It has been some time since the ALC (actually, then the ALCC) posted its position paper on optics in American lighthouses, a study by the late and still-missed Cullen Chambers that basically concluded that classic Fresnel lenses should remain in the towers rather than removed for controlled museum display.
Things have changed since then, at least a little. Fresnel lenses again can be manufactured; Dan Spinella’s Artworks Florida does magnificent and historically accurate versions of optical acrylic for less than the insurance value the Coast Guard requires for real ones. That opens an option that didn’t really exist when Cullen was doing his study.
So here’s today’s hot stove topic for lightkeepers — should surviving Fresnels remain in their historic homes, or should they be removed (as the Coast Guard has preferred), conserved and preserved in climate-controlled museum displays?
Like Ralphie’s father’s major-award leg lamp (see Christmas Story, as if you could avoid that movie during the holiday season), these lenses are not only frageelay but increasingly so. Authenticity of place or preservation of the artifact — which prevails, or can both?
In Buffalo, our decision was fairly easy because it dodged that conflict. Back in 1987 we had put a too-small fourth order lens, long removed from the decommissioned South Buffalo Lighthouse, in the empty third-order lantern of the 1833 Buffalo Lighthouse, which at least was a move from a Coast Guard lobby back into a lighthouse. We felt good about that, but the years of sun and temperature exposures were taking a toll and things were looking grim. So we secured $120,000 in grants, took the lens back out again and gave it a full-on conservation before putting it in an enclosed display case in a museum building; then we commissioned Dan to build us a more historically appropriate third order lens for installation in the tower this spring. That was kind of the best of both the conservation and interpretation worlds, but the question can get a lot thornier for the typical lighthouse site.
What’s your take? Do we need to update the ALC research? Should lenses stay or go, at least as far as your site’s ground-level displays?
Here at ALC headquarters in the Dire Straits Lighthouse, we can’t afford any lenses so we’re still using coal fires. There’s no shipping out on the frozen strait, but we light up nightly anyway just to keep warm. And that’s the news from Dire Straits . . .