Thursday, June 27, 2013

An Artifact on the Beach

     Last week I was able to visit the tallest lighthouse in the United States, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina.  Though it was constructed after the Civil War, it still has some fascinating history, as well as a small museum associated with it!
The lighthouse is quite striking with its black and white spiral stripes.  The structure is 187 feet tall, and its light can be seen for 20 nautical miles in clear conditions.
     Visitors are allowed to climb the steps inside the lighthouse, so I was eager to take a look inside it.  There were 268 steps to the top.  It made me wonder how often the lighthouse keeper had to make that trip!
Here’s one view which shows the narrow, twisting iron stairs and the beautiful floors. 
And here’s a view from the top, looking down at the Keepers’ Quarters which now houses the museum.

I was surprised to learn that this lighthouse has actually been MOVED.  That round, sandy spot you can see just above the rail is where it was originally located.  The nearby shore had eroded, which put the structure in danger.  The path you see between the trees is the route which was used for the move in 1999.  It was moved 2,870 feet, which was quite an undertaking! 

     To learn more about the move, click here: 
I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t go all the way to the top of the lighthouse.

I still managed to get a shot of the light at the top.  I’m certainly glad I don’t have to change this light bulb!

     A historic structure like this one can sometimes be considered to be one huge artifact.  Preserving and caring for an artifact which is exposed to the weather, and which people walk through, brings its own set of challenges!
The weather damage to these exterior railings is pretty obvious.  I’m sure that exposure to the salty ocean water didn’t help either.  I spoke to one of the park rangers and was told that these railings will be replaced.
If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many “Don’t Touch” signs in museums, just take a look at the dirt and grime built up on the walls here!   
     Back on ground level in the museum, I was pleased to discover a display on the Civil War!  
     Just after North Carolina seceded, Confederate soldiers and slave laborers built two forts to guard Hatteras Inlet.  Fort Clark faced the ocean, while Fort Hatteras faced the inlet.  The forts were not well armed or manned, and so were no match for the seven Union ships which bombarded them.  After two days, the Confederates withdrew.  Though this was a small battle, it was the first notable Union victory of the war.  It was also the first amphibious operation of the Civil War. 
An illustration of “The Capture of the Forts at Hatteras the First Day,” from the Pictorial War Record, 1882.
There was nothing which directly mentioned Civil War medicine in the displays.  However, I was intrigued by these illustrations I saw on display since they touch on the topic of camp life, which is covered in my museum.  The label with them reads, “Making quick sketches of camp life and Hatteras Island landscape helped pass the time for some of the soldiers during the campaign.  Charles F. Johnson was in Hawkins' Zouaves, the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry.  An avid amateur, his drawings capture his life as a soldier on the Outer Banks.  Rather than focusing on battles, his drawings record the tedium of a soldier's service.”

     It seems that even on vacation I can’t keep away from museums!

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