2nd Annual Full Moon Night Climb

Published by admin at 8:19 AM under

For only the second time ever, Sea Girt Lighthouse will be open to the public for a night climb to the top of the tower Saturday, December 6 between 6 and 9 p.m. That particular night was chosen because there will be a full moon, which will illuminate the lighthouse, beach and ocean affording spectacular vistas.

090 “On behalf of my fellow trustees, I invite all to join us for this fun community event,” said Bill Mountford, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee. “It makes for a nice family outing and a memorable start to the holiday season.”

The lighthouse will be at its most beautiful. Trustee will have decorated the lighthouse for the season with garland on the porch and tower railings, with wreaths on the front door and the tower’s gallery. Festive lights will shine in every window. In keeping with tradition that goes back decades, members of the Holly Club will have decorated the parlor, community room and stairway banister with seasonal flowers and greenery and a tree will be trimmed in the parlor.

The carefully chosen date, offering the full moon, also holds historic significance, for the climb will comes only four days before the 118th anniversary of the activation of Sea Girt Lighthouse, December 10, 1896. And it is believed that the first keeper, Abraham Wolf, was already in residence December 6, 1896.

“This is a rare opportunity, not to be missed,” said Jude Meehan, SGLCC vice-president who conceived of the night climb. “I encourage all to bring their cameras. There will be great views to be captured.” Last year’s inaugural night climb proved such a success that trustees decided to make this an annual event and are expecting a big turnout.

harden_star_fire_grenade Trustee Meehan will be easy to recognize, as he will be wearing an exact replica of the navy blue bell cap with the embroidered lighthouse insignia of the U.S. Lighthouse Board that keepers always wore when on duty and Mr. Meehan always wears when on docent duty in the tower.

There will be a table on the lawn with several pairs of binoculars for visitors to use to study the exterior of the lighthouse as it is bathed in moonlight and to study the full moon. After that visitors can proceed into the lighthouse. There will be friendly and knowledgeable docents stationed on the porch and throughout the building to direct people and answer questions.

As space in the lighthouse is limited, the tower will be open for the full three hours to accommodate night climbers on a flow basis. The climb up the tower goes up a spiral staircase and then a ladder into the lantern room, which has enough room for 8 people at a time.

uslhs_firefighting_grenade Exhibits

There is much to see in other rooms, which are filled with artifacts, with several recently acquired items, including an 1890s Harden Star Fire Grenade, a glass globe filled with salt water and brine. Every lighthouse would have dozens of fire grenades throughout the building. In the event of a fire, the keeper would throw the grenades at the walls, floorboards or equipment that were afire. The globes would break on impact and spill their contents on the fire, hopefully dousing the flames.

Also newly added to the exhibits are an 1889 navigational chart, one of the earliest to identify Sea Girt Light, a Light-House Board first-aid kit that came from a San Francisco lighthouse, and international signal code flags, which lighthouses used to communicate with passing ships before radio communication. The last two items were donated by Vice-President Meehan.

Other Activities036

Refreshments will be offered in the community room. Wandering carolers will fill the air with holiday songs and put everyone in a festive mood.

Trustee and lighthouse historian Bill Dunn will be in the parlor, signing copies of his book Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon, the definitive history of the lighthouse richly illustrated with 110 photos. The book, which makes a nice gift, will be available for $21.99, with all proceeds going to the lighthouse.

Admission to the night climb is free, but donations are appreciated and help to fund lighthouse operations.

Photo of Sea Girt Lighthouse decorated for 2013 full moon night climb by Henry Bossett.

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Lighthouse Challenge 2014 Success

Published by admin at 12:10 PM under

What began as a trickle became a steady stream much of the weekend of the Lighthouse Challenge October 18 and 19 as enthusiastic participants from all over arrived at Sea Girt Lighthouse in their quest to visit 11 historic New Jersey lights, two life-saving stations and one museum in just two days.

After signing the guest book, participants made sure to check in at the Challenge desk to collect the official souvenir of Sea Girt Lighthouse, a 007 handsome card with a color image of the lighthouse in quadruplicate. This is the proof of having made the stop. If they were on schedule, visitors would have a quick look about and maybe a climb to the top of the tower before venturing off to the next stop. Many enthusiasts also brought lighthouse passports and added the Sea Girt stamp to their collection of lighthouses they’ve visited, not just this one weekend but on other excursions as well.

Having made every stop, successful Challenge takers received a prized card that read: Congratulations on completing the 2014 Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey. The card featured the crests of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, the U.S. Coast Guard which absorbed the Lighthouse Service in 1939, and the two agencies – the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service – that were merged in 1915 to create the Coast Guard.

From Far and Wide

This is the 15th annual Lighthouse Challenge. While the majority of visitors over the Challenge weekend came from New Jersey with a strong turnout from New York and Pennsylvania, the guestbook recorded visitors from 16 states, from as far away as Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Illinois and Indiana. There were also visitors from France, Germany and Italy. Seconds before the clock in the hallway of Sea Girt Lighthouse chimed 6 o’clock on Sunday evening, the last visitor arrived to collect her souvenir.

She brought the total of visitors to 1,716. Of that number, 1,536 came specifically to do the Challenge. The others dropped in to see what all the excitement was about and to take the opportunity explore the lighthouse, during the two days of extended hours. And there were those who came Sunday during the normal tour hours.

Altogether the turnout was highest at Sea Girt in the last five years, and a 28 percent increase over last year. Certainly the mild weather and sunny skies and moderate gas prices helped boost attendance.

challenge_2014_completion “We volunteers at Sea Girt Lighthouse look forward to this event and the chance to show our station to fellow lighthouse enthusiasts and tell them the story of our lighthouse of distinction,” said Bill Mountford, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee who was there both days. “We were gratified by the turnout.”

Exhibits and Special Displays

Visitors learned that Sea Girt Lighthouse was built specifically to address a problem that mariners encountered in the area in storms and fog when they often were unable to see the beacons of Navesink Twin Lights to the north or Barnegat Light to the south. Sea Girt, equipped with a 4th order Fresnel lens, was activated December 10, 1896, illuminating the dark space. Sea Girt’s beacon projected up to 15 miles.

Over the Challenge weekend, people were encouraged to explore the lighthouse from the keeper’s office, throughout the living quarters and up to the top of the tower. Docents were assigned to each room, welcoming people and answering any questions they had. Each room is filled with historic photos, maps, flags and other artifacts that tell the story of Sea Girt Lighthouse during its years of operation by the U.S. Lighthouse Service and then the U.S. Coast Guard. There is also a exhibit on the Coast Guard’s predecessors: the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, which was the customs collection agency, and the U.S. Life-Saving Service, which began in New Jersey because of all the shipwrecks here.

Among the artifacts on display: an 1898 U.S. Light-House Board map of the 4th Light-House District, one of the earliest maps to identify Sea Girt Lighthouse; an 1890s Harden Star Fire Grenade, a thin glass globe filled with salt water and brine that was standard issue to lighthouses over a century ago and would be thrown at a fire in hopes of extinguishing the flames; the 1903-06 logbook of Sea Girt’s second keeper, Abram Yates; the oil lamp used by keeper William Lake, 1917-31, before the lighthouse was electrified.

