Annual Lighthouse Meeting

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Sea Girt Lighthouse “is in good order and busy with tours and special events that help to preserve its rich history,” said Marie Muhler, outgoing president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, addressing some 50 committee members at the recent SGLCC annual meeting at the lighthouse.

The 114-year-old landmark is one of only 11 surviving lighthouses in New Jersey open to the public. A century ago, there were some 40 lighthouses and several lightships in operation, guiding ships and their crews along New Jersey’s 130-mile coast.

Maintaining Sea Girt Lighthouse is a constant challenge that the lighthouse committee is committed to meet. Over the past 12 months, numerous repairs and scheduled maintenance have been successfully completed, noted Mrs. Muhler in her last State of the Lighthouse Report.

DSC_0118A copper gutter replaced one damaged in a Nor’easter. A new lightning rod system on the tower and roof was installed. Slate steps leading to the west lawn were built. And leaky windows were replaced with storm-proof windows in the room where the Fresnel lens is displayed.

During the same period, guided tours, special events and scheduled meetings attracted several thousand people to the lighthouse, which is use some 200 days a year. Meanwhile there are some 450 members of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, the volunteer organization that runs the lighthouse.

Lighthouse Keeper Tradition

“The building is sound and the history secure due to the financial support of our members and the donation of time by our many members who guide visitors on Sundays tours and help with other projects,” said Mrs. Muhler. “They are the keepers of the light in the long and honored tradition of our original lighthouse keepers. I thank our generous members and encourage others to join us in preserving history.”

Mrs. Muhler also announced the launch of this website as a way to enhance communications with members and others interested in Sea Girt Lighthouse. The website is the online place to go for lighthouse news, profiles, listings of upcoming events and photos. It was designed by trustee Bill Mountford, who is the great-grandson of William H.H. Lake, Sea Girt Lighthouse’s longest-serving keeper (1917-31).


The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, a tax-exempt, non-profit volunteer organization, was formed in 1981 by local residents to “saveDSC_0127 our lighthouse,” which was then in disrepair and at risk of being sold. The group, which rents the property from the Borough of Sea Girt for $1 a year, is responsible for not only maintaining the building and preserving its history but also raising the funds necessary to continue these efforts.

SGLCC is entirely responsible for covering the cost of repairs, ongoing maintenance and operating expenses. The funds needed come out of the lighthouse endowment, carefully invested, that has been built up over the decades through membership dues, donations, bequests and fundraising efforts.

Mission Accomplished

With the conclusion of her report, Mrs. Muhler had completed her last assignment in her two-year term as president. She then introduced Sea Girt Mayor Mark E. Clemmensen, an honorary trustee of the lighthouse. The mayor is a retired lieutenant colonel in the National Guard who had served as superintendent of the National Guard Training Center at Camp Sea Girt. He spoke of the U.S. military tradition of challenge coins – medallions given to troops in recognition of a mission successfully completed. Mayor Clemmensen then presented Mrs. Muhler with a challenge coin for her lighthouse leadership and contributions to the community and state.

New Officers Elected

DSC_0146 Trustee Kathryn Matthews, chair of the nominating committee, presented the slate of officers, who were elected to two-year terms by  unanimous vote of the members present. The officers are Jerry Hayward, president; Virginia Zientek, vice-president; Walter Jensen, treasurer; Debby Vincent, recording secretary; and Colette Casey, corresponding secretary. After the swearing in, Mrs. Muhler passed the lighthouse gavel to Mr. Hayward, who continued the meeting. Mrs. Muhler remains a trustee on the SGLCC board.

Mr. Hayward thanked the membership for their support and said he is honored to serve as president of a vibrant organization whose members are so involved in the ongoing effort to maintain the historic treasure. He noted the many people who come together, helping in different ways, to insure the preservation of the building and its rich history. As an example, he cited the docents who lead the Sunday tours, discussing the lighthouse story with visitors, who leave with expanded knowledge and appreciation of Sea Girt Lighthouse that they will hopefully pass it on.

New Jerseyans in the Civil War

Trustee Bill Dunn introduced the featured speaker, local historian and author Joseph G. Bilby. He is the editor of the just published book New DSC_0161 Jersey Goes to War: Biographies of 150 New Jerseyans Caught Up in the Struggle of the Civil War.

Mr. Dunn noted the topic was an appropriate one for Sea Girt Lighthouse because the first keeper here, Abraham Wolf (1896-1903), had been a major in the Union Army and a spy during the Civil War. While a Northerner, Wolf could mimic a convincing southern accent. His commanding officer assigned Wolf to dress up in a Confederate uniform and mingle among captured Confederate soldiers, being held prisoner at Fort Delaware, on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. Speaking in his affected southern drawl, Wolf gained valuable information from the Confederates on their troop strength, encampments and battle plans.

