Metro Parks Visitor Engagement
I’ve always maintained that my dream job is to be a lighthouse keeper. How could it not? A gorgeous sea-side location far away from other people? The very definition of living the dream! In reality, I am painfully landlocked in a very people-focused job. So, until Metro Parks Executive Director Tim Moloney builds me a lighthouse on the banks of the Scioto River, like he promised (I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN, TIM!), I spend my free time visiting lighthouses, imagining what my life would be like if I “Freaky Friday’d” myself into Willem Dafoe’s character from The Lighthouse (2019).
Despite the lack of available jobs (lighthouse keepers went the way of the dinosaur once automation became a thing and the Coast Guard took over), I love lighthouses. I’ve spent years visiting, researching, volunteering, finding very niche lighthouse-patterned dresses, all of it. There is something so awe-inspiring yet depressing about them: a tribute to man’s hope of survival. Virginia Woolf said it best,
“Lighthouses are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other.”
THAT is what I love about lighthouses. They can evoke whatever feeling you want. Staring out to sea, you can’t help but feel the loneliness of every lighthouse keeper who once stood in the same spot — immaculate vibes for the eternal “emo” kid in me! In contrast, viewing a lighthouse from an offshore boat, they’re symbols of hope. Safe harbors are within sight.
I have seen 70-ish lighthouses, total rookie numbers considering there are 200 lighthouses in Massachusetts alone. So, bearing in mind that I have truly only scratched the lighthouse surface, here are a few of the highlights. The Highlight(house)s if you will.
FAVORITE LIGHTHOUSE EVER OF ALL TIME FOREVER
Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, Ohio
The longest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, Marblehead has been standing guard on Lake Erie since 1822. To me, it is the perfect lighthouse: aesthetically pleasing with its red lantern room and gallery, and white stucco exterior. It is my favorite place in the world, with excellent views of Cedar Point, my second favorite place in the world (which also has its own lighthouse!) I volunteer at the Marblehead Lighthouse every summer, taking tickets for tower tours (a steal at $3! Come visit! I’ll tell you about all the dead bodies that used to wash ashore!)
I have many fond memories of visiting the lighthouse with my mother, who I lost to brain cancer in January of this year, so every time I visit I feel a little bit closer to her. On a happier note, I just got engaged to my partner Brian at the lighthouse in October!
FAVORITE LIGHTHOUSE THAT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I AM IN A HALLMARK MOVIE OR SOMETHING
Sankaty Head Lighthouse, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Built in 1850, this little red and white lighthouse is the epitome of New England charm. You can’t climb the tower and the keeper’s house has long since been torn down, but none of that matters if you just rent yourself a little scooter that matches your cardigan and take in the breathtaking (and wildly expensive!!!!) views of Nantucket along the way. Pro tip: stop at the Shipwreck Museum, eat a lobster roll at the restaurant Mr Rogers frequented near his summer home, and finish the day with a Sankaty Light Lager at Cisco Brewing! You’ll feel just like a local (minus the $60 million dollar yacht).
FAVORITE LIGHTHOUSE FOR COSPLAYING AS A LONELY LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER
Bodie Island Lighthouse, Outer Banks, North Carolina
The Outer Banks is home to four excellent lighthouses, including arguably the most famous lighthouse, Cape Hatteras. You know, the barbershop-striped one that got moved 2,900 feet away from shore using hydraulic jacks and Ivory Soap? What Bodie Island Lighthouse lacks in fame, it makes up for in vast, windswept views of a dangerous swath of ocean known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and an uncanny feeling that you’ve traveled back in time.
Surrounded by marshland, the lighthouse was so isolated that the family of the lighthouse keepers lived away for most of the year in order to attend school. The current tower is actually the third iteration. The first lighthouse immediately developed a lean and the second was blown up by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. You can climb the 217 steps to the top, but due to the weight limit on the original spiral staircase, only eight people are allowed to climb at a time, making it that much easier to cosplay as a salty old Wickie without all those pesky tourists around!
FAVORITE LIGHTHOUSES THAT WERE A LOT HARDER TO GET TO THAN I THOUGHT
Cape Henry Lighthouse, Virginia Beach, Virginia
and Jones Point Lighthouse, Alexandria, Virginia
The original Cape Henry Lighthouse was built in 1792, as the first construction project of the newly formed United States Government and overseen by Alexander Hamilton. It was replaced by the “current” lighthouse in 1881 and is still an active aid to navigation. The morning we went to visit these lighthouses, we found ourselves staring down some intense barbed wire fencing and a very serious looking man at a gatehouse, dressed in military uniform. What I had failed to realize is that they are located on an active military base, Fort Story. After a slightly intense interrogation about the three cases of beer in the trunk, we were finally let through, although I’m sure I was put on some sort of watchlist.
Forever searching for a new lighthouse to cross off my list, I found the Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, Virginia when I was in Washington DC for a wedding. Since it was only five minutes from the church, I made my party join me on a *quick* adventure before we headed back into DC for the reception. In our wedding finery, I made these poor fools travel through the woods, across two state lines, and under a giant bridge where a group of teenagers were LARPing in an epic battle to find this tiny riverside lighthouse. Jones Point Lighthouse is the last remaining river lighthouse in Virginia and was relit as an active aid to navigation in 1995, after 69 years of darkness. For an added dash of history, you can visit one of the original District of Columbia boundary stones located in the seawall next to the lighthouse, placed there by some guy named George Washington.
FAVORITE LIGHTHOUSE THAT WENT MISSING
(and then was found again!)
Vermilion Lighthouse, Vermilion, Ohio
Vermilion’s lighthouse is not what it seems. While it is still an active aid to navigation, this little iron lighthouse is a replica of a 34-foot tower built in 1877. In 1929, the original lighthouse was found to have a lean after an ice storm and was hauled away, leaving its whereabouts unknown and the village without a proper lighthouse for seven decades. The mystery of what happened to the original remained until shortly after the replica lighthouse was dedicated in 1991. The original was rediscovered on Lake Ontario, now named Charity Shoal Lighthouse, thanks to a footnote in an old newspaper article about a different lighthouse.
I could find reasons for every lighthouse to be a favorite of sorts, but for now I’ll leave it up to you to find your first favorite lighthouse. You don’t have to travel too far to find one, as our Great Lake, Erie, is home to about 100 lighthouses, with 20 of those towers standing guard within Ohio’s borders. If that is too far for you, just drive up I-71 North and pretend that the full-sized lighthouse on top of that church off Morse Road is real. I won’t tell anyone!