The jewel of the collection, which many visitors photographed and had their photos taken beside, is a 4th order Fresnel lens. It is not Sea Girt’s original Fresnel lens, which was turned off and removed during World War II, but the same size lens that had been in service at New Crowdy Head Lighthouse in Australia.

In addition to these regular displays there were two special displays from the personal collection of Jude Meehan, SGLCC vice-president, that he put up for the event, that recall lighthouse history.

014 Mr. Meehan was dressed for the occasion, wearing an exact replica of a keeper’s navy blue cap with the Lighthouse Service crest of lighthouse in silver thread above a laurel wreath in gold thread.

Hanging from the porch, the tower’s gallery railing and inside the tower were international signal code flags from Mr. Meehan’s collection, similar to the type of flags issued to Sea Girt and other stations in 1898 by the Light-House Board for station to ship communications.

And on the west lawn, Mr. Meehan pitched Army tents, as did Army troops assigned to Sea Girt on temporary duty in the summer of 1943. At that point there were 28 Coast Guardsmen at the station and a handful of soldiers. They patrolled the beaches and stood watch in the tower.


Among the visitors to Sea Girt was a familiar face, 23-year-old Greg Fitzgerald, who was welcomed by fellow docents. Greg, first volunteered at Sea Girt Lighthouse during the 2001Challenge when he was only 10-years-old. He’s been back most every year since. An unrivaled lighthouse enthusiast and authority, he has visited more than 400 lighthouses around the world, taking photos at every stop. He says Sea Girt is his favorite lighthouse.

A leading authority on lighthouses, Greg gives talks and leads tours of lighthouses. He qualifies as a leading pharologist, defined as a student of or expert on lighthouses. The term derives from Pharos, believed to be the first lighthouse, which was built on the island of Pharos, in Alexandria, Egypt around 400 B.C.

This year, Star-Ledger reporter MaryAnn Spoto and photographer Patti Sapone accompanied Greg as he visited Sandy Hook, Navesink Twin Lights and Sea Girt. The resulting story, “For Lovers of Lighthouses, New Jersey Offers a Tall Challenge,” can be seen at here (

In an accompanying video shot by Ms. Sapone, Greg makes an important point: “The one thing I hope people take away from this weekend is not just that they climbed 11 lighthouses and visited 3 museums and how many stairs they climbed, but how much work there is to be done at a lot of these stations. Every lighthouse in the state has some project that needs to be done. And it needs funding a lot of times from private sources.”

Sea Girt Lighthouse welcomes new members and volunteers to join the never-ending and always thrilling preservation effort.

Challenge Stops

Heading south along the ocean and then up the Delaware River, the lighthouses in the 2014 Challenge, with the year of activate in parentheses, plus the bonus stops, were:

o Sandy Hook Lighthouse (1764). Oldest surviving U.S. lighthouse – and still on duty.

o Twin Lights (1862). On the Navesink Highlands 200 feet above sea level. First electric powered lighthouse (1898) and the most powerful beacon that could be seen for 22 miles.

o Sea Girt Lighthouse (1896). Illuminated blind spot between Twin Lights and Barnegat.

o Barnegat Lighthouse (1858). Denotes 40th parallel, crucial point in transatlantic sailing.

o Barnegat Light Museum. Old Barney’s 1st order Fresnel lens on display here.

o Tucker’s Island Lighthouse (1868). Replica built 1999 of lighthouse lost in 1927 storm.

o Absecon Lighthouse (1857). Built near Atlantic City as warning of dangerous shoals.

o Life-Saving Station 30 (1885). Stations like No. 30 were built with funds released by an 1871 bill sponsored by a New Jersey congressman that created the Life-Saving Service.

o Tatham Life-Saving Station 35 (1895). Built on the Stone Harbor site of one of the earliest U.S. life-saving stations.

o Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (1874). Built in North Wildwood to guide ships in the inlet.

o Cape May Lighthouse (1859). Replaced two earlier lights destroyed by storms and tides.

o Cape May Museum. Current tower’s 1st order Fresnel lens on display here.

o East Point Lighthouse (1849). At the confluence of Delaware Bay and Maurice River.

o Finns Point Rear Range Light (1877). Mariners were safely in the Delaware River channel when this beacon and a shorter front-range beacon aligned as one beam.

o Tinicum Range Light (1880). Rear-range light farther up the Delaware River, teamed with a smaller front-range light to guide ships into Camden and Philadelphia Harbors.

In completing the Challenge, participants traveled some 430 miles.

Retaking the Challenge as a Board Game

challenge_2014_game_board This year’s souvenirs offered Challenge takers a special treat – the chance to do the Challenge all over again, as a board game to be played by 2 to 4 people. At the first stop, participants paid $1 to receive an attractive full-color, bi-fold board that when unfolded measures 10¾x25½ inches.

On one side was a stylized roadmap that identified each lighthouse, life-saving station and the one museum in the Challenge with the same images appearing on the souvenir cards given out at each station. Challenge takers were also issued a pair of dice.

The object of the game is to be first to land on all 14 stops, covering each with the souvenir token collected at the stations. To make the game interesting, there are hazards along the way, just as there are in the actual Challenge, e.g. construction zones, detours, traffic circles and speed traps that can cause players to lose a turn or go back a few spaces.

Preservation Collaboration

The Challenge was a collaborative effort, co-sponsored by the organizations that run the individual sites. The primary goal of the Challenge was to promote awareness of New Jersey’s lighthouses specifically and lighthouses generally.

Admission to Sea Girt Lighthouse and several others was free, although donations were encouraged and appreciated. Several stops did have nominal admission charges. The funds raised enable the various preservation groups to continue their efforts.

Lighthouse Challenge 2015

Mark your calendar for next year when the 2015 Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey will be October 17-18.

Photos by Catherine Schwier

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Sea Girt Lighthouse Accepts the Lighthouse Challenge

Published by admin at 12:44 AM under

By Peter R. Halas

On Saturday and Sunday, October 18 and 19, 2014, Sea Girt Lighthouse will be welcoming a thousand or more lighthouse lovers as a key stop in the 15th annual Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey. The lighthouse will be open from 8 AM to 6 PM both days.

CHALLENGE_FRONT Bill Mountford, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, said, “The Lighthouse Challenge is a great opportunity to show the Sea Girt Lighthouse to over a thousand enthusiastic people in just one weekend.

“The Challenge is an excellent family activity, offering the perfect combination of entertainment and historical education. You don’t have to be a lighthouse expert to appreciate the Challenge, simply enjoy the adventure the weekend offers.”

Trustees and docents will be in each room to proudly discuss the history of Sea Girt Lighthouse and the meaning of the historical photographs and authentic lighthouse pieces, especially the Frensel lens on display. Visitors will have full access to the lighthouse, from the keeper’s office, throughout the living quarters, and up to the lantern room at the top of the tower.

Challenge participants will attempt to visit 11 lighthouses in New Jersey over the weekend in addition to one museum and two life-saving stations for total of 14 stops, collecting a stamp at each stop. When the visitors have collected a stamp from each lighthouse they will have covered about 430 miles and will receive a certificate of completion.

