April 19, 2013
A celebration of the restoration and relighting of
the Bodie Island Lighthouse….WITH SLIDE SHOW
By CATHERINE KOZAK
reporters get attached to the subject of their coverage, especially if
that subject is an underdog unjustly outshined by another that’s taller
and more popular.
The Bodie Island Lighthouse has been that underdog for me.
Thursday evening, the fully restored lighthouse was officially
relighted, and it opened today for the first time to the public for
It seems nothing short of a miracle.
gazed up this week at the newly-restored brick beacon, it took my
breath away. It looked brand new. The black-and-white bands were
spotless. No rust blighting the metalwork. No broken windows. No ugly
orange tape encircling the base.
The setting was equally
impressive, with the grounds tidied up and the sidewalks repaired. At
the entrance to the lighthouse road, two small historic buildings moved
from the beach have been restored, providing a fitting introduction to
the historic district about one mile inland. And the Keeper’s Quarters
adjacent to the lighthouse, now a bookstore and gift shop, has also
But the most impressive improvements are inside the 156-foot tall tower.
oil house, once the office for the lighthouse keepers, has a fresh coat
of bright white paint that contrasts against the wooden floor, painted
gray-blue. Across the hallway, the oil room, with its original marble
and slate flooring, has been repainted, its windows and ceilings
replaced and its cabinets restored.
A new silver rail leads
down the few steps to the base of the tower, its door propped open by a
piece of granite recovered from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse during the
1999 relocation project. Standing in the enclosed hole where the
clock work once stood – a perfect spot, we joked, to corral misbehaving
children - the view upward was as striking an image one could expect in
“That’s what makes this lighthouse special,”
said Doug Stover, historian for Cape Hatteras National Seashore. “It’s
the visuals of the staircase.”
When you look up the inside of
the Cape Hatteras tower, he said, the staircase is not as open because
the stair treads are closed. But with Bodie, the progressively
narrowing twist of the staircase is discernible all the way to the top
through the open iron mesh of the steps.
When I used to
drive south on Highway 12 from Nags Head in the late 1990s on my way to
Buxton to cover the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse relocation project, I
would see Bodie’s black-and-white bands peeking over the marshes just
before Oregon Inlet.
Back then, especially with all the
attention focused on the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Bodie Island was virtually
ignored. Yet, at night its blinking beam still swept the sky.
2000, when the National Park Service took the still-handsome tower
under its wing, I got my first close-up look at the Bodie lighthouse.
Its metal work was rusted and fragile-looking, and water drips were
evident in rust streaks and mildew stains on floors, walls, and
ceilings. There were bricks missing, wires holding pieces of iron
together, cracked walls, windows patched with wood.
it was majestic. But the most awe-inspiring thing about the tower is
what few get to see -- the first order Fresnel lens that has been at
the top since the beginning.
A few years after the Coast
Guard transferred the lighthouse to the Park Service, I was able to
climb the tower for the first time. As I approached the lantern
room, it was very warm, since there was virtually no air circulation.
Little rainbows were dancing off the walls.
Standing on the
platform, I was taken aback by the spectacular immensity and
extraordinary beauty of the lens. The prisms are clear green and
do magical things with light, refracting and reflecting minimal
illumination into a potent beam. The largest of the the Fresnel lenses,
the first-order lens is 12 feet high and more than 6 feet in diameter.
It was considered an engineering feat when it was built in 1871, and it
is no less a feat today.
I’ve been rooting for the Bodie Island Lighthouse ever since.
efforts were conducted over the years to get the tower the attention it
so desperately needed. Restoration funds were finally put in the 2008
budget, but in a cruel twist, were pulled at the last minute. The
recent restoration had to be stopped when damage was discovered in the
gallery room under the lens, leaving lighthouse lovers despairing about
yet another setback. Fortunately additional funds were found to
complete the project, and the restored lens was returned to the
In 2010, I was able to climb part of the
scaffolding on the exterior of the lighthouse to observe the
restoration that was underway. Workers had removed numerous pieces of
corroded iron to be repaired or replaced at a foundry. Later, they
sand-blasted the rust-pitted metal decking and railings, using a shroud
to catch the debris.
The inside now is gleaming with shiny
black railings and spanking clean repainted white-brick walls. Window
sills, once covered in black paint, have been stripped down to their
original marble. The 214 steps from the ground to the lantern room have
been repaired or replaced, and extra support brackets have been
Unlike the staircase of the 208-foot Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse, which is more attached to the interior walls, Bodie’s
stairs sway a little as you ascend, especially close to the top.
After being subjected to limewash, a cleaning process that allows bricks to breathe, the walls no longer sweat water.
“Before,” Stover said, “it was like a rain forest in here.”
As a way to cut down on water leakage, he said, the new windows were made in one piece and do not open.
he climbed the seven levels of the restored staircase, Stover pointed
out the three stair treads he once had to leap over to avoid falling
through cracked metal.
At the top, Stover pointed out the
window where extra support cables were left in place and additional
support brackets were installed. Under the lens, he showed the spot
where the wooden beam had shifted.
“So sooner or later, it
would have collapsed,” he said about the beam. And ultimately, the
pressure would likely have cracked all the prisms in the lens.
escorted public tours to the top of the lighthouse will stop short of
the lantern room because of the fragility of the Fresnel lens and the
tight quarters at top.
But the public will be able to go
out on the balcony off the gallery, where they will be treated to one
of the best views on the Outer Banks -- a panorama of the Atlantic
Ocean, Oregon Inlet, Pamlico Sound, the Bonner Bridge and the unspoiled
marshlands surrounding the lighthouse’s original 15-acre
The 42-inch high railing on the balcony has
been reconstructed with its bars closer together to prevent little
heads from getting stuck.
Back inside, Stover showed off the
polished brass plaque at the base of the lens, not long ago green and
tarnished. Of any of the Park Service staff, Stover, who arrived
in 2000, has been closest to the restoration project.
“This has been his baby now for 13 years,” Cyndy Holda, a park spokeswoman, said as Stover grinned happily.
A rainbow splashed against the wall, covering Stover in bands of colored light.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here for information about touring the Bodie Island Lighthouse
CLICK HERE TO VIEW SLIDE SHOW
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