August 24, 2015

40 Years After Ship’s Decommission, Nantucket Lightship Beacon Shines Again

By Andy Grabel, Associate Director, Public Affairs

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People gather to celebrate the relighting of the Nantucket Lightship.

Witnessing the power of place elicits a special sensation, even if that place has moved up and down the Eastern seaboard and into international waters over the course of eight decades.

On a sunny, summer afternoon and breezy evening in the Boston Harbor, the connection of visitors from near and far to Nantucket Lightship/LV-112 was electric, both literally and figuratively. Crewmen who served on the ship half a century ago returned to the vessel and joined more than 200 preservationists to tour its restoration and to celebrate the lighting of its beacon for the first time since it was decommissioned in 1975.

The U.S. Lightship Museum’s preservation project, made possible by a $250,000 grant from American Express, restored the ship’s navigational light beacon, foghorn, and on-board electrical systems.

Known as the "Statue of Liberty of the Sea," Nantucket Lightship is the largest and most famous lightship in American history. Anchored 100 miles off the U.S. mainland near the dangerous Nantucket Shoals from 1936-75, it was the last landmark seen by vessels departing the United States and the first beacon seen by many immigrants entering U.S. waters.

Today, the lightship is berthed in the harbor in East Boston with an extraordinary view of downtown Boston. On the afternoon of the celebration, lighthouse keepers and owners, local preservation friends groups, and small business owners gathered to set up display tables to share their passions with each other and visitors.

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Today, the lightship calls the harbor of East Boston home.

On the pier, a band of young musicians provided the evening’s soundtrack while guests sampled East Boston oysters and local cider and talked about the remarkable ship’s past and future. Soon steady streams of visitors toured the ship for glimpses of crewmen’s lives on the ship’s deck, living quarters, galley, office, and other rooms.

The crowd grew along with the anticipation as darkness fell and the time for lighting of the ship’s beacon and sounding its foghorn grew near. In a fitting tribute, U.S. Lightship Museum President Bob Mannino, Jr. introduced the men who had slept in its quarters, worked on its deck, and helped lead other ships to safety in the harshest of conditions.

For some of the veteran crewmen, it was the first time they had returned to the ship since they served on it in the 1950s and '60s. Their stories and pride in their service gave greater resonance the lightship museum’s goal of restoring the ship completely and returning it to active use for educational programs and overnight trips.

When the day began and as people of all ages, backgrounds, and connections to the ship’s history toured the vessel, perused the displays, and met one another, I had wondered, “What about this old ship motivates these preservationists to come together on a pier in Eastie?”

After the ship’s lighting and foghorn blasts were answered by other ships in the harbor and followed by cheers from the crowd, the answer was clear: the power of place.

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