August 7th is Lighthouse Day – A Part of Our Past, Present, and Future
Why are so many people drawn to lighthouses? Maybe it is because lighthouses are found in some of the most beautiful places on earth. To some, lighthouses appeal to their nostalgic or artistic senses since lighthouses are some of the most historic structures to be found in the United States today. It may also be that some are drawn to the lighthouses due to the multitude of heroic rescues associated with them. Lighthouses today, like in the past, stand as beacons of safety and security. The lighthouse is a part of our past, present, and future.
Many years ago, people lived in a primitive way, hunting and growing their own food. Eventually, they decided to explore the water in a boat in search of what the sea had to offer for food. During the day it was easy for them to find their way home, maybe by a pile of rocks they had left on the shore or some other type of sign. Night was a different story since much of the shore looked the same. As bigger ships were built and mariners sailed further from home, many were wrecked as the waves pushed them into rocky shores or dangerous reefs. The need for some type of warning signal arose, and the lighthouse came into being.
The first lighthouse was built in Egypt around 280 BC. Records tell us that the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt was the tallest lighthouse ever built – 450’ (about the size of a 45-story skyscraper today). The source of light was an open fire at the top. The Pharos lasted for 1500 years before it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th Century.
The two main purposes of a lighthouse are to serve as a navigational aid that helps sailors know where they are and to warn mariners of dangerous areas. A lighthouse is to a sailor what a seeing-eye dog is to a blind person.
While we often think of lighthouses as a tall cone-shaped tower, lighthouses come in many colors, shapes, and sizes. Depending on where the lighthouse is built, it may be tall, short, or squat. Lighthouses can be square, octagonal, conical, cylindrical or even skeletal. While many lighthouses stand alone, some have a building attached were the keeper of the lighthouse stayed. Lighthouses are built out of many different materials such as stones, wood, concrete, steel, cast-iron, or even a mixture of shells, lime, water, and sand. Lighthouses tend to be unique!
Lighthouses are found in a variety of locations; rocky cliffs, sandy shoals on land, on a water-swept reef at sea, and at entrances to bays and harbors. They are there to warn sailors of dangerous reefs under the sea, rocky coasts on land, and to guide ships to the entrances of bays and harbors. The lighthouses message has always been; STAY AWAY, DANGER, BEWARE or COME THIS WAY. Every lighthouse, no matter where it is, tells every mariner, THIS IS EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE.