Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2023

Rare Photo of 1968 Lift-Off at Cape Florida

By Timothy Harrison


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This rare, original, discarded photo, that recently came into the possession of Lighthouse Digest from the files of the Miami Herald, taken by Doug Kennedy, was published on May 25, 1968. It shows workmen with a crane hoisting off the rusted and deteriorated lantern from the 95-foot-tall Cape Florida Lighthouse, which had been deactivated and abandoned nearly 100 years earlier. But this was no easy task; they had failed in their efforts to remove it the day before.

It was the job of Wayne Hall, who was operating the crane, to remove the decaying lantern, which looked like it might just fall off the top of the tower. But with the rain spattering through the holes in its metal frame, the lantern stood firm.

No amount of tugging from the long-boomed crane would lift off the lantern of the neglected 1846 Cape Florida Lighthouse that was about to undergo a $70,000 restoration project. “Damn,” muttered one worker, who was stationed at the top of the tower, as he poked at the rust and debris. He said, “This thing looked so fragile, but it just won’t move.”

Wayne Hall, at the controls of the crane, soon realized that what the Seminoles in 1836 and the Confederates in 1861 couldn’t do, his crane couldn’t do either.

For another four hours, the crew worked at removing the cast iron lantern that had been put in place way back in 1855 when the tower was raised by 30 feet to a new height of 95 feet. And for the next four hours, the stubborn lantern would not budge; a testament to its original builders.

Job boss Charley Davis, in referring to the removal of the lantern, said, “Oh about five minutes, more.” But that was before it started to look like a major project.

The Miami Herald reported: “His men scurried up the 108 circular steps in the tower to hack and hammer whatever gripped the top in place. After torching and hammering, they would scamper back down.

‘“Okay. Let her go,’” one would yell. And the 140-foot crane boom would begin straining and tightening the four cables attached to the superstructure. Motors would rumble. Hall would pull back on the controls.

And nothing would happen.

“Somebody would mutter and go back up the tower and start hammering and torching some more.

“The crane rumbled again. Hall eased back the levers. The winches strained. Another section snapped off the tower. Slowly and tipping slightly, the lantern came off.”

Although the Cape Florida Lighthouse was then owned by the State of Florida to become a state park, at that time, no one was really sure what they were going to do with the old lantern; they believed it was beyond repair. So, they left it on the ground, out of the way, perhaps to be restored later as a display artifact, whenever the money might become available.

The next big project was to replace many of the missing bricks and repair others. $30,000 of matching, new-old bricks were found in stock at the Duncan Brick Yards in Columbus, Georgia and replaced on the tower in July of that year. A new replica lantern was also made and installed at the top of the tower.

A few months later in August of 1968, to protect the lighthouse from erosion, a 285-foot-long revetment about five feet above mean-low-level water was installed as well as an erosion barrier, with some of the stones weighing up to 2,000 pounds each.

After the 1968-1969 restoration, the Cape Florida Lighthouse would not see any major restoration again until 1995-1996, when major repairs had to be made after the tower had suffered damage a few years earlier from Hurricane Andrew.

Editor’s Note: Photos such as this one, which had been filed away since 1968, are a valuable part of lighthouse antiquity and help tell the 1968 segment of the history of the Cape Florida Lighthouse, of which almost nothing has been written about, until now. Please help us in our efforts with your donation at www.LighthouseHistoryResearch.org

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2023 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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