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Kevin Duffus Gets National Award


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Kevin Duffus is shown here standing with the Cape ...
Photo by: Beth Deese

Maritime historian and author Kevin Duffus has been honored by the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island, New York with its coveted Research Award.

Kevin Duffus has been researching lighthouse and maritime history for 40 years and is the author of War Zone—WWII Off the North Carolina Coast, Into the Burning Sea—The 1918 Mirlo Rescue, The Last Days of Blackbeard the Pirate, Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks, and The Lost Light.

Duffus has been researching, writing books, and producing documentaries about North Carolina lighthouses for 40 years. He first visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in 1980 to conduct research for a groundbreaking TV documentary shot on 16 mm film that was broadcast on WRAL-TV in Raleigh and other stations across North Carolina. The film, North Carolina Lighthouses—Romance and Reality, inspired Gov. Jim Hunt to form the Save Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Committee, which raised funds and advised the National Park Service on ways to protect America’s tallest endangered lighthouse.

Duffus’ lifelong fascination with lighthouse history has produced numerous research achievements. He discovered the history of 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse builder Dexter Stetson, whose identity, until then, had long been a mystery.

In 2002, after years of searching, he located and identified the 1853 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens, considered by historians to have been lost since the Civil War. The whereabouts of that lens was described by Lighthouse Digest magazine as one of the great unsolved mysteries of American lighthouse history. His research and leadership were instrumental in the recovery and reconstruction of that historic American treasure as the premier exhibit at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In 2010, Duffus discovered why the Cape Hatteras lens was considered the nation’s most important lighthouse apparatus by President Lincoln’s administration—it had been the celebrated centerpiece of the newly formed U.S. Lighthouse Board’s exhibit at the World’s Fair at New York’s Crystal Palace in 1853. The historic lens is today the oldest surviving first-order lens in America. Four years later, he tracked down the pedestal of the 1853 lens displayed at the Crystal Palace—the oldest American lighthouse pedestal known to exist—at the top of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in California.

In 2017, Duffus’ research revealed that the 1903 Cape Fear Lighthouse lens had been displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, at the 1899 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition at Omaha, and at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, New York. In 2017, Duffus also discovered the previously unknown architectural lineage of North Carolina’s first lighthouse at Cape Fear, completed in 1794.

And, after more than five years of research, in 2020, he proved for the first time the true facts which correct longstanding misinterpretations of Charleston’s first lighthouse which was established in 1768.

“Historical research is like assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle,” Duffus said. “The historian does not have the benefit of seeing the puzzle’s completed picture on the cover of the box, and few of the puzzle pieces are even in the box but are scattered far and wide in archives, attics, and in the ancient deed books of county courthouses. Research is a scavenger hunt while riding a roller coaster, with ups and downs, twists and turns, obstacles and triumphs, conundrums and stunning surprises. I find it endlessly exciting and entertaining.”

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2020 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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