Saturday, February 20, 2010

Biloxi lighthouse shines again!

From the Sun Herald (MS) (Photo William Colgin/Sun Herald):
As it did for 162 years, the Biloxi Lighthouse shines again over the city.

The expected two or three dozen people to observe the relighting swelled to a crowd of 200 to 300 Friday night at dusk. With the sun setting pink into the Mississippi Sound and a sliver of a moon overhead, Mayor A.J. Holloway led the countdown and the light blinked on.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” said Judy Petterson, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Dave. They live nearby on Suter Place and said the lighthouse becomes part of your life when you live in Biloxi.

Speakers at the ceremony called it “Biloxi’s most beloved landmark” and “a radiant sign of renewal.”

The Rev. Roger Morin, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, prayed it would be a beacon of hope for residents and a symbol of welcome to visitors.

“Come back tomorrow and you can climb it,” said Bill Raymond, Biloxi’s historical administrator.

Free tours of the lighthouse today will allow visitors to go inside and see the watermarks from Katrina and other hurricanes, and climb the 55 steps and eight-rung ladder to the light room.

The $400,000 restoration was funded by FEMA and insurance money after Katrina damaged the lighthouse. The brick lining was repaired, the light rewired and the lighthouse repainted inside and out.

“It’s been through many transformations and restorations,” said Leigh Jaunsen with Dale & Associates, the Biloxi firm that oversaw restoration. The cast-iron panels were an innovation in lighthouse engineering in the 1800s, she said. They were fabricated at a factory in Baltimore, shipped to Biloxi and assembled. The panels were designed so they could be disassembled if the lighthouse was threatened by beach erosion.

“The Biloxi Lighthouse has remained in its original location,” she said, and is the only one remaining of 10 lighthouses that marked the Mississippi Coast.
As a child growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the 1970's, I often heard the legend that the lighthouse was painted black as a sign of mourning when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  I was always a little skeptical of the story since Confederate President Jefferson Davis's retirement home, Beauvoir was practically across the street.  Turns out (even though my childhood perception of the timeline wasn't exactly right) it's not true.  The lighthouse was painted with black coal tar  in 1867 to prevent rust.  What is true and quite cool, is that the lighthouse was the responsibility of three strong southern women for 74 of the lighthouse's 91 years of "manned" service.  From the City of Biloxi:
The most important contributions over this period were made by three remarkable women who maintained the light for 74 of the Light’s 91 years of manned service:  Mary Reynolds; Marie Younghans; and, her daughter Mirandah Younghans. Marie Younghans became Lighthouse Keeper in 1867 following the death of her husband, and her fifty-two year career was one of the longest tenures in the history of the U.S. Lighthouse Service; she might have served longer, but she was forced to retire at age 77.
I am proud and happy that the Biloxi lighthouse shines again!

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