| “You can’t be a beacon if your light
By Forest Riggs
How true, how true! Indeed, there is a light in all of us and we must let it shine, just like the popular song states. Well-loved, country singer, Donna Fargo was born Yvonne Vaughn in Mount Airy, North Carolina in 1945, and hit the charts with this song. The strong lyrics gave listeners a strong message, one that was true in the 1970s and even more so now. These are trying times and everyone is trying everything! Country fan or not, take a YouTube listen to Donna’s song and give it some thought.
During a recent telephone conversation with an “uppity” lighthouse-loving friend who lives in Bristol, Maine (home to the beautiful Pemaquid Point Lighthouse), our conversation centered around his query as to why “if Galveston is so great, so gay and so fun, why don’t you have a lighthouse there? Every other famous island and
I thought for a minute and replied, “Our LGBTQ community is so wonderful and bright here, we are the light!”
He chuckled and said, “That may well be from all I hear and see. But still, you should have a lighthouse there.”
Well, we did! We had a great one, one with a long history, complete with keepers, rescue stories and, of course, our infamous hurricanes
I knew the lighthouse has once been position on the east jetty, out past the ferry, at the far east end of the island. I often fish there. Curious, I began to ask friends, both BOI (born on
Most of the IBC crowd instantly thought of the Bolivar Light House and responded, “Oh yeah, I love it.” “It’s beautiful sitting out there on the coastline.” “I have taken some great pictures of it.” “I love to see it from the ferry when crossing over.”
Wrong! That is not the Galveston Lighthouse, albeit beautiful and iconic (and the setting the 1970 movie My Sweet Charlie, starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman, Jr.), standing tall and lonely there along the Bolivar peninsula. I smile and tell them, “
Back in the 1800s, Galveston was the busiest seaport on the Gulf Coast. Navigating the shallow bay was treacherous for the huge cargo ships bringing goods to the young and thriving Republic of Texas and, later, the state. Galveston was the point of entry. The channel was dredged; however, the cargo-laden ships struggling with the shallow depths in the bay were forced to stop and lighten their load by transferring heavy cargo to waiting boats and barges. In 1874, two parallel jetties were constructed to assist in the flow of water and bottom-filled sediments being carried to the bay — one on the Bolivar side and one on the far, east end of the island. To assist in navigating the channel, 1883 saw the addition of a simple, iron pole fixed at the end of the jetty, guiding ships in the bay and port. In 1884, the pole was replaced with a 26-foot spindle with a large sphere at the top — all, great for daylight navigation into Galveston’s busy shipping channel.
In 1896, the city petitioned Congress for $35,000 to build a lighthouse on the jetty. The partially constructed wooden structure was almost completed when it, unfortunately, succumbed to a hurricane and was mostly destroyed. By 1898, efforts were underway to construct a huge square, wooden structure that would serve as a temporary beacon while plans and funds were found to build a more permanent and seaworthy structure. 1904 saw piles being driven into the Gulf floor, subsequently packed with 200 tons of rock. A three-story structure was built, 42-feet above the water, housing an oil and engine room below, a keeper’s quarters complete with a bedroom and a kitchen, and the light source itself. The Hurricane of 1915 caused great damage to the structure and during the next year, it was repaired. However, another hurricane in 1916 destroyed what restoration efforts had been completed. Never ones to quit, Galvestonians in 1917 built a new, stronger platform of 40-foot concrete blocks and piles driven even deeper into the seabed below.
In 1917, the Parisian lens-making firm Henry-Lepaute delivered a glass lens that, after being displayed in the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific international exhibition, finally arrived in Galveston for installation. While being stored in Alabama, sections of the lens were lost in a hurricane that struck on July 15, 1916. The lost panels of crystal glass were replaced with ruby glass, resulting in the famous “red and white flash” of the now-famous Galveston Lighthouse — a beacon of entry into a dynamic and thriving seaport island
The first light was produced by oil vapor and later a 23,000-candlepower light. Needing more light to shine farther into the blackness of the night Gulf, a 1000-watt bulb was placed into the lens, yielding 230,000 candlepower and could be seen for a distance of 20 miles. Commercial electricity replaced the oil-powered light source in 1969, then automation in 1972. The need for a “tender” on the lighthouse ended and a long era of “keepers” came to an end; the most famous being Earl K. Wakefield, who resided in the platform house and is credited with saving the lives of several seamen aboard the Albatross, a large snapper boat, when it ran aground
In the early 1980s, the power light was deactivated and replaced by modern and more efficient lights on the jetty. The massive lens was donated to the Galveston County Historical Museum, where it remains on display. The structure itself continued to decline and suffer from numerous hurricanes and storms, as well at the ravaging effects of saltwater and erosion. A massive storm on May 2, 2000, toppled the remaining structure into the Gulf below. Fortunately, just prior to this storm, the lantern room had been removed and placed at the entry to Galveston College, where it remains and serves to represent the college’s vision, “A Beacon of Light, Guiding Lifelong Learning.”
So, to my “uppity” friend in Maine, I say, “Yes, we had great light, a real lighthouse with a strong history and purpose.” Though no longer standing out there on the lonely jetty, that light still burns bright in us Galvestonians — BOIs, IBCs, and LGBTQs. We are the light and, like the message in Donna Fargo’s song, we have to let it shine in order to be a beacon for all