Students From Abroad Visit Sea Girt Lighthouse

Published by admin at 8:43 AM under

Eighteen children from a dozen countries, who are students at Millburn Middle School and Millburn High School in Essex County, ventured 55 miles south with their teachers to visit Sea Girt Lighthouse recently as part of their New Jersey history studies.

MILLBURN_GROUPThe youngsters, whose families have immigrated to America or their parents are here studying or on temporary work assignments, prepared for their tour by researching lighthouses in their native countries.

At the start of the tour, the visitors introduced themselves and identified their homelands, which included: Bulgaria, China, El Salvador, France, Republic of Georgia, Guatemala, India, Mongolia, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey.

The visit in mid-June was organized by Joan Holle, who teaches English as a second language to many of the students. “They are motivated learners and a pleasure to teach,” she said. Joining her were Dana VanGinneken, who also teaches English as a second language, and guidance counselor John Rogers.

“This is a perfect time for a change of scenery and to explore New Jersey history. The lighthouse is a perfect point of interest,” noted Ms. Holle. She well knows Sea Girt Lighthouse, having been here previously for tours and private parties, including a wedding. A resident of Spring Lake Heights, she has summered in Sea Girt since she was a youngster and continues to spend time here with family and friends who live in town.

Comparing Lighthouses

The lively tour was a learning experience not only for the students and teachers but also the lighthouse trustees on duty as docents. And it was an opportunity for the students to practice their English. Throughout the tour, they were encouraged to talk about the lighthouses in their homelands.MILLBURN_BOYS_TOWER

Several students noted they lived near and/or had visited lighthouses at home, including:

o Nos Galata Lighthouses in Bulgaria on the Black Sea by the port of Varna.

o Lan Qi Lighthouse on China’s southeastern coast in Fujian Province.

o Ocos Range Light in Guatemala near the border with Mexico.

o Aguada Point and Goa Lighthouses on the west coast of India.

o Oido and Daejin Lighthouses on the west coast of South Korea.

o Laem Phra Chao Lighthouse on Thailand’s largest island off the west coast.

o Kiz Kulesi Lighthouse, also known as the Maiden Tower, built on a small island at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus Sea, off Istanbul, Turkey.

Each of these lighthouses is distinct from the other and has a compelling history, which the students shared. The students and docents compared and contrasted those lighthouses with Sea Girt Lighthouse in terms of tower height, lighthouse design and markings and other variables.

Reaching the Top

The visitors explored Sea Girt Lighthouse from the keeper’s office into the living quarters and on up to the top of the tower. Many students were surprised to learn that long ago lighthouses were not automated but were manually operated.

“Before our tour of the Sea Girt Lighthouse, I never knew that people actually operated the light or that anyone lived in a lighthouse,” said Bin, a high-school student from China.

Everyone’s favorite part was climbing up the spiral staircase and then the ladder to the very top of the tower into the lantern room with its spectacular view so far out to sea.

The students were also impressed by the three-foot-tall, beehive-shaped 4th order Fresnel lens on display on the second floor. ”It’s amazing how big it is and how prisms can project light so far,” commented Pawin, a high-school student from Thailand. A 4th order Fresnel lens can project a beacon 15 miles.

Many students brought cameras and took photos of one another and of the artifacts on display.


At the end of the tour, Jerry Hayward, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, presented the boys and girls with SGLCC Junior Member Cards. As each child received the card, he or she said “thank you” in English and then in their native language.

“I am constantly reminded what a historic treasure we have in our backyard when I meet the people who come here from across America and today from around the world,” said Mr. Hayward.

“As our Junior Members, these students become our ambassadors to their families and friends. It was a pleasure having them visit. They hopefully will help us spread the history of Sea Girt Lighthouse.”

The Millburn students had a full day at the shore. After their visit to Sea Girt Lighthouse, they had lunch by the Manasquan Inlet. Afterwards they and their teachers walked on the beach to discuss the ocean and the coastal environment. During a break, some played soccer. And before heading home, the students made sure to stick their feet in the water.

Fun Learning

Once back in school, the students were asked to discuss their Sea Girt Lighthouse experience and then write a composition on what they had learned. In this way they were re-enforcing what they discovered and working on their conversational, writing and editing skills.

