmark status August 6, 1998.
This was the same as giving a direct order to the NPS that it must protect the lighthouse in any possible way. And since the plans were on the architect’s table, money was available, and the high tide line was within 120 feet of the lighthouse’s foundation with frequent storms predicted, things began to happen at a rapid pace. In January, 1999, the keepers’ quarters and oil house were moved to the new site. The lighthouse was prepped and it, too, would start rolling in June. It was an exciting time.
Relocation project manager of International Chimney, Inc., Joe Jakubik, summed it all up in a nutshell. It has become one of my all-time favorites: “Hatteras was an exceptional project that could only occur because all of the right people were at all of the right places all at the same time for all the right reasons. We will only see that once in our lives––but we all knew that when we were in the midst of it–– and thank God we could appreciate it as it unfolded.”
Coming up soon: Do you know the story behind the engraving of the stones that are now a small amphitheater near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse? How in the world did OBLHS accomplish it? That will be in my next message—so, watch for it!
Today, National Lighthouse Day is a special time to remember all those fine people who served in the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the humane responsibilities they faithfully carried out from 1790 until 1939. Afterward, the U.S. Coast Guard took up lighthouse duty and continues today. We salute those who have chosen preservation over destruction of our American lighthouses in the name of economy. Instead, they have raised monies, sought grants, and negotiated city, county, state, and federal sponsorship to save individual lighthouses.
We are all better today for these efforts. What more do we need now than joy? Our lighthouses are vessels of history, yes, but they are also generous in sharing joy. Light is joy.
In closing, the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society will send out an email message like this approximately every other month. Be sure to keep your membership current, invite a friend to join, or send a small donation—as OBLHS member, loyal supporter, board member, and former membership director Betty Parrish always told new members, “We make every dollar work.”
Be sure to visit . You can read articles, renew your membership, and much more, thanks to webmaster John Havel and contributing members. Our Keeper’s Store is kept by Kelly Waller who is ordering new items.
Our annual event is at Cape Lookout October 14-15. We have many wonderful things planned, and I urge you not to miss this year’s gathering. For more information, watch for an upcoming announcement on the website's home page and on our Facebook page as well. You may also use the "Contact Us" form on the website as well.
All photos by Bruce Roberts ©2018
To the lights,
Disclaimer: This message is intended for OBLHS members’ use only. Any use beyond this purpose by others must come in a formal request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was amazed at the answer. Since the mid-1950s, hydraulics has been available to American engineers, and hydraulics sat at the heart of the move equipment to lift, push, and lower the lighthouse onto its new foundation 2,900 feet southwest. After learning this significant information, OBLHS became officially supportive of the relocation. During the lunch meeting, Bruce and I and others filled Candace and Ralph in on the arguments against the move and why plans were not going forward. They included: lost photographic opportunity, loss of historic context, the new site was in a maritime forest, rumors spread of the lighthouse being ‘cut into three pieces and rolled to the new site,’ that engineering didn’t exist that could accomplish the task, businesses would fail due to decrease in visitation, and more. Of course, none of this was true. And, throw into the dark matter the fact that the (then) Dare County Commissioners spent thousands of dollars in a lawsuit to stop plans for the move.
In 1997, visionary N.C.’s U.S. Senator Duncan McLauchlin “Lauch” Faircloth had obtained $2 million to allow the park service to "plan and prepare" for the relocation of the lighthouse. President Clinton included a $9.8 million request to complete the move in his 1999 budget request. Senator Marc Basnight arranged for a meeting of “local” residents—mainly prominent Hatteras Island business owners––and the National Academy of Sciences. OBLHS also attended.