By Aida Havel
The following is a personal commentary from Aida Havel, Board Member of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, on the future restoration of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The lighthouse is undergoing restoration, which includes the potential reinstallation of the original 1850s Fresnel lens, or the installation of a handcrafted replica. (The original lens is currently on display at the Museum of the Atlantic Cemetery in Hatteras Village, on loan from the National Park Service.) A public comment period is currently open until October 17 for all three options. for the lighthouse restoration project.
When it comes to the lighthouse lens, many comments I’ve heard have focused on Alternative B (place a replica lens in the lantern room) or Alternative C (restore, as much as possible, the original lens and place it back in the lens room), as I understand it, since this is how the National Park Service (NPS) request for comment was worded. However, my suggestion is that rather than one or the other, another possible alternative could be both.
Here is my suggestion, in two parts: First, place a working replica of Fresnel lens in the lighthouse. It will be less heavy, won’t have the installation issues that restoring the original lens will have, will look as good if not better than the original, and require much less maintenance.
Second, bring the original lens and pedestal back to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Station site and place them in a specially constructed pavilion that could be specially designed for a detailed interpretation of this historic artifact. The NPS is already doing a site redesign, and since neither the Main Guardian Quarters nor the Dual Guardian Quarters would be sufficient to house the complete objective and base, a new pavilion, specifically designed to feature this objective, could be designed.
Specifically, the parks service could use the original lens to share with visitors the history and engineering of Fresnel lenses, the fascinating journey this particular lens took, and the importance of conservation and interpretation. By placing the lens in a pavilion on the ground, people who cannot climb to the lighthouse or choose not to do so can still see this breathtaking example of civil engineering from the 19e century.
Regarding the course of the objective, think about it: it went from being placed in the lighthouse of 1850 to being dismantled and hidden during the Civil War, then installed in the lighthouse of 1870, then abandoned in 1936, then vandalized. in the late 1940s, then scattered to many places including a swamp on Hatteras Island, then exhibited in the Atlantic Museum cemetery without its pedestal, then reunited there with its pedestal, then eventually returned on the land of the lighthouse for which it was manufactured. What a beautiful interpretation could we make of this story!
But where will the money come from? This is where Outer Banks Forever and perhaps other organizations could come in. As is evident, the world is teeming with dedicated lighthouse enthusiasts. I firmly believe that with the right approach, it would be easy to raise the funds to build a pavilion and move the fresnel lens to the lighthouse park for display.
As others have said, this goal is a national treasure. He has a long, well-traveled and somewhat sad history. Isn’t it time for this iconic goal to rest and not be put back into service once more? Like a beloved grandmother, isn’t it time for her to retire and share stories from her glory days?
An additional note: I’ve heard people say how nice it would be to showcase an active working Fresnel lens in the lighthouse. I agree and suggest that those who wish to see an authentic undamaged, fully functional and historically accurate fresnel lens be directed to the Bodie Island Lighthouse. It’s spectacular, day and night!