Teodor, from Bulgaria, thinking his essay could wind up being very long, asked his teacher: “Do we have to write about everything we learned?”

The children all agreed that they learned a great deal on their tour. ”When you go to the Sea Girt Lighthouse, you can learn about the lighthouse and also the history of the United States,” wrote Sanghee, a student from South Korea.

“We couldn't have asked for a better day,” said Ms. Holle. “Several students, upon leaving enthusiastically said, ‘This is the best field trip ever!’ ”

The docents on duty enjoyed themselves too and were gratified by the students’ enthusiasm and appreciation.

Arranging Lighthouse Tours

Group tours such as this one are conducted year-round by prior arrangement. To arrange a tour, please call the lighthouse, 732-974-0514, or send an email from the website’s Contact Us page.

Photos: Courtesy of Joan Holle

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Girl Scouts Lead Lighthouse Tours

Published by admin at 1:53 AM under

Guided Sunday tours of Sea Girt Lighthouse, a popular attraction spring through fall, had even more visitors than usual on a recent Sunday as Girl Scouts volunteered as lighthouse guides to lead younger Scouts, Scout families and others throughout the 115-year-old shore landmark.

In each room and in the tower there was a Scout tour guide who teamed up with an experienced lighthouse docent to greet the visitors and explain the function of the room and artifacts on display.

GS_MOLLY_TALKS_2GSsThe 15 Scouts guides, ages 10-14, worked in two shifts of 90-minutes each. They prepared for their assignment by studying the tour script and by taking their own tour earlier the same day. They then chose the rooms in which they would be posted.

Well Received

With each group of visitors, the Girl Scouts guides grew more confident and expansive in their narrative. Lighthouse docents offered encouragement but did not often have to step in to provide a missing fact.

"I loved seeing my improvement on each tour. I also loved being able to tell people what I know and to see their reactions to different things," said Ellie. "I was surprised that most people seemed to believe that a 12-year-old girl could give a tour."

“I really liked doing it. People should know about the history of the lighthouse. And it’s fun telling them,” said Elizabeth, 12, one of the Scout guides who was on duty in what had been the children’s bedrooms.

She explained the Coast Guard converted the bedrooms into the barracks upon their arrival in 1939. She also pointed out the chairs on display that had belonged to one of the keepers, the folders with keeper documents and the photos and maps on the walls of bygone Sea Girt.

Elizabeth summed up Girl Scout Sunday, saying: “It was just an all-around great time.” She enjoyed the experience so much she has volunteered to come back as a docent for the regular Sunday tours.

Emily, who was on duty in the tower, found the experience "a lot of fun and interesting." She especially enjoyed "helping all the Girl Scouts up and down the ladder" that leads to the lantern room at the top of the tower. She'd consider coming back to help again "because it was a cozy welcoming place." Her advice to other Girl Scouts who give tours in the future: "I would say, be nice and have a smile on your face."

Lighthouse trustee Conrad Yauch, who is in charge of scheduling Sunday tour guides, noted: “Our docents had an easy day of it. Our Scout teammates did an excellent job. They were well prepared, enthusiastic and informative.”GS_GROUP_PIX1

Michelle Masarik, a program specialist with the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore, first approached Sea Girt Lighthouse last winter to propose that the Girl Scouts be guides for one day. “This event is a wonderful experience for the girls, who really listened and took their roles seriously,” she said.

“Having the Lighthouse opened up to our Scouts and their families is very exciting,” she added.

GS@PLOVER_NESTINGAppreciating Lighthouses and Birds

The Scout guides as well as the younger Scouts, who took copious notes in their journals on what they learned, earned colorful lighthouse patches they could add to their distinctive green Girl Scout sashes and vests, which some of the girls wore during the tour.

After the visitors finished their hour-long tour, they walked to the nearby Sea Girt boardwalk and beach for some bird-watching, sketching the lighthouse and studying the coastal ecology.

Girl Scout Sunday at Sea Girt Lighthouse was part of a larger Girl Scout program, Discover Our Lighthouses, with similar events at Barnegat Lighthouse and Twin Lights on separate Sundays.

