Friday, August 1, 2008

...on the way to Cape May

Lighthouses hold a particular fascination for many of us. Maybe the image of a foggy, stormy night, the sea wild, gale force winds, a ship in a perilous situation, with only the beacon of the lighthouse to keep it from going aground.
Or maybe it is the fact that they are often very attractive structures in beautiful oceanfront

The Cape May lighthouse is not the first lighthouse I ever visited as a child, nor is it the first one that I ever climbed. That distinction belong to the Absecon lighthouse, which we will have to 'visit' in the future. But Cape May is probably still my favorite.

Part of the reason for that might be it's location. Just a short drive from the charming Victorian city of Cape May, the lighthouse is actually located in the small nearby town of Cape May Point. Surround by the Delaware Bay on one side and the Cape May Point State Park on the other, it is always a place for a pleasant day's visit. You can take a walk through the trails and boardwalk of the park to ponds and wetland areas full of wildlife. You can check out the count of migrating birds at the observation deck, you can walk on the beach and search for Cape May diamonds...actually pieces of clear quartz that wash up on shore and are polished by the water. And just off shore of Sunset Beach are the remains of a sunken concrete ship and you will often get a view of the ferries on their way to or from Lewes, Delaware.
oh...the ferry...there is another nice way to spend the day...

But foremost we are here for the lighthouse!
The present tower is actually the third one at the Point. The first, in 1823, was built on land that eroded, the second, in 1847 was so poorly built it had to be torn down and the third and present one was built in 1859 and has been in operation ever since. For those that like their quote Wikipedia...
“The tower is 157 feet 6 inches tall, from the ground to the tower's cast iron spiral staircase. There are 217 steps from the ground to the top, with 199 steps in the tower's cast iron spiral staircase. The lighthouse has two separate walls. The outside wall is cone-shaped, and is 3 feet 10 inches thick at the bottom, and 1 foot 6 inches thick at the top. The inside wall is cylinder with 8.5-inch thick walls which support the spiral staircase. The walls were designed to withstand winds several times above hurricane force.”

The number of steps are correct. I know because I counted them as I climbed...counted and gasped for breath. It was nice of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, who leases the tower from the Coast Guard and runs the visitor operations, to have installed various historical displays at each window landing as you climb up. That way you can pause to read them..and catch your breath...without appearing like too much of an out of shape wimp.
Even if you are.
There is a wonderful view from the top, of Cape May and the ships in the Bay and on a clear day, Delaware, across the water.


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