Digest>Archives> July 2000

Eldred Rock: My Favorite Light

By Sandra Shanklin


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Photo by: Bob and Sandra Shanklin

In twelve years, Bob, my husband and I, have photographed every lighthouse in the United States. Not all the little privately built, or all the small State built, but all those built by the Federal Government, as far as we know.

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Photo by: Bob and Sandra Shanklin

We are often asked, “What is your favorite lighthouse?” Of course, Bob and I have different opinions, so here is mine.

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Photo by: Bob and Sandra Shanklin

Over the years, I have had many favorites. Sometimes the sheer beauty of the lighthouse and the location just take my breath away, as at Pigeon Point, California and Portland Head, Maine. Sometimes it is the wonderful experiences we had getting to the lighthouse. At times my favorite lighthouse is the one that I was told I would never be allowed to visit: The Farallon Islands or Point Conception, California. Through persistence, contacting folks, we managed to get to both. And at the time, THEY were my favorites.

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Photo by: Bob and Sandra Shanklin

Here’s the story of my very favorite of all time: Eldred Rock, Alaska.

We had given up ever going to the lighthouses of Alaska, because of the expense, and the difficulty of getting to those isolated lighthouses. And then, out of the blue, came a letter from Harbour Lights saying: “we wish to pay your expenses to Alaska and Hawaii to finish your project.” Talk about dreams coming true. We immediately started making plans to go to Alaska the summer of 1998.

Getting to Alaska was half the battle. The other half was getting to the lighthouses, all isolated and distant. Due to the fact that we are part of the Coast Guard Art Program, and we have supplied, and will be supplying photos, to the Coast Guard, we were able to fly in Coast Guard helicopters to every lighthouse still standing in Alaska.

We flew out of Sitka on a chilly gray day, in a Coast Guard helicopter. As we flew over the Lynn Canal, the view all the way was spectacular. As we approached, Eldred Rock Lighthouse looked like a toy, on its own little island.

Every lighthouse was beautiful in its own way and each was very special.

But Eldred Rock.— This lighthouse is perched on a little rock island, with a backdrop of high mountains. The wind seems to blow all the time. We landed on the helo pad and were allowed to explore both the lighthouse and the little island. I felt like we were at the end of the world, no sounds of civilization at all, only the wind and ghosts of keepers past, and shipwrecks. It was peaceful, yet eerie.

This lighthouse was built in 1905. It is one of the oldest remaining lighthouses in Alaska. The tower is atop the keeper’s house which is a large two story octagonal building. As I wandered through the building, exploring the rooms, some of which were oddly shaped, due to the octagonal shape of the lighthouse, I wondered how families survived in this isolated place.

Climbing up to the tower and out on the deck of the tower, I saw views of frontier Alaska from every angle and each view took my breath away.

I thought, “With a few supplies and a few good books, I could spend some time here.” But thinking about the long cold winters and the isolation, I wondered how people survived on this rock. If I could go back in time and eavesdrop, what stories would I hear? Suffering and sadness, the death of a loved one, or love of the beauty of the mountains, or the joy of saving lives that would have been lost at sea?

Before we left, we shot photos from every possible angle, for ourselves, the Coast Guard, and Harbour Lights.

I hated to get back in the helicopter, I didn’t want to take off, and I watched wistfully as Eldred Rock Lighthouse again turned into a child’s toy on a rock, and faded away in the distance. I knew I would never see this one again.

It’s my favorite for many reasons — its beauty and the beauty of the little island and the mountains beyond, its one of a kind octagonal shape, the cute little wood cistern, still standing after all these years, the wonderful feel of safety from the seas, and the feeling that some of the occupants of early days still walk this island and the rooms of the lighthouse. It is my favorite also for the difficulty of getting there, and because this is one I never believed I would see.

This story appeared in the July 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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