Have you ever wondered how many lighthouses are on the shores of the United States? There are over a thousand. The state of Michigan alone has 150. Obviously, the importance of these structures to the safety of shipping is evident by their presence on all our coastlines.
But did you realize there were times when the lighthouses were kept dark?
The first time it happened was in the spring of 1861 after President Abraham Lincoln ordered a naval blockade of all southern ports. Confederate sympathizers responded by removing the lanterns from lighthouses along the coasts. By doing this, the Confederates intended to prevent Union ships from using southern navigational aids, as well as, weaken the Union fleet by causing shipwrecks.
These southerners were quite creative in keeping the lanterns and lens from their enemy. Some pieces were shipped inland to other cities. Some were destroyed. Still others were buried in hidden locations. In Texas, one was even buried in an obvious place, a cemetery, where it had its own headstone. After the Civil War, finding these lanterns was quite a challenge for the federal government in their efforts to rebuild or relight the lighthouses. In fact, some of them were never found.
By the 1880s, the lighthouses were operational again and more lighthouses were built. In World War I, a few lighthouse keepers in the northern Atlantic states sighted the first German submarines (U-boats) close to shore. As a result some of the lights in that area were dimmed to hinder the boats’ visibility of American shorelines.
However, the biggest blackout came in 1942 after the United States entered WWII. From the Canada to the Florida Keys, and on both the east and west coasts, hundreds of ships, including tankers and private ships, were torpedoed by German U-boats prowling the shorelines. The area off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, was known by ship captains as “torpedo junction.”
When the number of ships lost hit a record high in March 1942, the federal government ordered a total blackout. Coastal residents painted the windows of their homes black and kept lights off or to a minimum at night. Even the upper half of each automobile headlight was painted black, and all exterior lights were extinguished. Lighthouses were ordered to stay unlit while keepers and coast guard personnel manned the towers with binoculars to search for German subs lurking nearby.
After the war, former U-boats captains were quoted as saying that before the blackout, American ships were easy targets when they were highlighted by the lights on shore. One even described the scene as a “shooting gallery.
But once the blackout was in place, and the United States broke the German code and took the offensive by pursuing the U-boats, the threat was removed.
Today, the lights shine once again, a reminder of days past, and a welcome sight to mariners.
Like lighthouses? Read more about them at http://pathwayheart.com, lighthouse blog.