Flamingo Mermaids, Flip Flop Lights and Fish Made Out Of Shells

December 14, 2011

Christmas in Florida can be traditional, but there’s always one house in the neighborhood that leans more towards a Florida Christmas. On their lawn you’ll find Santa sporting a swimsuit, surrounded by pink flamingos wearing Santa caps.   

As for me, I’m game for a few nautical touches to my indoor decorations, such as these lighthouse ornaments.

And this fish made out of shells.

But I won’t go overboard.

Flip-flop string lights aren’t too bad but I’m just not Floridianized enough for them just yet.

I’m definitely never going to be ready to add this flamingo mermaid. It’s just wrong on every level.

And the pink flamingo and palm tree string lights? NOT gonna happen. EVER!

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Haunted Light

August 13, 2010

Another lighthouse has crossed my path.  This time it lies just to the north of me in St. Augustine.  And from what I hear, it is seriously haunted.

But before I get to that, here are a few of the great things about this Lighthouse and Museum.

WWII Connection:  The Lighthouse and Museum stores and displays a collection of WWII artifacts and dozens of photos from that era.  During WWII, the lighthouse served as a Coast Guard lookout post for enemy ships and submarines.

Archeological Connection:  The Museum maintains the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP) which researches maritime archeological sites around the St. Augustine area.  This research includes German U-boats which traversed the waters just off shore during WWII.

Smithsonian Connection:  As of June 2010, the Lighthouse and Museum became a Smithsonian Affiliate.  This is a network of sorts, where the Smithsonian partners with community organizations and shares its educational and cultural resources.  The Smithsonian can lend artifacts to its affiliates, and also share knowledge on conservation, outreach and exhibition development. 

Now for the hauntings.  According to the Lighthouse website:

The lighthouse and surrounding buildings have a long history of supposed paranormal activity. Allegedly, visitors and workers have seen moving shadows, heard voices and unexplained sounds and seen the figures of two little girls standing on the lighthouse catwalk…Other reports are of a woman seen on the lighthouse stairway or walking in the yard outside the buildings, and the figure of a man who roams the basement.

The two little girls are said to be the daughters of Hezekiah Pittee who served as Superintendent during the Lighthouse’s construction.  Pittee and his family lived on the site during construction and the two girls tragically drowned there before the lighthouse was completed.

Lights, Camera, Action

Apparently our Florida ghosts have made it to national television.  The paranormal experts from the show Ghost Hunters have filmed two episodes here already.  A quick search on  YouTube leads to these and other amateur videos of claimed ghost sightings in the lighthouse and the surrounding grounds.

One way to find out more is to take the Dark of the Moon tour offered by the Lighthouse and Museum.  Touted as a “paranormal tour,” it lasts for two hours, from 8:30pm until 10:30pm, but only on select nights.

Hauntings or Trappings

Are they really hauntings if the ghost doesn’t attempt to scare the wits out of you?  I mean, maybe they are trapped there.  Or maybe they are only trapped in our minds.  Who knows for sure, but it does make me curious enough to want to find out.


Barbara’s Light

July 9, 2010

In an earlier post on this blog, I mentioned that I was curious to see if I could find a female lighthouse keeper in Florida history.  Well, I have!  In Key West no less.  And, to top it off, her name was Barbara, just like mine. 

 

The Key West Lighthouse was first lit in 1826 by Michael Mabrity, the very first Lighthouse Keeper.  His wife Barbara was the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper.  When Michael  died of yellow fever in 1832, Barbara was appointed Keeper and kept that role for 32 years!  While not conducting lighthouse business, she raised her six children all alone as well.  She battled through hurricanes in 1835, 1841 and 1842.  In 1846, the Great Havana Hurricane hit Key West hard.  Barbara survived, along with one of her children, but the  lighthouse crumbled to the ground.  In 1848 it was rebuilt, in its present day location, and Barbara resiliently took up her old post. 

Barbara Mabrity was fired from her post as Lighthouse Keeper in 1864, at the grand old age of 82, for making anti-Union statements during the Civil War.  The legacy continued however.   Barbara’s granddaughter, Mary, married a man who would become the Lighthouse Keeper and she would join him as Assistant Lighthouse Keeper.  As with her grandmother, the husband died and she became the appointed Keeper.  She only lasted three months before typhoid fever took her also.  But the Mabrity family association with the lighthouse continued on, and their history enveloped the lighthouse for over eighty years. 