In previous years, visitors came from all over New Jersey, many states and Canada, and as far away as Europe. Interest in the history of lighthouses and their importance commercially and militarily, is strong and growing in the United States and in other countries. A strong turnout of locals, and people from many states and aboard is anticipated.

CHALLENGE_BACK Sea Girt Lighthouse, located at Ocean Avenue and Beacon Boulevard, flashed its first light on December 10, 1896. The light at this location eliminated the blind spot along the treacherous near-shore waters between the Twin Lights Lighthouse in Navesink and the Barnegat Lighthouse. The lighthouse was important for the development of radio navigation in the 1920s and served as a Coast Guard station with the light extinguished in World War II.

Bill Dunn, lighthouse historian and author of the new and definitive history of Sea Girt Lighthouse, which will be available for purchase during the challenge, explained, “The Lighthouse Challenge is something the volunteers at Sea Girt Lighthouse look forward to. We get to meet other lighthouse enthusiasts and have the opportunity to show them our favorite lighthouse and her extensive collection of artifacts.”

Lighthouse vice president Jude Meehan will again provide for display U.S. Navy signal flags and related military equipment.

Sea Girt Lighthouse trustees and volunteers invite you to take the Challenge, join the fun, visit Sea Girt Lighthouse and the other lighthouses the weekend of October 18 and 19. Directions and hours of operation are listed at

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Morro Castle 80th Anniversary September 8, Ship Fire and Rescue to be Remembered at Sea Girt Lighthouse

Published by admin at 6:24 AM under

The cruise ship Morro Castle, heading north through local waters on her 174th return voyage from Havana to New York, never reached her destination, dropping anchor several miles offshore as a fire of suspicious origin raced through the ship September 8, 1934. By day’s end, 134 people were dead, three more would die weeks later. But more than 400 were saved, many by local people who risked their own lives to save others.

MC_DROPS_ANCHOR The tragic fire, those who lost their lives, the survivors and their heroic rescuers will be remembered at Sea Girt Lighthouse Monday, September 8 in a morning memorial and program to mark the 80th anniversary.

Presiding over the lighthouse program will be Bill Mountford, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, and the grandson of Elvin (Toots) Lake, one of six Sea Girt lifeguards who helped to save a dozen people that fateful day. Toots had grown up at Sea Girt Lighthouse, the son of William (Pappy) Lake, who had been keeper from 1917-31.

Pappy was succeeded by George Thomas, who was Sea Girt keeper during the Morro Castle disaster. Thomas had won a commendation while keeper at Fire Island Lighthouse in 1917 for rendering assistance “in rescuing from a dangerous position two aviators whose hydroplane had plunged into Great South Bay and partly sunk.”

MC_BEACHED_ASBURY Keeper Thomas took the initiative again in the Morro Castle disaster. The official keepers’ handbook titled Instructions To Employees of the United States Lighthouse Service instructed keepers to extinguish their beacons at sunrise. However, it also advised: “It shall be the duty of light keepers and their assistants … to give or summon aid to vessels in distress, whether public or private, and to assist in saving life and property from perils of the sea whenever it is practicable to do so.”

There was a Nor’easter the morning of September 8, 1934 and visibility was reduced. It is believed that George Thomas kept Sea Girt’s beacon burning bright and flashing to provide navigational aid to the Morro Castle crew and rescue ships, and to give direction and hope to passengers and crew who went overboard when the order was given to abandon ship. One Morro Castle survivor credits the lighthouse beacon with saving her life.

TPARAMOUNT_RESCUERSwo of six lifeboats that could be launched beached in Sea Girt around 9 a.m. The other four beached in Spring Lake. People bobbing in the water in their bulky cork lifejackets were pushed to shore by the currents, reaching shore mid-morning and continuing into early afternoon. Many of those rescued were plucked from the water by the crews of fishing boats, including the John Bogan Sr., sons John and Jim and other volunteers aboard the Bogan fishing boat Paramount, who saved 67, and by the crews of cruise ships and freighters in the area that launched lifeboats. The crew of the Monarch of Bermuda rescued 71 people who were brought on board.

The afternoon of the fire, a towline was finally secured to the Morro Castle and the anchor chain cut. The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Tampa began towing the charred wreck to New York. But the towline broke, the powerless and rudderless Morro Castle drifted toward shore, pushed by the strong winds, beaching in Asbury Park, where the charred ship remained for 6 months becoming a macabre tourist attraction.

The cause of the fire was never conclusively determined because forensic evidence was incinerated in the fire. There was a strong suspicion of arson, but other possible causes included an electrical short circuit, over-heating equipment, a carelessly discard cigarette or cigar, and spontaneous combustion of improperly stored cargo. The ship’s heavily lacquered paneling in staterooms and public areas provided fuel for the fire, while the air ducts that ran throughout the ship to circulate cooling ocean breeze fed the fire.

Lighthouse Memorial Program

The schedule of the Morro Castle memorial at Sea Girt Lighthouse is as follows:

· Sunrise: Tower kept lighted.

· 9:00 a.m.: Memorial wreath placed by the front steps of Sea Girt Lighthouse by Mr. Mountford and Jude Meehan, SGLCC vice-president. Brief remarks by Mr. Mountford.

· 9:05 a.m. to 11 a.m.:

o Mr. Mountford and Mr. Meehan and lighthouse historian Bill Dunn will lead tours of the Morro Castle collection and displays.

o Screening in the 1st floor community room of newsreels and home movies of the disaster, rescue and the beached ship.

o Tri-fold poster display and screening in the parlor of a 3-minute documentary, T.E.L. Morro Castle: New Jersey’s Titantic, by three middle school students who won regional and state honors in the 2013 National History Day competition.

SG_LIFEGUARDS_SAVE15 The thesis of their documentary is that the Morro Castle disaster prompted reforms that made sea travel safer: establishment of the U.S. Maritime Commission and an expanded Coast Guard for closer monitoring and more frequent inspections, tougher regulations, better training for crew in emergency procedures and more safety features built into ships.

Among the Morro Castle artifacts that will be on display are: a miniature Morro Castle life preserver bought in the ship’s gift shop on the Easter cruise five months before the disaster, stationery, the cruise schedule and fares pamphlet, invitation to the captain’s masked ball, Ward Line publicity photo of the newly launched Morro Castle anchored by the Brooklyn Bridge, photos of the captain and executive officer.

Also, two canvas over cork lifejackets, a 14-foot-long lifeboat oar, front-page reports and dramatic news photos from newspapers across the country that published extra editions, eyewitness photos, forensic photos of the exterior and interior of the burned ship, a congressional report of its investigation findings, photos of various rescuers, including the Sea Girt lifeguards and the crew of the Paramount, a letter of gratitude sent by a young woman to Jim Bogan of the Paramount thanking him and the crew for rescuing her, a photo 60 years later where she and Mr. Bogan were reunited at Sea Girt Lighthouse, Senate Bill 1874, proposing the awarding of medals to the rescuers. While the bill passed the Senate, it got bogged down in the House and was never voted on. Medals never were issued.

