LOST LENSES FOUND IN THRIFT SHOP
-- NOVEMBER 2016, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA
Just about everyone knows of John Havel’s love for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. So it was no coincidence when one Sunday after church a friend approached him and said, “I think I may have found a lens from a lighthouse. I go to flea markets a lot and last week I was at the Thieves Market in Raleigh. I think I saw a pair of lighthouse lenses." Havel was skeptical but as she began to describe them, he realized she may have seen some real prisms from a lighthouse lens. Havel and his wife Aida drove straight to the store and quickly located the two bullseye flash panels. Each was about 3-feet tall by 10-inches wide with beautiful circular-cut prisms encased in a bronze frame.
Havel’s first thought was that they might be from the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. He took a few pictures with his cell phone and immediately sent them to Bruce and Cheryl Roberts, the co-founders of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society. He then called Bett and Bill Padgett who lived nearby and who told him to stay put. Fifteen minutes later they walked in and together the four quickly verified that these were indeed authentic lenses from the 1800s.
The Havels and the Padgetts decided to contact the owner to negotiate a price a little lower than the asking price of $1,250.00 per lens. The first call was to the owner of the booth at the thrift store, and she passed on the number of her brother who was the owner of the lenses and who had consigned them to her. He had purchased the two lenses at a salvage yard in Fayetteville in the 1980s, carried them with him to New York City and Pennsylvania and then back to North Carolina, and had finally decided to sell them. He agreed to a price of $750.00 for each panel, and each couple purchased one of the lenses.
After considerable research and comparison with other known and found lenses, the Havels and the Padgetts concluded that the lenses were not from the Hatteras lighthouse, but from the Cape Fear Lighthouse on Bald Head Island (originally known as Smith Island). They are original First Order Fresnel lenses, invented by and named after Augustin Fresnel (pronounced Freh-nell or Fruh-nell), and manufactured--by hand--in France, in the mid-to-late 1800s. They are nicknamed bulls-eye lenses, because of the distinctive round lens in the middle of the panel.
The Havels and Padgetts are still amazed at the circuitous way these lighthouse panels came into their guardianship. For now, the two couples are enjoying playing show and tell with their lenses. Eventually, each of the panels will be reunited with others at “Old Baldy” on Bald Head Island.