“Just like ships passed by lighthouses for years, our youth pass by them today with barely a glance,” noted Ms. Masarik. “With our (lighthouse) programs, we hope to create a buzz about lighthouses and about the great historical places that are all around us.”

The selection of these three lights has historic significance, which the Girl Scout guides mentioned while giving tours. Sea Girt Lighthouse was built in 1896 to illuminate a blind spot mariners previously encountered off Sea Girt where they were out of range of the beacons of Barnegat and Twin Lights.

GS@USCG_DISPLAYArriving in Waves

So great was the response to the advance announcement of Girl Scout Sunday, Sea Girt Lighthouse opened that day an hour early at 1 p.m. and ran through the normal closing time of 4 p.m.

Visitors were assigned start times for their tour to keep the traffic flowing smoothly. From 2-4 p.m. they were joined by the usual contingent of drop-in visitors who came for the regular Sunday tour, which made for a lively interaction.

On a typical Sunday tour in May, there might 25 or so visitors. But Girl Scout Sunday brought more than 100 people to Sea Girt Lighthouse. The Scout families came from throughout Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

And by the end of the day, three Scout guides and two mothers volunteered to return as docents.

(Photos courtesy of the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore)

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Annual Lighthouse Meeting Explores Lifeguard History

Published by admin at 1:40 AM under

Members of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee at the May annual meeting conducted business and reviewed projects successfully completed in the last 12 months.

The highlight of the evening, which attracted a strong turnout, was a timely talk and slide presentation, Lifeguards of the Jersey Shore, by veteran Jersey shore lifeguard Michael “Spike” Fowler.

State of the Lighthouse

Jerry Hayward, SGLCC president, welcomed everyone and then delivered the traditional State of the Lighthouse report. “The lighthouse status is very good and the committee is strong,” he said.

DSC_0187The lighthouse, he noted, is in use some 180 days a year with meetings by local community groups, special events like the Lighthouse Challenge, group tours year-round and popular Sunday tours April through November. Such activities are made possible by a “robust volunteer docent corps” and member support. SGLCC has some 400 members.

Mr. Hayward discussed projects completed, including installation of copper flashing along the seam where the porch roof abuts the exterior brickwork to prevent leaking, refinishing and repainting of the southeast exhibit room on the second-floor after the installation of new water-tight windows, repairs to the sidewalk by the east entrance and rebuilding the slate steps at the west entrance and adding a metal handrail.

Trustees Sworn In

Two new trustees, Jack Ohlweiler and Jude Meehan , both of whom have long been Sunday tour guides, joined four veteran trustees in being elected to new three-year terms. They were sworn in by Sea Girt Mayor Mark E. Clemmensen. DSC_0188

He thanked the committee and its president for maintaining the lighthouse, which the mayor said is a treasured landmark and iconic symbol of the town and its rich history.

History of Ocean Rescue

With the business meeting concluded, featured speaker Spike Fowler delivered a lively and engaging presentation, based on the book he co-authored titled Lifeguards of the Jersey Shore: A Story of Ocean Rescue in New Jersey, published by Schiffer Books (http://spikefowler.com/).

Mr. Fowler, in his 48th consecutive summer of lifeguarding, has been a lifeguard in his hometown of Avon, as well as Belmar and Long Branch. A resident of Wall, he currently is lifeguard supervisor at Seven Presidents Park in Long Branch. In what he calls the “off-season,” Mr. Fowler is a professor of marketing at Brookdale Community College.

DSC_0176He has amassed a personal collection of several thousand rare photos of beach patrols and ocean rescues in their various forms. Of the some 300 photos in his book, Mr. Fowler showed more than half of them in his presentation.

He began by going back a few centuries when lighthouses first guided mariners through New Jersey’s coastal waters. Despite the guiding beacons of Sandy Hook (America’s oldest active lighthouse built in 1764), Barnegat (1858), Sea Girt (1896) and other lights, there are over 5,000 shipwrecks buried off New Jersey’s 130-mile coast, sunk over centuries by storms, shoals, structural failures and navigational errors.