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Lighthouse Lawn Party Success

Published by admin at 2:58 AM under

LAWN_PARTY_2014_1 The 34th annual Signing of the Lease Party, August 2, held at Sea Girt Lighthouse, attracted some 350 supporters to the annual fundraiser. Cool ocean breezes and lively conversation filled the air, as guests enjoyed themselves as they gathered under white tents on lawn.

Arrangements of shore flowers, prepared by a team of trustees led by Lauren Behr, graced the tables. Historic and colorful signal-code flags, of the type used at Sea Girt Lighthouse as early as 1898, hung from the porch and railing of the tower gallery. Once again Carol Ann McLaughlin, who catered the very first party in 1981, returned with a savory selection of hors d'oeuvres

The community beacon was the theme of this year’s party. “In so many ways, our lighthouse truly is the community beacon, a symbol to all of shore history, now alive with the activity of community groups who meet here, people from near and far who come for tours, special events like October’s Lighthouse Challenge and the occasional private party,” noted Bill Mountford, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee. He is also the great grandson of Sea Girt’s longest serving keeper William Lake (1817-31).

The theme was also in recognition of the recent publication of Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon by trustee Bill Dunn, who signed copies of the book.

“The party was a gratifying success,” added Mr. Mountford. “The trustees enjoy throwing this party, which brings together so many friends at our favorite lighthouse. This is our thank-you to our members and their guests. I also thank my fellow trustees for their hard work in making this the success it was.” Mr. Mountford, along with Jude Meehan, SGLCC vice-president, Virginia Zientek, immediate past president, and docent Catherine Schwier greeted people as they arrived, thanking them for their continuing support.

Mr. Mountford and Mrs. Behr were co-chairs of the event. All proceeds from the party and book sales go to the lighthouse operations. Tickets sold out for the first time in five years. There was also a 50-50 drawing, with half the proceeds going to the guest with the winning ticket and the balance going to the lighthouse.

LAWN_PARTY_2014_6Long Tradition Continued

The first lawn party, formally named the Signing of the Lease Party, was held in 1981, to celebrate the founding that spring of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee as an all-volunteer, non-profit preservation organization and the group’s taking charge of the landmark after signing a lease with the Borough of Sea Girt August 10 of that year.

The Borough, which bought the decommissioned lighthouse from the federal government in 1956, used it as the town library, recreation and LAWN_PARTY_2014_3 community center. Two decades later the building was in need of extensive and costly repairs, prompting the Borough to consider selling the property. That was the impetus for concerned citizens to come together and organize to “save our lighthouse.”

Under the $1-a-year lease agreement, the Lighthouse Committee assumed financial responsibility for the restoration, maintenance and operation of the building. The committee is also committed to preserving the building’s rich history through Sunday tours, group tours, talks and slide presentations at the lighthouse and in the community, the lighthouse website, special programs such as October’s Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey and now the book.

Photo of signal-code flags on the tower railing by Catherine Schwier

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Sea Girt Lighthouse Members Participate in Sandy Hook’s 250th Anniversary Celebration

Published by admin at 10:49 AM under

by Peter R. Halas and Bill Dunn

with photos by Catherine Schwier

Sandy Hook Lighthouse celebrated its 250th anniversary June 14, 2014. Representatives of Sea Girt Lighthouse participated in a full-day of events on the grounds of America’s oldest lighthouse, first lighted June 11, 1764, and still active.

SH_250_1The festivities began with The Fifes and Drums Band of the Old Barracks in Trenton performing Colonial era marching music. The music, a passing schooner under sail, children’s games, many exhibits and re-enactments of American Revolutionary War battles took several hundred visitors back in time to Colonial America.

Dressed in period costumes, enthusiastic volunteers recreated family life as it was over two centuries ago as they tended a flock of sheep and chickens, worked a garden and cooked meals over an open fire. Youngsters in attendance were encouraged to join in the fun by playing the games that children played in Colonial times, such as hoop rolling, ring the hob (ring toss) and Scotch hopping (hopscotch).

Re-enactors in the colorful uniforms of the Continental Army and the British Army staged the battles fought SH_250_5during the Revolution for control of Sandy Hook Light, which ultimately fell into British hands. Sandy Hook Lighthouse was the fifth of 11 lighthouses built in the Colonial era, but it is America’s oldest, surviving lighthouse. The original Boston Light – the first lighthouse built in the American Colonies – was destroyed in the Revolution.

Visitors to Sandy Hook had the opportunity to explore the keeper’s quarters and climb the tower’s 95 steps up the spiral staircase and then the 9-rung ladder to the very top of Sandy Hook for the spectacular view it offered of the New Jersey Coast and the entrance to New York Harbor.

Patriotic red, white and blue bunting hung from the railing of the gallery that surrounds the lantern room. Wayne Wheeler, president of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, gave an enlightening presentation on the life of a lighthouse keeper and the history of Colonial lighthouses.

Sea Girt Lighthouse Display

Popular bonus features that day were the displays of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, the New Jersey Lighthouse Society and Sea Girt Lighthouse. Volunteers from each group exhibited historic photos, artifacts and literature and talked about their respective missions.

SH_250_7 Jude Meehan, vice-president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, and SGLCC member Catherine Schwier, represented Sea Girt Lighthouse. Both are knowledgeable and experienced docents, who frequently give Sunday tours at the lighthouse. But this Saturday of the Sandy Hook anniversary celebration, as a steady stream of people visited their display, Jude and Catherine gave brief summaries of Sea Girt Lighthouse’s colorful history, answered questions and invited all to come to the lighthouse to see for themselves.

On the front of a long table they hung a banner with a photo of the lighthouse by trustee Robert S. Varcoe. Colorful signal-code flags, similar to the type issued to Sea Girt Lighthouse in 1898 for communicating with passing ships, were displayed at the Sea Girt exhibit. Atop the table was a model of the lighthouse, a few other artifacts and historic photos including one from the lighthouse collection of the cruise ship Morro Castle afire three miles offshore September 8, 1934. And there were stacks of the 4-page lighthouse history pamphlet that ranges from the station’s first lighting in 1896 to present day. Also displayed was a copy of the recently published book Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon.

Sea Girt Lighthouse was the only lighthouse represented under the green-and-white tent, which was pitched in a central spot by the keeper’s quarters. Jude estimated some 300 people passed by the Sea Girt table. “We had a wonderful time,” he acknowledged. “We were pleased to represent Sea Girt Lighthouse on the historic occasion of Sandy Hook’s 250 anniversary and to have the opportunity to talk to so many friendly and interested people about our lighthouse of distinction.”

Catherine noted Sandy Hook Lighthouse directors, museum docents and National Park Service rangers of the Gateway National Recreation Area, where Sandy Hook is located, were most welcoming and appreciated Sea Girt Light’s involvement. She added: “Everyone that day – rangers, volunteers and visitors – were drawn to Sandy Hook by a deep sense of its historical importance. And there was an appreciation for the many other lighthouses in our state that together guided mariners in their journeys and thereby contributed to the economic and population growth of our nation.”