View of the Key West Lighthouse from the Second Floor of the Hemingway House

The lighthouse was deactivated in 1969 and is now the Key West Light House and Keeper’s Quarters Museum.  A wonderful place to explore!


Skeletals and Cattle

June 11, 2010

The Sanibel Lighthouse, or as the locals know it – the Point Ybel Light – challenges my romantic notions of lighthouses.  Its design doesn’t fit within my dreamy perception of lighthouse living.  Although you can view the grounds of the Lighthouse, you can’t enter the tower and climb its 120 steps to the top, or tour the former Keepers’ quarters.  Still, as always, I am fascinated with its history.

BY DESIGN

Prior to 1900, Congress stopped approving expenditures for building masonry lighthouses.  As a result, the Lighthouse Board developed what is known as the skeletal design.

First there was the Whitefish Point Class Michigan Experimentals (1861), then the Liston Class Delaware Bay Hexagonals (1876-1881). The third design class was established in 1884, the same year the Sanibel Lighthouse was built.  Being the first in this new design, the class was named after it – Sanibel Class Square Skeletals. This design remained prominent until 1910.

An identifying characteristic of the Sanibel Class Square Skeletals is the central cylinder, a broad tube that runs up the center of the structure and contains a stairway to the lantern room at the top.  At the bottom, the central column ends approximately ten feet from the ground, where an iron ladder takes you the rest of the way. Another feature is the octagonal shape of the lantern and watch rooms. 

In addition, this new lighthouse on Sanibel Island had to be built hurricane-tough.  For this purpose, its interlocking iron framework is attached to concrete supports deep in the ground.

Seventeen lighthouses of this design were built.  Fourteen of them are still standing today, including three more in Florida – Cape San Blas (1885), Anclote Key (1887), and Crooked River (Carabelle) (1895). 

 

HOW CATTLE LIT THE LIGHT

Requests for a lighthouse on Sanibel Island began in the early 1800s.  Finally, in 1881, its building was approved by Congress.  It turns out that cattle were the driving force behind this final approval.

In the 19th century, trade with Cuba grew and cattle from Central Florida became a hot commodity.  The cattle were rounded up and led onto steamers at Punta Rassa Harbor and shipped off to Cuba.  With the increased boat traffic, a lighthouse had to be erected to assure safe passage.

This just goes to show that unique history is everywhere, even right here in Florida. A little curiosity and a  little digging can teach a lot.


To My Lighthouse

April 26, 2010

 

The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening…

— Virginia Wolfe  (To the Lighthouse)

Women Who Kept the Lights

I have this grand romantic notion about lighthouses.  Whenever I see one I become completely mesmerized.  I wonder what it was like to live in isolation, working all night, every night, to light the way for passing ships. 

On my bookshelf sits a book by Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford, Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers.  It tells of such women as Hannah Thomas who faithfully kept the light lit at Gurnet Point Light in Plymouth, Massachusetts while her husband was away fighting the British.  Then there was Ida Lewis, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, and later, the official lighthouse keeper herself, at Lime Rock beacon off the coast of Rhode Island.  Ida not only filled the lamp with oil at sundown and again at midnight, but also managed to rescue over 18 people during her service.  A noble profession indeed.

So the mystery of lighthouses is not new for me.  Fortunately, with over 1,000 miles of coastline, Florida boasts over 30 lighthouses of its own, each with its own unique history and mystery.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find one with a history of a female lighthouse keeper, or at least a wife or daughter who helped out. 

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse

According to the Florida Lighthouse Association, most Florida residents live within 50 miles of a historic lighthouse.  I am definitely one of those residents.  Whenever my eye catches the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse just south of Daytona Beach, I get this faraway dreamy look in my eyes and I just can’t look away.

 The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse tower, at 175 feet tall, is the second tallest lighthouse in the United States. Original buildings occupy the lighthouse grounds, and  climbing the 203 steps to the top rewards you with an incredible view of the inlet.   It’s easy to spend all day here as there is a lighthouse museum, which includes exhibits of the lighthouse keepers and their families, and a building dedicated to a collection of restored Fresnel lenses.  

 

 With this being but one lighthouse in a state full of lighthouses, I can now enthusiastically add Number 2 to my List of 50 Things to Love About Florida—  exploring Florida’s lighthouses.