For its first 211 years, New York’s Montauk Point Lighthouse displayed just one light — the navigation beacon atop the tower.
But from Nov. 29 through Jan. 6 that flashing white light had some company. Almost 3,000 small white bulbs were mounted on the 110-foot tower and adjacent keepers’ quarters to outline the structures for the holidays.
While many lighthouses are decorated for Christmas, the Montauk Historical Society, which owns the Montauk landmark, and national lighthouse groups say they know of only one other lighthouse fully outlined in lights. That is the smaller Cape Neddick or “Nubble” Lighthouse in York, Maine, which the town government has decorated not only in December, and also in July for the summer tourists, for the past twenty-one years after the Coast Guard put up lights in prior Christmas seasons.
Eleanor Ehrhardt, co-organizer of the Montauk effort, said called it “a gift to the entire East End and everyone who comes to see the lighthouse.” She added that the project cost “quite a bit” but declined to give a figure.
“We expect this to be an annual event”, said Betsy White, president of the society that has been talking about the idea for two years.
The society hired Christmas Decor, a division of Looks Great Services of Huntington, Long Island, for the installation. Ken Bliss, who oversaw the project for the firm that that decorates several hundred houses and commercial buildings every year but had never any historical structures, said “it’s a real exciting project for us because it’s about the most major Long Island landmark and a historic structure.”
The company installed high-efficiency, LED C-9 bulbs “trying to be very green and to keep the cost down,” Bliss said. Because the bulbs use only 11 percent of the electricity of conventional incandescent bulbs, he said all of the bulbs could be plugged into four conventional sockets. A very large bucket truck was used to reach the higher areas.
The lighthouse’s navigation beacon continued to function, and the Coast Guard, which maintains the beacon and had to approve the lighting proposal, alerted mariners to the changed appearance of the tower for the holiday season to avoid confusion.
The “Nubble” Light, built in 1879, has been outlined in lights for the Christmas holiday and also for “Christmas in July” for 21 years. The Town of York does it, now using more than 1,500 feet of encased rope lighting at an annual cost of more than $3,000.
The town began the task in 1987, the year the lighthouse was automated and the Coast Guard left. The Coast Guard keepers had decorated the lighthouse and other buildings with white lights each December and local residents wanted to continue and expand the tradition. The annual December lighting attracts thousands of people and volunteers serve hot chocolate and cookies and Santa arrives on a fire truck.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2009 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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