Sandy Hook to Sea Girt

Construction of Sandy Hook was financed by two lotteries authorized by the Provincial Congress of New York and a SH_250_4tax on ships entering the Port of New York. The lighthouse was proposed and promoted by merchants and manufacturers of New York City, who had lost valuable cargo when several ships wrecked in the treacherous shallows off Sandy Hook. The tower and its beacon not only warned mariners of the shallows and the narrow channel but guided them through the channel to New York Harbor.

The Revolutionary War demonstrated the importance of Sandy Hook and New York Harbor, which both sides fought to control. Fearing a British invasion, in March 1776, the New York Congress ordered the light to be extinguished and the lens removed. Having survived many battles, Sandy Hook Lighthouse in June of 1776 came under the control of British troops who rigged a replacement light. Continental troops under the command of Captain John Conover then bombarded the tower, using cannons mounted on several small boats. Cannonball damage can still be seen on the stone of the lighthouse.

In the wake of America’s gaining its independence, Sandy Hook was equipped with a new lens and relighted. Realizing the importance of lighthouses, not only to the young nation’s economy but also the nation’s security, President Washington federalized lighthouses. The Ninth Act of the first Congress established the U.S. Light-House Establishment to plan, build and run America’s lighthouses.

“As commercial ship traffic in and out of the harbor increased tremendously after 1800, so did the need to better mark the sea approaches leading to the Port of New York,” according to Tom Hoffman, a National Park Service ranger and the historian at Sandy Hook.

SH_250_9 Less than five miles south of Sandy Hook are the 200-foot-tall Highlands of the Navesink, where the Light-House Establishment built Twin Lights in 1828. The present, taller towers replaced the original towers in 1862. And 44 statute miles south stood three successive Barnegat Lights, located at the 40th parallel, a crucial change point in transatlantic navigation. The first Barnegat Light, activated in 1835, collapsed in 1856 because of beach erosion. It was replaced by a temporary tower and that was replaced by the current tower, Old Barney, lighted in 1857.

Despite the powerful beacons of those lights, mariners in fog and storms often encountered a dark space around Sea Girt where they were unable to see the beacon of Barnegat to the south and Twin Lights and Sandy Hook to the north. That is why Sea Girt Lighthouse was built. It was lighted December 10, 1896, illuminating the dark space.

An 1898 Light-House Establishment map, one of the earliest to show Sea Girt Light, identifies some two dozen aids to navigation along New Jersey’s coastline and up the Delaware River. They formed a constellation of lights, each with a distinct beacon signature that enabled mariners to identify where they were in their journeys. One light guided sailors to the next light and on to their destination.

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Keeper Descendant Elected SGLCC President

Published by admin at 5:18 AM under

Trustee Bill Mountford, a descendant of the longest-serving Sea Girt Lighthouse keeper, and trustee Jude Meehan, an active docent and a collector of historic artifacts that have been displayed at the lighthouse, were recently installed as president and vice president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee.SGLCC_NEW_PREZ1

“I am very thankful to be given such a great honor and look forward to the challenges that lie ahead,” said President Mountford, the great-grandson of William (Pappy) Lake, who served as Sea Girt’s light keeper from 1917-1931.

Mayor Ken Farrell administered the oath of office to the new officers and the trustees elected to the 18-member board at the annual meeting of the SGLCC membership, held May 20 at the lighthouse. Joining the board was architect Richard Graham. While new to the board, Richard is a longtime lighthouse member and volunteer who probably knows the historic building better than anyone, having overseen the original restoration in the 1980s.

Debby Vincent retired from the board of trustees after 16 years of service, during which time she held several important positions, including recording secretary the last 10 years. She was thanked for her many contributions to lighthouse preservation effort and was applauded by the membership.

State of the Lighthouse

The installation followed the traditional State of the Lighthouse report by the outgoing president, Virginia Zientek. While noting “our building continues to need care,” she detailed the successful completion of several projects, including installation of double-paned windows in the parlor and keeper’s office and tower watch room above.

Storms, high winds and blowing sand take their toll on the exterior, which is constantly being monitored. In response, the hand-made paneled wooden storm door was stripped and several coats of marine varnish applied and the original wooden front door was repainted and cracks sealed. Also, three panes of glass in the lantern room, which were leaking due to cracks in the old caulk, were resealed inside and out, making them watertight.

071 “This ongoing effort has sealed the building from the elements,” noted Mrs. Zientek. Cracks in the ceiling of the Willetts Room, where the Fresnel lens is displayed, developed during Hurricane Sandy. The lens was undamaged and briefly moved out of the room while the ceiling was repaired and the room repainted. The Fresnel display is back in place and continues to be the centerpiece of the collection and the artifact most frequently photographed by visitors, during Sunday tours which are now under way.

Also during Mrs. Zientek’s tenure, the extensive and growing lighthouse archives were catalogued and organized in secure archival cabinets. Artifacts were added to the exhibits. The archives, which cover the Lighthouse Service years, the Coast Guard era, the Morro Castle fire and rescue and bygone Sea Girt, have been made available to researchers. Among the visiting researchers were three middle school students from Bergen County who examined the Morro Castle material, which was used in their 2013 National History Day entry, which won regional and state honors, and an invitation to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

In concluding her report, Mrs. Zientek said: “I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the lighthouse.”

President Mountford thanked Mrs. Zientek “for all she has accomplished. It will make my job that much easier with the strides she took and the care she gave this treasured community landmark.”

Exhibited Artifacts

“One of my first goals will be to secure historical items for the lighthouse, to add to our already robust offerings,” noted Mr. Mountford. Top of the list is a Lighthouse Service keeper’s uniform, identical to the double-breasted blue tunics and matching trousers worn at that time by Navy officers. The keeper uniforms were distinguished by USLHS markings the distinctive keeper’s hat, like a train conductor’s cap, with the USLHS device of an embroidered lighthouse in silver thread above a laurel in gold thread.

Also of interest are tools used by keepers to keep the light burning bright, as well as early chart books and maps of the Lighthouse Service identifying Sea Girt Lighthouse, which was built in 1896 and flashed its first light December 10 of that year, illuminating a dark space that mariners previously encountered in storms and fogs when they were out of range of Navesink Twin Lights to the north and Barnegat Lighthouse to the south.

Mr. Mountford and Mr. Meehan have had a longstanding interest in the lighthouse collection and the carefully arranged displays of artifacts that combine to tell the lighthouse story. Mr. Mountford and his family donated historic photos, now on display, of his great-grandfather, Pappy Lake. Mr. Mountford also donated the hand-held oil lamp that Pappy used at night in tower and house in the days before electrification. The tower beacon was electrified in 1924, but the house not until 1932.

Mr. Mountford and his family have also contributed photos of his grandfather Elvin Lake, known to all at Toots, who grew up at the lighthouse as the keeper’s son, and was one of six Sea Girt lifeguards who saved 15 people in the Morro Castle fire and rescue September 8, 1934.

Mr. Meehan, who personally collects Lighthouse Service and military artifacts, including Coast Guard items, has exhibited numerous interesting items from his collection at lighthouse events. At last fall’s Lighthouse Challenge, he displayed maritime signal flags from the porch of the type issued by the Lighthouse Service to the Sea Girt keeper in 1899. He also pitched an Army tent on the property, recalling the 1943 encampment on the lighthouse lawn by four soldiers assigned temporarily to beach patrol. Mr. Meehan, who attends shows where collectors and antique dealers gather, is on the lookout for items that would fit in the lighthouse collection.

