Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Little Red Lighthouse

Many of you no doubt remember the classic children's book from 1942, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Much enjoyed by my own kids, it was always one of my favorites and I even remember Captain Kangaroo reading it on his morning TV show (along with other classics like Make Way For Ducklings and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel). Ever since I moved to New York City I've wanted to visit the real lighthouse on which the story was based. However, it's not easy to reach, located near the top of Manhattan, literally under the George Washington Bridge. But last week my younger son came home with a permission slip for a field trip to the lighthouse! Since the teacher always asks for volunteer chaperones, I absolutely had to go.

Yesterday morning we climbed onto a school bus and jostled our way up the west side, following the Hudson River. I should add that it was my first time on a school bus in 26 years and I can report that while safer on the inside with the addition of seat belts and heavily padded seats, they're no more comfortable or forgiving on rough streets. We might as well have taken a Conestoga wagon on the trip.

To be honest, I think the parents enjoyed the trip more than the kids, just because of the nostalgia factor. Also, several of us were great fans of lighthouses in general, so visiting one right here in Manhattan was a treat. Most of my lighthouse trips in the past, for example, have involved trips to isolated points, like the Assateague Light in Virginia or the Hatteras Light in North Carolina. I had just assumed that our visit to the Little Red Lighthouse would involve only a look at the outside and a quick lecture by a park ranger. However, we were allowed inside and given a chance to climb the spiral staircase to the top and step outside on the walkway that rings the light.

In the end, I learned something. First, the lighthouse was constructed in 1880 but was sited at a different location, in New Jersey. In 1917 it was deemed obsolete, dismantled, and placed in storage. In 1921, however, it was pulled from storage and reconstructed at its present location. (Given the history of the U.S. government's wastefulness, it's astounding that they actually saved a lighthouse for possible reuse. Just amazing!) But again the lighthouse was made obsolete, this time by the construction of the George Washington Bridge in the early 1930s. The lighthouse was decommissioned by the federal government in 1947 and the light was turned off. (If you look at the first picture, you can read about how the lighthouse was saved from demolition, thanks to the popularity of the children's book.)

If you're a fan of the book, or have kids who love this classic, I recommend a visit. Aside from the imposing tower of the George Washington Bridge and the hum of traffic high above, one would scarcely know that it's still Manhattan.

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1 comment:

BooCat said...

BrianC, Thanks for the information about the Little Red Lighthouse. For whatever the reason, this book has flown under my radar until now. I have seen the lighthouse however.
A Southern transplant cousin lived for many years at Hudson Terrace in Fort Lee several blocks from the GW Bridge. When we visited her, we would make the daily trek across the bridge to the Port Authority Terminal in Washington Heights so that we could tube into Mid-town Manhattan for tourista fun and games.
I have many photographs of the bridge and all that surrounds it. I was already fascinated by it even before I saw it since back in my music major days, I had played William Schuman's work for wind ensemble that is named for the bridge and was written in honor of its opening.
My photographs are such poor little things by comparison to yours, I would be embarrassed for anyone to see them. I really enjoy seeing your environment through your lens.