We took a tour of the lighthouse of the Cape Canaveral today. At least that's what we thought we were doing. We ended up doing that and much more. It used to be easy to visit the lighthouse. You drove out there and there it was. Now because it is located inside the naval air station and the world has become such a dangerous place, you have to submit your ID info a few days prior to your visit so that some bureaucrat can verify that you are not a terrorist and you are allowed to enter the base.
Generally, you think about a lighthouse as a stable thing, but this one has moved a few times over the years. Local sailors recognized the dangers of navigating through the shoals offshore and the first lighthouse was ordered from the north and erected in 1848. Its light shone ten miles out to sea, but the shoats extended thirteen miles. Many ships almost ran aground on the reef before they ever spotted the light. Parts of that first lighthouse were dismantled and moved in mule carts and construction of a new taller tower was started just before the Civil War. After the war was over, construction resumed and the tower was completed in 1868. Less than ten years after completion, the tower was being prepped and disassembled for another move. Erosion was threatening the tower. Due to its construction of cast iron plates, the pieces could be unbolted and taken apart. The tower was moved about 1.5 miles inland to where it currently stands. The lighthouse is only open for tourists two days a week and today it buzzed with volunteer docents, a team of lighthouse groupies ready to answer questions we did not even know we had.
Usually lighthouses are located on picturesque coast lines, but after its inland trek, this lighthouse stands amidst stubby vegetation on flat, sandy soil. Usually lighthouses are located in isolated, lonely spots. This one became the locus of a small community that erected homesites and stores around the base of the tower. This lighthouse keeper was never lonely. The lighthouse became a family business. An early keeper had five daughters and worried about finding husbands for them all. He found lots of takers once he offered a keeper's job to any new sons-in-law. Two problems solved. Once NASA moved in next door and started blasting stuff into the sky, the fresnel lens that this light house and most others used to transmit the light, started shattering. Since the lighthouse was decommissioned, the lens was removed and the outbuildings that had been part of the town were deserted and destroyed by Mother Nature.
The same thing has also happened to much that had been on the NASA grounds. As we drove past launch pad after launch pad, we saw bits and pieces of what was once a vital frenetically busy place. Many of the buildings and support platforms were built of metal and the ocean nearby envelopes them with salty air and much has disintegrated. We went to some sacred spots such as the launch pad where Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died when a spark caused the pure oxygen in their capsule to burst into flames. We saw markers and commemorative plaques dedicated the the astronauts from the Gemini and Mercury astronaut teams. But all around them there were weeds and heaps of junk. There was so much material at Cape Canaveral that it would have been impossible to preserve it all. Generally, if things were no longer useful, NASA and the military just moved on and built something new. It would have been fun to get off the tour bus and poke around in the rubble, but with all the security, that would never be allowed. The last time we were here we could see some old missiles standing tall as historical reminders. Recently Hurricane Matthew roared through and knocked most of them down. More stuff to preserve or allow to rust away. Tough decisions.
Nearby Port Canaveral is a much more vital spot. It boasts that it is the second largest cruise port in the world and three ships were in port today. We got a nice view of them from Discovery Tower, a seven story building shaped like a sail that contains exhibits and films about at the area that would make any PR person proud. It was fun to be back in tourist mode for the day.