Lighthouse Book Author Featured Speaker

The business portion of the annual meeting concluded within 30 minutes, followed by the much-anticipated slide presentation and talk by lighthouse trustee and historian Bill Dunn on his just-published book, Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Bulletin.SGL_BOOK_FRONT_COVER

The definitive history of the shore landmark engagingly recounts the stories of the keepers and Coast Guardsmen who operated the important lighthouse in peace and in war, and the preservationists who saved it for all to enjoy. The book is illustrated with 110 images, many historic photos never before published.

Mr. Dunn discussed some of his many discoveries made during more than a year of research and showed more than half the book’s images. “A lighthouse of distinction, Sea Girt Lighthouse not only survived but thrived over more than a century, meeting the challenges of changing missions through the ingenuity and determination of many dedicated people who served here,” he said.

A collection of colorful keepers kept the light burning bright, including a Civil War veteran, the son of a lighthouse keeper, a mother with four children, an inventor, and for 24-hours the 20-year-old daughter of the last keeper. During World War II, vigilant Coast Guardsmen extinguished the beacon, standing watch in the tower and patrolling the beaches looking for enemy ships known to be in local waters.

After the war, the building was purchased by the Borough and used as the library and recreation center. And for the past three decades, the volunteer preservationists of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee have maintained and operated the building, preserved its history and kept it alive with activity.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the meeting was adjourned. All repaired to the first floor for refreshments and lively conversation. Mr. Dunn was in the parlor, signing copies of the book purchased by members.

The 192-page book is available at the lighthouse during Sunday tours, $21.99 per copy. It can also be purchased by mail for $26.99 to cover purchase and handling. Checks may be sent to SGLCC, P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750. The book is also available through and the website of the publisher, The History Press ( All sales royalties go to SGLCC for lighthouse operations.

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Sunday Lighthouse Tours With More Artifacts On Display

Published by admin at 11:23 AM under

Guided Sunday tours of Sea Girt Lighthouse are under way with more historic artifacts on display that capture the keepers, Coasties and important moments in the compelling story of the 118-year-old landmark.

Added to the displays are numerous historic photographs and documents uncovered by the lighthouse historian during a year of researching the book recently published by The History Press and available at the lighthouse.

challenge_2013 Tours are conducted Sundays, 2-4 p.m., except holiday weekends, by knowledgeable and friendly docents, who take visitors through every room from the keeper’s office, through the living quarters and up to the top of the tower of the lighthouse. Admission is free. Donations are appreciated.

Please note: There will be no tours on May 11 (Mother’s Day), May 25 (Memorial Day weekend), June 15 (Father’s Day), July 6 (Independence Day weekend), August 31 (Labor Day weekend) and October 12 (Columbus Day weekend).

Lighthouse of Distinction

Sea Girt Lighthouse was built in 1896 to illuminate a “dark space” encountered by mariners in storms midway between Navesink Twin Lights and Barnegat Lighthouse. Sea Girt, equipped with a 4th order Fresnel lens, flashed its first beacon December 10, 1896. It could be seen for up to 15 miles.

The lighthouse also served as identifier and warning of Sea Girt Inlet immediately to the north that mariners in the days of sail often mistook for the deeper Squan Inlet that provided a safe harbor in storms which Sea Girt Inlet being so shallow did not.

A lighthouse of distinction, Sea Girt was the first land-based station in the world equipped with a radio fog beacon transmitter, activated in 1921, that enabled mariners to navigate in fog by plotting the signals from Sea Girt, and transmitters aboard Ambrose Lightship and Fire Island Lightship.

Discoveries on Display

But, photos uncovered in the National Archives and now exhibited reveal the lighthouse in its early years was threatened by beach erosion from ocean storms and Sea Girt Inlet overflowing its banks. To protect the lighthouse, the Army Corps of Engineers in 1915 installed 30-foot long, interlocking steel plates, pounded into the ground, along the property line. In 1938 Wreck Pond was dammed. The inlet eventually dried up.

Added to the keeper exhibits are the wedding portrait of the second and third keepers Abram and Harriet Yates and a photo of the last keeper George Thomas at his previous posting with his wife Minnie and theirs daughters Alice and Lucy.

There are also candid photos now on display showing keepers and their families in relaxed moments, taking a break from lighthouse activities. One shows Abram and Harriet Yates on the porch, while off by herself at the other end of the porch stands an independent young Lizzie Yates.

The children of keepers pitched in and learned a lot about lighthouse operations and the new technologies, as captured in the photo of Lucy Thomas with her father, George, at a Marconi wireless station on Long Island while he was keeper at Fire Island Lighthouse in World War I.

And now in the binders of Lighthouse Service documents is George’s 1936 application to take a day’s leave from Sea Girt Lighthouse in early April to visit family in Brooklyn. He nominated as his replacement 20-year-old Alice, who was approved “with understanding substitute is to be furnished at your own expense.”

bm1_thurlow_jester Newly added to the Coast Guard display is a photo of the first Coast Guardsman ever assigned to Sea Girt Lighthouse, Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Thurlow E. Jester, a 27-year-old Virginian, who assumed command November 30, 1940, after civilian keeper Thomas retired to Ocean Grove.

During World War II, the beacon at Sea Girt Lighthouse was extinguished and removed, so as not to give direction to enemy ships, which were known to be in local waters. Coast Guardsmen stood watch in the tower and patrolled the beaches.

Uncovered Documents

065_alternative_a Added to the lighthouse binders available for viewing by visitors, are pages from the Sea Girt war logs, photocopied at the National Archives, including these significant developments:

  • 12:40 a.m., February 27, 1942: “Men on watch reported ship’s fire seven miles east of station.” The fire was aboard the Standard Oil tanker R.P. Resor, torpedoed shortly before midnight. Only two crewmen survived.

· 11:00 a.m., July 22, 1942: “Received orders from the commanding officer to discontinue the operation of the light.”

· 4 p.m. to mid., September 23, 1944: “Tested beacon light and found it to be in good operating condition.” With the end of war in sight, the blackout of U.S. light stations was lifted. At Sea Girt, the Fresnel lens was not re-installed. Instead an automatic beacon had been installed atop the lighthouse tower and activated soon thereafter.

With war’s end and the automatic beacon in place, the lighthouse no longer needed to be staffed.

Bygone Sea Girt Captured in Historic Photos

In addition to artifacts from the Lighthouse Service and Coast Guard eras, as well as the 1934 Morro Castle ship fire and rescue, the lighthouse collection has a substantial display of photos and documents of bygone Sea Girt, a once sleepy shore community of unpaved streets.

bygone_sg_goveror_cottage_postcard Things happened in Sea Girt and its population swelled in summertime. At the south end of town National Guard troops trained at the summer encampment which began in 1885. Locals and vacationers would go to the camp to watch troops parade and take artillery practice, shooting cannon balls into the ocean.