While Major Wolf is not mentioned in the new book, there are two colorful characters profiled who did have ties to Sea Girt. William J. Sewell, an immigrant from Ireland, rose from captain to general on the battlefield. In 1885, then a general in the National Guard, Sewell selected Sea Girt as the location for a permanent National Guard camp.

Sergeant James Madison Drake rose to first lieutenant and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in battle at Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia in 1864. After the war, he was promoted to colonel in the New Jersey National Guard. While he eventually resigned from the Guard, he made sure to first lobby the New Jersey Legislature to make him a brevet or honorary brigadier general. He later rejoined the National Guard as a captain but wore his honorary general’s rank, according to Mr. Bilby, who showed a photo of Drake and his Veteran Zouave Drill Team on parade at Camp Sea Girt in 1908.

DSC_01652010 Limited Edition Lighthouse Print

Before adjourning the meeting, Mr. Hayward called up trustee Robert Varcoe. Together they unveiled a limited edition print of the 2010 photo poster of Sea Girt Lighthouse, photographed and designed by Mr. Varcoe. (See related story for details).

Following the annual meeting, a reception was on the first floor. Members and guests enjoyed refreshments and conversation.

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Changing Command

Published by admin at 2:04 AM under

Who’s In Charge: The Changing Command

Of America’s Lighthouses in a Changing AmericaALEXANDER_HAMILTON

As America grew and confronted changing challenges, command of U.S. lighthouses changed repeatedly in recognition of their importance in maritime safety, economy growth and national defense. Here is the chronology of the changing lighthouse command:

  • Colonial Days – Each colony built and controlled the lighthouses within its borders. During the Revolutionary War, General Washington’s Continental Army battled British troops for control of Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the New Jersey lighthouse that guided ships into New York Harbor. Sandy Hook eventually fell to the British.
  • Lighthouse Establishment, 1789-1852 – President Washington, realizing the defensive as well as economic importance of lighthouses, moved  to put all U.S. lighthouses under federal control. The ninth act of Congress, passed August 7, 1789, created the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment as part of the U.S. Treasury Department. Thus the first Superintendent of Lighthouses was Alexander Hamilton, first Treasury Secretary. LIGHTHOUSE_SERVICE
  • U.S. Light-House Board, 1852-1910 – On October 9, 1852, the U.S. Light-House Board was launched within the Department of Treasury. In recognition of their military importance and the increasing technology needed in the operation of lighthouses, the board was composed of three Navy officers, three from the Army Corps of Engineers and two “civilians of high scientific attainments …”
  • U.S. Lighthouse Service, 1910-1939 – On July 1, 1910, the Light-House Board was dissolved by Act of Congress and authority passed to the  newly created Bureau of Lighthouses, better known as the U.S. Lighthouse Service, under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department.
  • U.S. Coast Guard, 1939-1956 – With war threatening in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential order that dissolved the Lighthouse Service and transferred command of all U.S. lighthouses to the U.S. Coast Guard July 1, 1939. During the war, all beacons at U.S. lighthouses were extinguished. After the war, lighthouses were relit. Some, including Sea Girt, were changed to automatic lights, requiring no personnel. Others continued to be staffed and manually operated.USCG_FLAG
  • Borough of Sea Girt, 1956-Present –The federal government’s General Services Administration offers the empty Sea Girt Lighthouse and its property to the State of New Jersey, which is not interested. But the Borough of Sea Girt is. On August 10, 1956, the Borough buys the property for $11,000. The building is used for more than 20 years as the town library and community center. The Sea  Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee is formed in 1981 to “save our lighthouse” and in August of that year signs a lease with the Borough to take charge of the lighthouse.

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Historical Slideshow

Published by admin at 3:03 AM under

Enjoy the historically relevant slideshow:

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Historic Preservation: A Collaborative Effort

Published by admin at 2:37 AM under

The collection of artifacts displayed at Sea Girt Lighthouse, which vividly illustrates the rich history of the landmark, steadily grows through the generosity of people who donate not only the historic items but time and talent to share these treasures.

A key element in historic preservation at the lighthouse and everywhere is collaboration. And the story behind one of the lighthouse’s most popular exhibits – two Morro Castle lifejackets – is one of serendipity and inspiring collaboration of individuals and organizations who contributed in various ways to preserving these striking artifacts of the Jersey shore for generations to view, learn from and remember.

