Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lighthouse at Cape May

This is my favorite non floral, non avian subject. This is the Cape May, NJ lighthouse located on Cape May Point, NJ which is where the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean meet. I've shot hundreds of photos of it over the years as it is one beautiful structure. I'll post quite a few below.

We try to go to Cape May twice a year usually in Sept and May (when we can afford it!) Cape May is, I think, the oldest or one of the oldest resorts in the US. It is a small city located on the southern tip of Joisee noted for its beautiful Victorian architecture. The LH is located about 2 miles south of the city. Cape May is a seasonal town with many businesses closing down or operating on short schedules from Labor Day to Memorial Day. The traffic lights are also on "flash" mode during the off season.

The current LH was constructed in 1859 and is the third on the site. The first opened in 1823 and was 70 feet high but because of erosion eventually fell into the ocean in 1847. A second lighthouse was built a third of a mile away during 1847 but was demolished ten years later because of poor construction.

Some references I've found say the current LH was constructed under the supervision of Lt. George Meade who would later rise to the rank of Major General and command the Union Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. Meade was a USMA graduate in engineering. Meade served as the architect for the New Jersey Lighthouses of Abescon and Barnegat.

The structure is 157' 6" tall, brick and is constructed of two cylinders, one within the other. It is built to withstand 2-3 times any conceivable hurricane force winds. To aid mariners in identification, lighthouses have unique color schemes and flash sequences. This one is solid beige in color with a bright red cap and the automated light flashes every 15 seconds.
Inside, there are 199 steps to the top. No elevator meant lighthouse keepers had to haul kerosene and whale blubber oil that fueled the light up the tower by hand every day so the romantic idea that they lived a life of solitude and leisure is false. The last keeper to live in the Cape May Lighthouse in the 1920's was a guy named Harry Palmer. He lived there with his wife and nine children so Harry did manage to find some spare time somewhere. :o)
I shot this photo in 02 with an old Nikon film camera and is my all time favorite. A storm had just cleared the area. I sat my tripod up in the LH's shadow but the sky was so bright I really couldn't see much so I shot with my eyes closed. I wasn't aware of the cloud swirl around the lantern and had no idea of what I had until I got the slides back. WOW!

Shining lights

Early lighthouses used a system of silvered reflectors to intensify the main light source, a whale-oil lamp but in the 1850's, the government authorized use of a technology new to U.S.: the glorious, multiprismed lens invented by French physicist Augustin Fresnel in 1822. It was a complex array of dazzling glass prisms and bull's-eye lens mounted in a gleaming brass framework. The larger ones weighed up to 3 tons and each lens cost $12,000 at the time plus shipping costs from France (no UPS or FedEx!). The lenses came in six sizes called "orders" with the largest "First Order" ones being used in lighthouses. These contained up to 1000 prisims and stood 10-12' tall. With no cranes like we have today, they had to be hoisted 150' in the air by hand and real "horse power" using pulley systems.

The Fresnel lens was replaced by a 36-inch rotating aero-beacon lens in 1945 and equipped with a 1,000 watt bulb. This arrangement produced 350,000 candle-power with the light visible about 25 nm.

I took this double exposure with an old manual Nikon film camera on a dismal cold overcast day mainly because I couldn't think of anything else to do. The lantern on the right I took with a 300 mm lens and then, without advancing the film, took a second shot with a regular 50 mm lens. Result kinda cool I thought.

No two sunsets are the same! The best months to shoot are Sept. and Oct. based on the position of the setting sun. I generally take spot light meter reading of all sections of the scene and take multiple shots which give some interesting results.

Some of favorite photos of this elegant structure:

I shot these on a foggy, misty morning. I could only see the LH occasionally thru the mist. I started to trash the shots but then realized this kind of weather was the reason for building lighthouses in the first place.

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