Thursday, October 12, 2017

False Lights

Two years ago I wrote about the Outer Banks village of Nags Head. Legend has it that Nags Head obtained its name from the activity of "wreckers" (unscrupulous bankers who would lure sailing vessels close to shore by tying lanterns around horses' heads or necks, thus suggesting a safe anchorage; when the ship wrecked it would be plundered). (see

According to Wikipedia: "[John Viele, retired U. S. Navy officer] points out that mariners interpret a light as indicating land, and so avoid them if they cannot identify them. Moreover, oil lanterns cannot be seen very far over water at night, unless they are large, fitted with mirrors or lenses, and mounted at a great height (i.e., in a lighthouse). In hundreds of admiralty court cases heard in Key West, Florida, no captain of a wrecked ship ever charged that he had been led astray by a false light."
Nevertheless, in 1825 Congress approved an act stipulating that "if any person or persons shall hold out or show a false light or lights, or extinguish any true light, with intention to bring any ship or vessel, boat or raft, being or sailing upon the sea, into danger or distress, or shipwreck, every person so offending, his or her counsellors, aiders, and abettors, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and imprisonment and confinement to hard labor not exceeding ten years, according to the aggravation of the offense."

Perhaps there is some truth to the legend!

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter highlights several noteworthy staircases in historic island homes. To read the newsletter, and see photos, click here:

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