Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2014

Wickie’s Wisdom

Honoring 225 Years While Continuity Remains Elusive

By Timothy Harrison

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In a speech given on July 28, 1988 President Ronald Reagan said, “There seems to be an increasing awareness of something we Americans have known for some time: that the ten most dangerous words in the English language are, ‘Hi, I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.’” Naturally, many anti-big government politicians and others continue to have a field day with those remarks. However, in the rest of that speech President Reagan went on to explain the differences between true help and intrusive help.

In today’s world of lighthouse preservation the federal government is ready to help with a big monetary hand to the lighthouses that are under their auspices, such as the lighthouses of the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin where millions are being spent restoring those lighthouses, or at other lighthouses that they own such as Monomoy Point Lighthouse in Massachusetts, a lighthouse that very few people will ever see. Although federal grant money is occasionally, but rarely, made available to some nonprofit owned lighthouses, especially where politicians can gain some real exposure, others remain in dire need of federal help. Basically, there is no standard of continuity when it comes to the federal government helping lighthouses.

To make matters worse, the federal government has placed an overzealous amount of restrictions on how lighthouses must be preserved, and they have placed ridiculously high values on artifacts, especially Fresnel lenses, that cause undue financial hardship with insurance costs for nonprofits. On the other hand, federally owned lighthouses or federally displayed artifacts are a cost that is absorbed by the government or not paid at all.

While the federal government, through its various branches, is keeping some of the lighthouses, the government is excessing other lighthouses left and right and offering them free to qualified applicants and, in most cases, only after the structures have suffered from years of neglect. But they are using a double standard when doing so. For example, at Nobska Point Lighthouse in Massachusetts, one of that state’s most photographed and visited lighthouses which is occupied by a Coast Guard family, the government says that it is too expensive to restore, so they will offer the light station free to a qualified applicant who will then need to raise tons of money to restore it. Yet, on the other hand, the federal government will spend up to $200,000 to restore the unremarkable, although stately, Algoma Pierhead Lighthouse in Wisconsin at the same exact time that they are offering to give it away free, thereby giving its new owner a totally restored lighthouse free of charge.

All this is going on while, as of press time, during the past 24 years the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate could not get together to agree on something as simple as making August 7th of each year as National Lighthouse Day in perpetuity. But regardless of what happens by press time, most lighthouse organizations around the country will celebrate August 7th as National Lighthouse Day anyway. Why? Because each and every lighthouse is a voice from the past and the voices from many of our lighthouses have yet to be heard from.

The true lighthouse aficionados and those who love United States history want not only save the lighthouse structures, but also to save the memories, the photographs, and the artifacts associated with them. This is not some frivolous whim. But it is our way to honor the men and women who planned, developed, built, and served in various positions in the United States Lighthouse Service and later the Coast Guard who helped to develop our amazing system of aids to navigation that immensely helped in the rapid growth of the United States into an economic superpower, something that must be continued into the future.

National Lighthouse Day is also to honor the many volunteers who have saved so many lighthouses that the government neglected, lighthouses that might otherwise have been destroyed. National Lighthouse Day is also to honor those who work to continually preserve what others have started. National Lighthouse Day is also to honor those who have researched, documented, and written about our lighthouse history. National Lighthouse Day is also a day to honor those who have saved lighthouse artifacts and the photographs associated with all aspects of lighthouse history, and to honor the museums that are preserving them.

While political bickering changes almost daily and our social structure continues to change and evolve, lighthouses do not change, but they continue to stand strong, weathering all social and political changes. Lighthouses were built for one purpose only – to save lives. Now it’s our turn to save and honor our historic lighthouses and everything that is associated with them.

This August 7th as we celebrate the 225th birthday of the federalization of our nation’s lighthouses and the 225th birthday of the United States Lighthouse Service, may God continue to bless the United States of America and all the good that lighthouses mean to so many.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2014 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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