A few years back, when we first heard about the U.S. Coast Guard looking for private owners for some of the Chesapeake's lighthouses, I remember thinking, who on earth would want to buy a lighthouse? And why? My colleagues here, as I recall, did not share my skepticism; indeed, they predicted that the Coast Guard would have no trouble finding eager buyers. They were right, and I, for only the second time in my life, was wrong. Okay, maybe it was the third time, if you insist on counting that little incident with the firecracker in 1964. But I digress. . . .
As you'll see in Marty LeGrand's excellent cover story in this issue, "Got a Light?" [page 58], they've had no trouble at all finding private buyers--people who are willing to take on the work and expense and angst of maintaining the historic structures while allowing the Coast Guard access for maintenance of the lights themselves. Baltimore Harbor Light, Sandy Point, Bloody Point, Smith Point, Wolf Trap, Thimble Shoals, Middle Ground--all are historic landmarks, all are active aids to navigation, and all are now privately owned. The century-old Baltimore Harbor Light (confusingly named, since it's at the mouth of the Magothy River and a good 20 miles from said harbor) was the most expensive of these, fetching more than a quarter million dollars from the four Annapolis-area couples who bought it in 2006.
By comparison, the 1914 Thimble Shoal Light at the mouth of Hampton Roads was a steal for Peter Jurewicz of Smithfield, Va., who paid only $65,000 for the distinctive structure, a squat red tower that looks like a giant can of soup, with portholes, sitting on a pedestal. Mr. Jurewicz is also the one who best sums up the inherent madness of lighthouse ownership. After learning that his was the highest bid and that he was in fact the new owner of Thimble Shoal Light, he told his daughter Shelby that he had good news and bad news. The good news was that the family owned a lighthouse. The bad news was that Shelby would have to tell her mother the good news.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that family meeting, huh? . . . I like to think, though, that by now Mrs. J. has warmed to the idea. Because even the most practical Chesapeakean, even we commitment-phobes and eschewers of entanglements, feel the mysterious magnetism of the lighthouse. It speaks to something in us, maybe to the ancient mariner in our psyche. It's an icon with meaning. Indeed, for many years it was the very symbol of this magazine. Until 1981, the cottage-on-stilts profile of Annapolis's Thomas Point Light (another of the lights bequeathed by the Coast Guard, in this case to a city/county/nonprofit consortium) was part of the magazine's logo. And, as publisher Dick Royer reminded me when we looked at photos for this issue's cover, until 1992 Thomas Point Light was always on the cover of our May issue, to mark the magazine's anniversary. And now here we are yet again. Another May issue with another Bay beacon on the cover--marking, it seems to me, the beginning of a new era for Chesapeake lighthouses.
I could be wrong, but it's not likely. Not twice in the same decade.