Digest>Archives> January 2000

The Unsolved Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Mystery!

** Reward Offered! **


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For the last few years, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has dominated the lighthouse news, first with the controversy about whether the light should or could be moved, the actual moving of the light, the cancelled relighting ceremony (interrupted by hurricanes) and finally the relighting of the light.

America's tallest brick lighthouse has been researched probably more than any other American lighthouse. Studies have been done by world-renown scientists, studies and research were done by the National Park Service and the most foremost lighthouse historians have delved into its past. Yet many facts surrounding America's tallest brick lighthouse remain unsolved.

First a brief history lesson. The original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1803. In 1854 the height of that tower was raised by five stories. In 1870, a new tower was built six hundred feet northeast of the 1803 tower. The new Cape Hatteras tower was painted a brick-colored wash similar to Currituck Lighthouse. Shortly thereafter, the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was blown up. In March of 1873, it was ordered that the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse be painted with its now famous black and white spiral stripes. At about that time, it was also ordered that Bodie Island Lighthouse be painted with black and white bands and Cape Lookout Lighthouse to be pained with its distinctive diamond design.

And now to the mysteries. To the best of our knowledge, no one in modern times has ever published a photograph of the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Where is a photograph? The National Archives in Washington DC does not have one, the National Park Service does not have one, The U.S. Department of Commerce does not have one, and the United States Coast Guard does not have one. The camera was around when the original beacon still stood, so what happened to the photographs? We know for a fact that the government hired a photographer to photograph every lighthouse on the east coast. Where are those photographs?

It seems impossible that every photograph of the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has been destroyed or lost in time. Some must have survived.

Wait, there's even more to the mystery!

What happened to the photographs showing both the original 1803 tower and the 1870 tower in one photograph?

Where are the photographs showing the construction of the 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse?

Where are the photographs showing the blowing up of the 1803 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse?

Where are the photographs showing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse before the stripes were added?

Somewhere, someone or some entity must have a photographs of the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or a photograph that shows both towers, or a photograph before the stripes were added to the current tower. Perhaps in an old trunk in the attic-perhaps in the dusty forgotten files of some historical society-perhaps in a hidden vault at the Smithsonian-perhaps in an old photo album in the back corner of some antique store-perhaps in some old files from the Department of Commerce, or perhaps even in a some out of print book that has been forgotten about. The fact is, somewhere all of these photographs must exist. But, where?

Can you help solve this mystery?

We are now offering a $250 cash prize to the first person or entity to send us, by registered mail, a photograph of the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Not only will we publish the photograph, we'll be happy to publish a photograph of you and do a story on how you found the photograph. Upon authentication of the photograph, we will send you the $250.

Check around, you might find the Cape Hatteras photograph at the neighborhood yard sale, at that antique store down the street, or even in your own attic.

To make it more interesting we are also offering $100 cash reward for the first people to send us photographs of the following:

1. A photograph of the blowing up of the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

2. A photograph that shows both the original 1803 tower and the 1870 tower in the same picture.

3. A photograph of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse before the black and white stripes were added.

4. A photograph of the current Cape Hatteras Lighthouse as the stripes were being added.

Another mystery surrounding the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are its log books. Where are they? Someone must have one or more of these log books. We'll even give a $100 cash reward for the first of any one of the Cape Hatteras log books that is sent to us.

Will you be that lucky person that turns up a missing photo or artifact? Remember, even if you live in a "non-lighthouse"area, doesn't mean you don't have a chance of claiming a reward. We know of occurrences where rare lighthouse artifacts were found in a antique store in Nevada, an attic in Arizona, and a second hand shop in Colorado.

Photographs must be sent by registered mail to: Editor, Lighthouse Digest, P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630. If you have any questions you can call us at (207)259-2121 or contact our editor at Editor@LighthouseDigest.com. Rewards will be awarded on the first received, based on the postmark and most importantly authenticity. All photographs or artifacts will become the property of Lighthouse Digest to use in any and all future stories and duplicate for other interested lighthouse organizations.

Soon, more of the mystery . . .

The amazing and biggest unsolved lighthouse mystery about Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and perhaps one of the biggest unsolved lighthouse mysteries in American lighthouse history will soon be told. Written and researched by Bruce Roberts, this story will soon appear. Watch for it!

This story appeared in the January 2000 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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