Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Battery Point Lighthouse

USCG photo

Del Norte County August 22, 1993

First off, it was nice to find out that of the two lighthouses here, they did NOT make a state landmark out of the one on St. George Reef….although they probably should have, since out of all the lighthouses built in the US, it was the most difficult and expensive to build, And since it lies six miles off the coast in seas that often make it impossible to get to, it would be a tough score for a landmark seeker. In what might have been the loneliest job in the world, dozens of lighthouse keepers either asked for transfer or resigned, a few went insane, and a few died during its operation from 1892 to 1975.

In 1952, storm waves broke the windows in the lantern room 150 feet above sea level. Yet the lighthouse remains and group is restoring it, and if the state lightens up on sea lion priorities, the St. George Reef Lighthouse could become one of the most unique attractions one could possibly experience. It makes Alcatraz look like the Isle of Capri.

But we’re not going to the reef, we’re going to an islet at the south end of the harbor to see the Battery Point Lighthouse. It’s called Battery Point for recovered cannon from the ship ‘America’ that burned in the harbor were placed here. At low tide the islet becomes an isthmus and access to the lighthouse is mere walk in the snad. The lighthouse and its Fresnel lens came on line in 1856. Though it was automated in the 1950’s it became a working museum with curators like Clarence (Roxey) and Peggy Coons living on site. Around midnight on March 27, 1964, Peggy was awakened to see a full moon and very high tide, “Clarence, get up, you have to see this!” This is Peggy’s account after the third wave hit:
“The water withdrew as if someone had pulled the plug. It receded a distance of three-quarters of a mile from the shore. We were looking down, as though from a high mountain, into a black abyss. It was a mystical labyrinth of caves, canyons, basins, and pits, undreamed of in the wildest of fantasies.
The basin was sucked dry...In the distance, a black wall of water was rapidly building up, evidenced by a flash of white as the edge of the boiling and seething seawater reflected the moonlight.
Then the mammoth wall of water came barreling towards us. It was a terrifying mass, stretching up from the ocean floor and looking much higher than the island. Roxey shouted, "Let's head for the tower!" - but it was too late. "Look out!" he yelled and we both ducked as the water struck, split and swirled over both sides of the island. It struck with such force and speed that we felt we were being carried along with the ocean. It took several minutes before we realized that the island hadn't moved.
When the tsunami assaulted the shore, it was like a violent explosion. A thunderous roar mingled with all the confusion. Everywhere we looked buildings, cars, lumber, and boats shifted around like crazy. The whole beachfront moved, changing before our very eyes. By this time, the fire had spread to the Texaco bulk tanks. They started exploding one after another, lighting up the sky. It was spectacular!”

With 34 tsunamis since 1934, Crescent City is considered a tsunami magnet of sorts with the recent Japan earthquake providing the last waves in a long line…fortunately coming at low tide. The worst tsunami was from the Alaska earthquake of 1964 which killed 11 and wiped out 29 city blocks. The sea floor in this area and Crescent City’s small harbor helps to amplify intensity.

So the time comes to visit the lighthouse and landmark but it’s high tide and the isthmus is an islet and there’s nothing left to do but sit on a log and sing isthmus carols.

Plaque inscription: NO. 951 BATTERY POINT LIGHTHOUSE - The Battery Point Lighthouse is one of the first lighthouses on the California coast. Rugged mountains and unbridged rivers meant coastal travel was essential for the economic survival of this region. In 1855 Congress appropriated $15,000 for the construction of the light station, which was completed in 1856 by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Theophilis Magruder was the station's first keeper
Location: Wayne Philand was its last before automation in 1953.
USGS Quadrangle Sheet Name: SISTER ROCKS
Google maps: 41.744124,-124.203165

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