Gay Head Lighthouse beams once more

Rainy weather and a town-wide power outage did not dampen the spirits of well-wishers who relighted the Island’s iconic beacon.

The sweep of the alternating red-and-white beacon is a familiar sight at the west end of the Island. — Photo by Michael Cummo

After a move of 129 feet inland and 118 days of darkness, the Gay Head Lighthouse was relighted Tuesday night while 100 or so hearty souls looked on, huddled under a tent to avoid the torrential downpour which did little to dampen the occasion. Free food and beer, and a festive atmosphere among the revelers, seemed to lift the spirits of all who had gathered at this outermost location on the Island.

It took a community effort to successfully relocate this historic landmark back from the face of the eroding cliff and out of harm’s way so that it could once again provide a navigational landmark for mariners on this treacherous body of water. But more important, it restored a symbolic landmark, not only of the town but the entire Island, and added a new chapter to the light’s colorful history.

The evening was not without its fair share of glitches and difficulties. Under an obligation to the Coast Guard to restore this navigational beacon to its functional status as way marker, the commitment did not provide for any wiggle room for a rain date or alternative plan. In other words, the theme, even as the rain fell steadily, was “The show must go on.” All those who gathered knew that the night represented a singular commitment to restore the navigational icon, and that there would be no second chance.

When word came that the reillumination was imminent, everyone gathered their necessary rainwear and umbrellas and headed outside into the hostile elements to witness the historic event. With cellphone cameras in hand aimed at the lighthouse, and with particular attention to the darkened beacon which stood atop this unique structure, everyone waited to record the historic event.

Then, for some unknown reason, nothing seemed to happen. No light, no word, no explanation. Minutes went by as arms remained extended with cameras in hand, waiting for the anticipated moment, but the lighthouse remained silent and eerily dark. No word, no noise, but more important, no light.

Suddenly, an individual appeared in the top section of the lighthouse. Surely this was the missing link to the reignition process. It was obvious; someone had to throw the switch. With the elements beginning to get the better of the celebrants, and no word as to the possible difficulties, patrons began to file back into the tent for the warmth, and oh yes, the free beer.

Suddenly, word spread among the crowd that the reason for the nonevent was that there was no electricity at the location. It is funny about life, when an event like this is scheduled, and the required ingredient to perform the necessary act is in fact electricity, it would be reasonably assumed you would have this pivotal detail more than taken care of. But I guess not.

Rather than be upset or disappointed, revelers just retreated back to the protected sanctuary of the tent, resigned to the fact; many were admitting that this happens all the time out here. Nothing new. We were all assured that this was just a minor glitch, a mere bump in the road, and that trained personnel were working to resolve the problem. Besides, there was plenty of beer.

Then suddenly, a cannon-fire signal shook the tent. Most had barely gotten in position when suddenly a wave of emotion swept across the crowd. The beacon was lighted — no countdown, no drum rolls, no music, and no Hallelujah Chorus. There was light, a beautiful light at that. But most of us didn’t have our cameras ready to record the historic moment. Oh well. At least we could tell everyone years from now that we were in fact there when this historic event occurred, we just weren’t where we wanted to be when it happened. Who’s going to know anyway?

So the light was relighted, and this historic lighthouse has been given a renewed lease for the foreseeable future, and some of us hearty souls can tell everyone we were there to help usher in this new era and witness the historic occasion. We may not have recorded it quite the way we wanted, nor did the event transpire the way the officials may have anticipated, but that sort of made the the event a little more colorful, and just another story to add to our growing tapestry of life’s experiences. Cross another item off my bucket list.

Clarification: The lack of electricity was due to a town-wide power outage and was not a result of any lack of planning on the part of organizers.

Alan Hobart is a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs.