Museum asked to see the light


To the Editor:

For 100 years, the Fresnel lens (pronounced fre-NELL) sat atop the Gay Head Lighthouse as a beacon of hope.

The town of Aquinnah voted overwhelmingly at the annual spring meeting to ask the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to display the Fresnel lens with the Gay House Lighthouse in its original historic context. The town also voted in 1953, after the town got electricity, to keep the lens in town. Every town polled stated it should stay in Gay Head. The lens, owned by the Coast Guard, was removed. Our lighthouse keepers asked for it to be displayed in the lighthouse keeper’s quarters, and for the house to be turned into a museum. Instead, the Coast Guard tore down the building and moved the lighthouse keepers to Nobska Light. The lens was moved to Edgartown, and housed in a small replica of the lighthouse.

With the help of Island supporters far and wide, the Gay Head Lighthouse has been saved from the eroding cliffs for at least another 125 years. Now it is time to return the lens and display it beside its historic home.

Phil Wallis on MVTV stated that in every town are historical treasures, which the museum is here to support in their context. The lens and lighthouse are ours.

All over the country, there is an effort to return Fresnel lenses to their lighthouses. You can read the story on the Block Island Lighthouse. Our lens won the gold medal at the World’s Fair in France in 1856, and the Federal Lighthouse Board decided our location was the most important north of New York to display it. It was shipped here and brought to its location by ox cart. It lit the town for a century, and jump-started tourism.

This is our only moment in time when we can reunite the lens with its lighthouse. The museum says it has only one move left in it. The museum runs tours through our lighthouse, and benefits from that relationship. The museum argued in 1953 that their plans were too advanced to reconsider. Hopefully, that won’t be the same reasoning 64 years later.

Please support the huge effort by all to support this iconic landmark and bring back the lens to its true resting place.


Elise LeBovit