Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Getting Attention

I launched this new blog site yesterday (April Fools Day) with a silly story about plans to move Whaleback Lighthouse from its offshore ledge near Kittery, Maine, to the site of the old Yoken's restaurant on Route 1 in Portsmouth, NH. The story may or may not have made you laugh, but I hope it got your attention. If it at least did that, I consider it somewhat successful. I hope some readers also caught the underlying intent.

Much of my time these days, as the operations manager of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and the first vice president of the American Lighthouse Foundation, is occupied by the need to bring attention to the cause of lighthouse preservation. I've been sending out press releases and posting on the social networking sites. Sometimes I feel like I'm shouting into a void, but I've got to keep trying.

In these tough times, donations are down and every dollar is vital. With economic turmoil and troubling international affairs, there's no doubt that a cause like the preservation of historic lighthouses is far down on the list of priorities for many people. In fact, I'd say it's not even close to making the list for most people.

There are so many hands out pleading for our dollars, and human service organizations like the Red Cross and the United Way will always come first for most people. And rightly so.

Meanwhile, the lighthouses aren't healing themselves. The job of keeping these treasures in top condition never ends. Wind, waves, and salt air continue to do their worst; they don't take a break because of a recession. In fact, if you believe the scientists that the weather is getting more severe because of global warming (as I do), the situation is growing more dire all the time.

It's not so dire for those lucky lighthouses that are fortunate enough to 1) be accessible by car, and 2) have adequate facilities for a museum, gift shop, and/or b&b. It's an entirely different story for the organizations managing offshore, hard-to-access lighthouses.

In the situations where you can't bring people to the lighthouse, you have to bring the lighthouse to the people. That was my underlying message in the April Fools Day post about Whaleback Lighthouse being moved to Route 1. Believe me, if it was feasible to actually move Whaleback Lighthouse, we'd have to consider it. Desperate times call for innovation. But not only would the cost be astronomical; it would destroy the historic fabric of the lighthouse to remove it from its perch on a treacherous ledge.

It was built there because Portsmouth was a leading port, and the dangerous ledges at the mouth of the Piscataqua River caused significant losses of life and property before the lighthouse was built. Having the lighthouse where it is serves as a constant reminder of those facts. Its location lends drama to its appearance. It also stands as a memorial to the brave keepers who lived inside it through storms and high seas for so many years.

We'll continue trying to get the word out about lighthouse preservation, and we'll hold events that will raise funds and awareness. It will be frustrating at times, but we plug on because we believe in the cause.

Lighthouses symbolize many things to many people, all of them positive: strength, steadfastness, hope, faith, and guidance among them. I often think that if every person who has derived at least a moment of pleasure from lighthouses would donate even a small amount to lighthouse preservation, we'd have more money than we need.

Historic Lighthouse Will be Moved to Route 1

Whaleback Lighthouse, a granite tower built in 1872, is perched on a wave-swept ledge just offshore from Fort Foster in Kittery, Maine. It’s a beloved icon of the Seacoast, but very few people have the chance to experience it first hand. “It’s hard to raise funds for a lighthouse that people can’t visit,” laments Ross Tracy, chairman of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse (FPHL). FPHL is a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, the organization that was awarded ownership of Whaleback Lighthouse last November.

To solve the dilemma, the directors of FPHL have devised a unique plan. The lighthouse, which is about 60 feet tall, will be carefully dismantled by volunteers, block by block. Volunteers will be expected to bring their own crowbars, and must be capable of lifting 4,000 pounds. "This should be a perfect project for local senior citizens and schoolchildren," says Yvonne Zemotel, treasurer of FPHL.

Each block will be carefully numbered with a waterproof marker. “We’ll most likely use a black Sharpie,” says Tracy. The blocks will be hauled to the vacant lot on Route 1 that was once home to Yoken’s Restaurant, and the tower will be re-assembled in its new home. “We figure the lighthouse will make a nice companion piece to the old Yoken’s ‘Thar She Blows!’ sign,” says Joanne Yeaton, vice chairperson of FPHL.

Asked if the lighthouse will retain any navigational importance so far from the sea, Sharon Mills, secretary of FPHL, replied, “The light and foghorn will be a boon to late night drivers finding their way home from the bars in downtown Portsmouth. To replace the lighthouse off Kittery, we’re thinking of painting the rocks day-glo orange for the benefit of the fishermen.”