The campground was also the location of the Governor’s Summer Cottage, which was actually a mansion and had been the New Jersey exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The building was a replica of the Ford Mansion in Morristown where General Washington made his Revolutionary headquarters during the winter of 1779-80. After the World’s Fair, the building was disassembled, shipped by train to the National Guard Camp and rebuilt. It became known as the Little White House. Governor Woodrow Wilson was vacationing there in 1912 when he learned he had gotten the Democrat party’s presidential nomination.

Sea Girt was also for many years a busy transportation hub. The train station was built in 1895, a year before the lighthouse. For decades there was mainline service to and from New York City. Sea Girt was also a junction for a western spur line on which ran passenger trains to and from Philadelphia by way of Trenton and Freehold and freight trains of the Freehold & Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad with crops from western New Jersey farms. And Coast Cities Railway Co. operated trolleys from Long Branch to Sea Girt.

For alternative transportation, locals could be seen riding their horses along the sandy local roads and beaches from the DuBois Stables on Chicago Boulevard, west of Route 71. An annual end-of-summer festival, known as Big Sea Day, or Salt Water Day, brought revelers to the beach in their horse-drawn buggies in a celebration that originated with the Lenni Lenape Indians.

While the train station remains, and is now the borough library, trains have not stopped there since the mid-1970s. The trolley’s gone as is the DuBois Stables. The Little White House was demolished in 1971. While Big Sea Day is still observed in a few shore towns, nobody rides horse-drawn buggies on the beach. Yet these and other traditions and landmarks are vividly captured in the display of historic photos and postcards on the second-floor.

Volunteers Sought

The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, the all-volunteer organization responsible for maintaining and operating the historic landmark and preserving its history, invites newcomers to join the fun, accept the challenge and experience the satisfaction of helping to preserve local history by giving tours.

SGL_1925_CIRCA You don’t need to be an historian, just enthusiastic. You’d be joined on any given Sunday by several other volunteers. Each guide is assigned a room or two, such as the keeper’s office, the parlor or the lantern room. As visitors enter a room, the guide greets them, discusses the history of the room and points out the artifacts on display.

Pick your own room where you will be welcoming and chatting with people from down the block, across America and around the world. There’s a script for quick reference. But after giving a tour or two, most guides know the lighthouse story so well they don’t need the script.

Volunteers of any age are welcome, from students to retirees. For students, the experience can fulfill community service requirements and makes for an impressive activity on college applications.

During Sunday tours, volunteers are also needed to staff the merchandise desk, where lighthouse scale models, prints, postcards, caps, shirts and other souvenirs are sold.

All sales proceeds and donations go to maintaining and operating the lighthouse.

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Sea Girt Lighthouse Book Just Published

Published by admin at 7:12 AM under

Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon, the definitive history of the shore landmark, has just been SGL_BOOK_FRONT_COVER published by The History Press. The lively narrative captures the engaging stories of the keepers and Coast Guardsmen who operated the important station and the preservationists who saved it for all to enjoy.

The book breaks new ground and expands the history of the lighthouse that has for more than a century not just survived but actually thrived and met the challenges of changing missions through the ingenuity, determination and hard work of the many dedicated people who have served there.

Bill Dunn, a Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee trustee and the lighthouse historian, spent more than a year researching and writing the book and gathering historic photos. “This was an exciting assignment and a labor of love,” he said, noting his association with the lighthouse goes back to his childhood when it was the recreation center. Fellow trustees suggested the project to Bill, who has written several previous books and was a reporter at The Detroit News and later USA Today.

010 Research for the book began in the lighthouse archives, which contains historic documents and artifacts gathered by the founding trustees and others, as well as many hundreds of pages of official documents and correspondence left behind by the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the Coast Guard related to Sea Girt operations. He also went to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where he read the light station journals of the keepers and the Coast Guard war logs.

Dan Herzog, an SGLCC member who is experienced in genealogical research from having done his own family tree, assisted, exploring census and other genealogical records of Sea Girt’s keepers. He uncovered important facts and leads that were pursued. Several descendants of keepers and Coasties were identified and contacted for photos and details of their forebears while at Sea Girt Light.

Colorful Keepers

“Sea Girt Lighthouse had some interesting and colorful characters assigned here as keepers,” Bill noted. Their 030 ranks included a Civil War veteran who rose to junior lieutenant in the Union Army but was known as “the major” in the Lighthouse Service, the son of a light keeper, a courageous woman who took charge under difficult circumstances, an inventor who spent the previous three decades at sea on lightships, and a 37-year-old keeper who started his tour by vowing to outlast his predecessors, two of whom died on the job. And he did by a wide margin, retiring at age 52, and going on to have a second career in real estate.

Then there was the last keeper at Sea Girt, who previously was a locomotive engineer and survived a derailment, who proved resourceful in emergencies including the time at Fire Island Light Station when he helped rescue aviators whose plane crashed into South Bay. He would win a commendation then and later in his years at Sea Girt.

“While a diverse group, Sea Girt’s keepers shared a sense of commitment to keeping the light shining bright. They well knew that the lives of mariners and their passengers depended on the keepers’ faithful execution of duties,” observed Bill. And the keepers were helped by their families. Everyone pitched in, including the 20-year-old daughter of Sea Girt’s last keeper, who substituted for her dad for 24 hours while he was away from the station. That young lady would go on to a distinguished career as an Army nurse in World War II.

037During the war, the U.S. Coast Guard was in charge of all U.S. lighthouses, including Sea Girt. Instead of a keeper and family occupying and operating Sea Girt Lighthouse, there were as many as two dozen Coast Guardsmen posted there, conducting beach patrols and standing watch in the tower, on the alert for enemy ships which were known to be in local waters.

Compelling Photos

The 192-page book is illustrated with 110 photos, some never before published, many of them compelling and dramatic. Included are photos of the keepers and their families, the Coast Guardsmen, and the lighthouse down through the years, which changed in appearance with the addition of new technology and modifications to the building. There are starling photos from 1915 when the lighthouse was threatened by beach erosion that prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take remedial action to save it.

Among the photos are 25 in color. Contemporary photos, including candid shots of lighthouse tours, parties and special events, like the first-ever050 night climb and the annual Lighthouse Challenge that attract people to the lighthouse from around the world, were taken by several local photographers. The color cover photos are by Robert S. Varcoe, an SGLCC trustee.

Lighting the Dark Space

Sea Girt Lighthouse is dwarfed by its lighthouse neighbors. To the north are America’s oldest lighthouse, Sandy Hook, built in 1764, which survived bombardment in the American Revolution, and the brownstone fortress of Navesink Twin Lights, built in 1862, as a replacement to the original station there.

To the south is Barnegat Lighthouse, built in 1857, to replace two earlier Barnegat lights undermined by storms and beach erosion, common threats to lighthouses everywhere, as documented in Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon.

Despite Sea Girt Light’s comparatively small size, only 42 steps from the keeper’s office to the lantern room at the top, its role was vital. It was built in 1896 to illuminate what was described as a “dark space” that mariners in the days of sail often encountered, especially in bad weather, around the midpoint between Twin Lights and Barnegat when they could see neither beacon.