BOSSETT_LIFEJACKET_PRESENTATION The Morro Castle was a luxury liner that burned three miles offshore September 8, 1934. The crew fixed their position from the lighthouse beacon. Once the order was given to abandon ship, the beacon directed people to shore and gave them hope as their struggled for their lives. While 137 died in the disaster, more than 400 survived as a result of the heroic efforts of local people, including fishermen and lifeguards, who risked their own lives to save others. The lifejackets are powerful reminders of what transpired.

Over the years the lighthouse has added to its permanent exhibit many Morro Castle photos, news clippings, a lifeboat oar and other artifacts, donated by rescuers, passengers, crew members and others.

Witness to History

During a 2007 tour of the lighthouse, Robert Bossett, a Brielle resident and retired teacher, enjoyed the Morro Castle display, which reminded him he had a Morro Castle lifejacket tucked away somewhere at his home. Realizing the lighthouse was an appropriate repository for the artifact, he offered it to the lighthouse.

He had the lifejacket ever since the day of the disaster. As a young boy, he had been among the many thousands of onlookers who watched in astonishment as lifeboats, passengers and crew, and debris washed ashore. He retrieved the lifejacket as a souvenir. It was the start of a lifelong hobby of collecting shore artifacts. He also enjoyed making duck decoys. At some point he removed two of the eight vertical cork panels sewn into BOSSETT_MC_LIFEBOATthe cotton lifejacket and carved them in decoys.

Despite its fragile condition with rips and missing sections, the lifejacket was nevertheless an important historic item. The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee eagerly accepted the lifejacket with appreciation.

Quester Query

Soon after, New Jersey Questers, the state chapter of an international group promoting historic preservation, held a meeting at the lighthouse. Its president Virginia Cutaio inquired if the lighthouse had any projects needing support.

Lighthouse trustee Conrad Yauch, remembering the newly acquired lifejacket, responded in the affirmative, mentioning the lifejacket as a recent, intriguing acquisition in poor condition but worthy of restoration.

Ms. Cutaio encouraged the Lighthouse Citizens Committee to prepare and submit an application for a Questers grant to restore the lifejacket. The committee did. After review and discussion of the proposal, New Jersey Questers approved a grant, enabling the lifejacket’s complete restoration.

Lifejacket with Signatures

An article in The Asbury Park Press on the donated lifejacket and the grant illustrated with a photo of the lifejacket prompted Grover Donnelly to LIFEJACKET2_DONNELLY_GIVES contact the lighthouse to say he too had a Morro Castle lifejacket – with signatures of several policemen who responded to the disaster. And his lifejacket didn’t need restoration. Mr. Donnelly graciously added his lifejacket to the lighthouse collection.

Next, entomologist and zoologist Bill Sciarappa, of the Rutgers Cooperative Ex-tension, volunteered his efforts, putting both lifejackets under the microscope, finding they were mighty dusty with assorted remnants of dead bugs, but free of active infestation.

From Wedding Vest to Life Vest

With the Questers grant approved, the lighthouse trustees began contacting museums, including the Metropolitan Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution, to gather names of qualified preservations. The trustees selected Katherine Francis, a leading conservator, to restore the Bossett lifejacket. Among her previous assignments, she had restored the vest John Adams wore at his 1764 wedding to Abigail Smith. In 1797 Adams was inaugurated as the second president of the United States.

Ms. Francis cleaned both life vests, careful not to erase the signatures on the Donnelly lifejacket. A big challenge was matching the texture and color of the original cotton twill in the material used to patch the tears and missing sections of the Bossett lifejacket. After tests of fabrics and dyes, Ms. Francis found the right combination. Her mends are hard to detect; the restored lifejacket looks almost new.RESTORER_FRANCIS_LIFEJACKET1_BOSSETT

And helping to keep both lifejackets from fading, Ms. Francis donated a custom cover she made that is put over the lifejackets’ display case when the lighthouse is closed to protect the display from direct light and dust. Above the display case are Morro Castle photos, including a news photo showing onlookers surrounding lifeboat #1, including young Bobby Bossett perched on the side of the lifeboat looking in. 

Keeping History Alive

At the unveiling of the lifejacket display, lighthouse trustee Marie Muhler observed: “We thank the many involved in the preservation and display of these significant artifacts. Together we are keeping history alive.”

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Winter Photos by Henry Bossett

Published by admin at 2:10 AM under

Enjoy these winter photos by Henry Bossett. You may have to download Microsoft Silverlight for these products to display properly.

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Lighthouse Tours Have Resumed

Published by admin at 12:42 AM under

The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee have resumed tours of the Sea Girt Lighthouse. Please join us Sundays from 2-4 pm, except holiday weekends, from mid-April through November 21. A typical tour gives a full history of the lighthouse,  as well as other historical events that transpired in Sea Girt, such as the Morro Castle disaster. Tours are free, but donations are always welcome. You can find directions to the lighthouse here.

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