Fire Island Lighthouse

130 steps and a narrow staircase. Fortunately, there are several landings in-between, where we can pretend we stopped to check the view, catch our breaths and continue climbing. We can also learn some fun facts about the lighthouse.

Step 26, first window landing, all’s well.
We read: The lighthouse was constructed from the inside out. The stair treads and centre posts acted as internal scaffolding. As the walls rose in height, additional stair treads and centre posts were added. The construction rate was about 1 foot/day and was completed within one year. The total cost was $40,000 including the lens, about $1.14 million in today’s dollars.

Its iconic tapered shape is most likely based on John Smeaton’s stone lighthouse of 1759 at Eddystone Rocks, just south of Plymouth, England. Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed “civil engineer” and also the first to consider the problem of constructing a lighthouse at sea. He decided to build it entirely in stone and took the shape of an oak tree as his inspiration ”a large heavy base rooted in the soil with a curved tapering pillar above, keeping the centre of gravity low”. The outer surface was to be as smooth as possible to deflect the waves.

Step: 52, second window landing, breathing a bit heavier.
We read: Lighthouses have distinctive ”characteristics” that allow them to be recognized night or day. The lantern provides nighttime recognition and has unique flash ”characteristics”. This lantern flashes every 7.5 seconds. Day-marks allow daytime recognition: this lighthouse uses four alternating black and white bands.

Step: 78, third window landing, legs join lungs in need of a break.
We read: Fire island is 32 miles long. It is comprised of multiple communities and beaches, interspersed with segments of the Fire Island National Seashore, established in 1964 to preserve the only developed barrier beach in the United States. The first community you see is Kismet. ”That’s where we’re heading for lunch later”, I thought.

Step: 104, fourth window landing, need. longer. break.
We read: The flagpole is the approximate height of the original lighthouse. At 90 feet, the first lighthouse at best projected its beam only 14 miles out to sea. Far short of the current tower’s 20 to 24 mile range.

In case you, like me, were wondering how did ”Fire Island” get its name: there are many popular theories for its origin. The first relates to Poison Ivy’s bright red fire like colouring in the fall. Poison Ivy grows in abundance here. The second is based on false fires land pirates were building to lure unsuspecting ships to the coast and loot them. The third derives from the English mistranslation of the word ”five” from an original Dutch map. The Dutch named the area around the light station ”Five Island” because of the four islands visible in the bay, plus the one we now call Fire Island.

Step: 130, fifth window landing, that’s it don’t give up now, look outside… The view is breathtaking!

September 4th, 2017