Yesterday evening Nina & Cy, park service volunteers, invited Lou Ann and me to their home for dinner. For several months they will be living on the lighthouse grounds in the lightkeeper's quarters.
Built in 1823, the keeper's quarters and the lighthouse are the oldest structures on the island. We marveled at the house's thick brick walls and reflected on the lives of its many residents. We walked outside and compared the structure today to photos from the mid 1800's. (Major additions and renovations were made in 1897 & 1929.)
Originally whale oil was used to fuel 15 lamps in the tower's reflector apparatus. A fourth order Fresnel lens replaced the reflector system in 1854. Lard oil and kerosene were used later. The light was elecrified in 1929. Today the light from a 250 watt halogen bulb (about the size of your little finger) is magnified by the Fresnel lens and is visible fourteen miles to sea.
After a delicious dinner we perused old photos, including one of my great-great-uncle, Enoch Ellis Howard, who was keeper of the lighthouse from 1862 until his death in 1897. We pondered the many facets of his job (tending to the lamp every evening and morning, whitewashing the tower, cleaning the lens and lantern windows, building walkways and fences, and maintaining the grounds and buildings).
Back home Lou Ann and I reflected on the many meals Enoch Ellis Howard and the other keepers and their families had enjoyed together in that house. We wondered what stories they shared and what storms they lived through. We fell asleep feeling privileged to have shared dinner with new friends and with the spirits of others who had discharged their duty in the lighthouse service so many years ago.
[Our current monthly Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Kunigunde Guth Howard, published June 30, 2005. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news061505.htm.]