U.S. Life-Saving Service

While many ships have been lost, countless lives were saved, including thousands of mariners and passengers rescued by volunteers of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, organized in 1849. The USLSS, foreshadowing shore towns organizing their own lifeguard crews, would eventually evolve into the modern U.S. Coast Guard.

Fishermen back on land and off-duty firemen and policemen comprised the rescuers – known as watermen – of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. They gathered at local beachfront Victorian stationhouses with tall and wide front doors that opened to the storage rooms where they kept their rescue boats and other life-saving gear.

The volunteers rescued people off a foundering ship, using lifeboats, life-lines shot from shore to the ship by a lyle gun, harnesses and fully-enclosed rescue capsules that glided to shore suspended from the life-lines secured to the ship’s mast and an on-shore tripod.

Hold Tight

Before they started their own lifeguard crews, beach towns and hotels installed poles and ropes in designated bathing areas to help bathers in the rough surf. Ropes were run along the beach into the water or dropped from overhead bars supported by poles driven into the ocean floor near shore.

As early as 1845, Cape May bath houses hung ropes for bathers to hold onto while they ventured into the surf in their heavy woolen bathing suits that extended from shoulders to mid-calf. Hotels began running rope lines and hired crews to man lifeboats, as people went “bottom dunking.”

Competent Bathers

SURF_CONSTABLESThe earliest lifeguards were volunteers. Paid guards were being hired in the second half of the 18th century. In 1855, Atlantic City had badge-wearing “constables of the surf.” Ocean Grove hired Bathing Masters in 1872. Long Branch hotels in 1874 advertised there were “competent bathers always on duty.” By 1892 Atlantic City had two paid lifeguards. Asbury Park hired lifeguards around 1896. Spring Lake had a few paid guards in 1906.

As men went off to World War II, the first woman guard, Mary Wood, was hired in 1942 in Surf City on Long Beach Island in Ocean County. Not far behind was Carol MacKinnon, Spike Fowler’s aunt, who was a lifeguard in Lavallette during the war.

Sea Girt Lifeguards

LIFGEGUARD_BIKESea Girt had paid lifeguards by 1933, reports Mr. Fowler. While guards on lifeguard stands were at one or two busy beaches, a photo in the lighthouse archive shows a lifeguard on a bike patrolling all the other beaches by riding up and down the boardwalk.

Among the rescues featured in the book and the presentation was the Morro Castle rescue, in which six Sea Girt lifeguards saved 15 people who jumped off the burning cruise ship Morro Castle September 8, 1934.

The section on the Morro Castle rescue was researched by co-authors Bernard and Edward Olsen, who visited Sea Girt Lighthouse in the summer of 2009. They were given access to the lighthouse’s extensive Morro Castle archives. One of the photos in the book of the Sea Girt lifeguards comes from the lighthouse collection.

Lifeguard Tradition

Mr. Fowler traced the improvement in equipment used by the lifeguards. He also discussed lifeguard culture – the strong bond that develops among lifeguards, who enjoy their work and the camaraderie but also carry a heavy responsibility.

New Jersey lifeguards now average some 3,000 rescues a year. In a longstanding and proud tradition, carried on and documented by Spike Fowler, lifeguards put themselves at risk to insure our summer days at the beach are safe and enjoyable.

Lighthouse Exhibits

Sea Girt Lighthouse was an appropriate venue for Mr. Fowler’s presentation. Among the artifacts displayed at the lighthouse are an early U.S. Life-Saving Service lantern and rare photos of local Life-Saving Service volunteers on watch by their lifeboats and in action as they rescue passengers from a storm-tossed sailing ship.

The U.S. Coast Guard was created in 1915 when the Life-Saving Service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service, founded in 1790 as the Revenue Marine to enforce customs laws.

There is also an extensive Coast Guard exhibit at the lighthouse, including service flags, numerous photos, World War II artifacts, intelligence bulletins and other official documents. During and after World War II, Sea Girt Lighthouse was a Coast Guard installation.


After Mr. Fowler’s well received talk, the annual meeting was adjourned and all repaired to the first-floor for refreshments and conversation. The reception afforded people the chance to chat with one another and to meet the author, who signed copies of his book.

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