080 Sea Girt, equipped with a 4th order Fresnel lens, flashed its first beacon December 10, 1896, projecting its light 15 miles to sea, more than enough distance to guide mariners to the next light, along the shipping lanes, where shifting sandbars, hidden rocks, and quickly changing depths make the passage challenging.

Just as mariners needed the light to navigate New Jersey’s surprisingly treacherous waters, the lighthouse itself was being threatened by beach erosion, almost from the beginning, caused by ocean storms and Sea Girt Inlet and Wreck Pond overflowing their banks in the worst hurricanes and Nor’easters. A wooden bulkhead was installed, which proved inadequate. Then in 1915, 30-foot-long interlocking steel plates were pounded in the ground along the property line. Other projects followed which in combination stabilized the property and protected the foundation.

First in Technology

In 1921 Sea Girt became the first land-based station equipped with a radio fog transmitter. Transmitters were also installed at Fire Island Lightship and Ambrose Lightship, each sending out a distinct signal, which enabled vessels approaching or leaving New York to fix their position in fog by cross bearing. “These were the first successful radiobeacons in the world,” wrote U.S. Lighthouse Commissioner George Putnam in his book Radiobeacons and Radiobeacon Navigation.

Despite its varied contributions, Sea Girt was put under review in 1932, after a report by a committee of the American Steamship Owners Association concluded the station could be discontinued without serious detriment to navigation. The assessment was rejected, however, at the highest levels of the Lighthouse Service after District Lighthouse Superintendent J.T. Yates asserted: “Sea Girt Light is the only light on the Jersey coast between Highlands and Barnegat. … This light is extremely important.”

Two years later, the importance of the lighthouse beacon as a guiding light and source of hope was demonstrated yet again. While Instructions To Employees of the United States Lighthouse Service states beacons were to be extinguished at sunrise, it also ordered keepers to “give or summon aid to vessels in distress, whether public or private, and to assist in saving life and property from perils of the sea whenever it is practicable to do so.”

On September 8, 1934, as an out-of-control fire raced through the cruise ship Morro Castle several miles offshore, the acting captain gave the order to abandon ship. The keeper then at Sea Girt is believes to have kept the beacon flashing past the sunrise shutdown to provide a guiding beacon to rescue ships and to give people overboard direction and hope. One survivor credits the lighthouse beacon with saving her life by encouraging her to fight on.

Lighthouse Disguised

During World War II, America’s lighthouses were under Coast Guard command. And the order came down to extinguish the beacons, so as not to give navigational aid to enemy ships, which were in local waters.

At Sea Girt, the Fresnel lens was extinguished and removed. Coasties stood watch in the lantern room around the clock and patrolled the beach from sunset to sunrise. Troop strength increased rapidly after the Standard Oil tanker R.P. Resor was torpedoed by a German U-boat February 26, 1942 some 7 miles off Sea Girt, an explosion recorded in the Sea Girt war log.

While U.S. lighthouses extinguished or dimmed their lights, Allied ships were able to navigate by LORAN (long-range navigation) and RACON (radar  beacon), systems developed by the Allies. A rare World War II photo of Sea Girt shows an antenna strung between two poles taller than the lighthouse. The installation is believed to have been a RACON transponder. When hit with a radar beam from a ship, a RACON transponder sends back a distinct signal of dots and dashes that shows up on the ship’s radar screen that can be plotted to fix the ship’s position.

By October 1942, there were 21 Coast Guardsmen at Sea Girt Lighthouse. The number rose to 28 by June 1943. Four soldiers arrived in August on temporary assignment. They camped on the lawn. The troops patrolled the one-mile stretch from Pier Beach to the north edge of the Army Camp. Coast Guard stations in towns north and south patrolled their local beaches. National Guardsmen patrolled the beach in front of Camp Sea Girt.

By late fall 1943, the number of troops at Sea Girt Lighthouse began to decline, as the tide of war shifted in the favor of the Allies, who by then controlled the North Atlantic. Some of the men at Sea Girt were reassigned to sea duty or other stations. In September 1944, the blackout order was lifted. An automatic light was activated atop the lighthouse tower.

Community Beacon

When the war was over, the building was closed and left empty, except for a brief period in 1954 when Coasties oversaw the building of a taller metal truss tower on the northeast corner of the property, to which the automatic light was moved and operated until 1977 when it was shut off and the truss tower dismantled.

Sea Girt Borough bought the lighthouse in 1956 and used it for the recreation program and as the community center. And the parlor became the   town library. Since 1981, the volunteers of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee have been responsible for maintaining and operating the lighthouse, keeping it alive with community activity and preserving its history through tours, special events and now the book.

A memorial tower light was installed in 1983, not as a navigational aid, but rather to recreate for visitors and passersby the bygone atmosphere when the tower was illuminated and projected a guiding beacon to mariners. It continues to shine, a beacon to the community and all who visit.

The book concludes with a room-by-room tour from the keeper’s office through the living quarters and on up to the top of the tower. There are photos of many of the rare artifacts on display, including a 1903 keeper’s logbook, a keeper’s lantern used before the living quarters were electrified in 1932, signal lamps, a 4th order Fresnel lens (not the original lens, but the same size), and official communiques from the Lighthouse Service superintendent and the Coast Guard commandant.

“Sea Girt Lighthouse, a lighthouse of distinction with a rich history here thoroughly explored, is a beloved landmark and the symbol of Sea Girt,” notes Virginia Zientek, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee.

How to Get The Book

“Your purchase of the book will help maintain this treasure and affirm your commitment to preserving its history,” she adds. All royalties from the sale of the book go to maintenance and operation of the lighthouse.

Copies are available for purchase, $21.99 each, at the lighthouse during Sunday tours, which resume April 27. To order by mail, please send a check for $26.99 for purchase and handling, to Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750. The book can also be purchased from the publisher’s website ( or at online bookshops such as

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First-Ever Holiday Night Climb December 15

Published by admin at 12:29 AM under

Sea Girt Lighthouse, festively decorated for the holidays, will be open for evening tours for the first time ever, Sunday, December 15, 6-9 p.m. with the lighted lens and a full moon offering spectacular vistas and photo possibilities.

“The trustees and I invite you to join us for a special evening of unique moonlit lighthouse tours,” said Virginia P. Zientak, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee. “All are welcome to enjoy the view from the top of the tower and to see the lighthouse at its most beautiful, decorated for the season by the trustees and the Holly Club.”

Conducting night-time guided tours was the idea of trustee and docent Jude Meehan, who is often on docent duty in the tower during regular Sunday tours. “The tower offers such an impressive view, made even more so by the full moon, I thought we should share this experience with our neighbors,” said Mr. Meehan. His proposal was unanimously approved by board of trustees.

Mr. Meehan added: “I encourage visitors to bring their cameras to capture the lighthouse in all its seasonal splendor and the moonlit views from the top of the tower.”

The timing of the evening tours was chosen not only because of the full moon but because of its historic significance. The evening will recall the night in December 1896 when keeper Abraham Wolf climbed up the tower to light the beacon for the first time. Visitors will retrace his steps.

Hot chocolate will be served with holiday music playing.

“Please join us, bring family and friends, for an evening of Sea Girt Lighthouse community spirit and holiday celebration,” said Mrs. Zientek.

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