|Cedar Key Lighthouse, Florida, Photo by Marilyn Turk|
By Marilyn Turk
*Comment at the end for a chance to win a book.
As other authors on this blog have noted, one of the best perks of being a historical writer is being able to visit the places in the story. Although the research is interesting on the internet from the chair in my office, it pales in comparison to seeing a place firsthand.
My series, Coastal Lights Legacy, is set near four different lighthouses on the coast of Florida. Each book takes place during significant events that occurred near or in each lighthouse. The lighthouses are the St. George Island Light during the Civil War, the Cedar Key light after Reconstruction, the St. Augustine Light a few years after the Civil War and the Pensacola Lighthouse during Reconstruction. Naturally, I had to visit each lighthouse to see firsthand what the area was like.
Of course, I couldn’t go back in time, but some things have remained since the 1800’s, the lighthouses, for one. Fortunately, I live in Florida, so these places aren’t too far away for me to visit.
This month, the second book in the series, Revealing Light, was released. Set in Cedar Key, Florida, the story happens shortly after the occupying Union troops left and southerners began to take back control of their state. My main character, Sally Rose McFarlane, who was born at the end of Rebel Light, goes to Cedar Key as a governess to teach the children of a successful town lawyer. However, Sally Rose has a secret she must hide in the changing environment of the area. That’s all I’m going to tell you, so I won’t spoil your reading of the book!
The town of Cedar Key is on the largest island in a cluster of islands known as the “cedar keys” in the Big Bend area of Florida, on the west coast. Also known as The Forgotten Coast, the area is home to places once significant or popular in Florida, but “forgotten” when interstates and progress diverted traffic. Since the Cedar Key Lighthouse is significant in Revealing Light, I had to go see it, right? But that is more easily said than done because the 1854 lighthouse is on an island called Seahorse Key about three miles from Cedar Key. In addition, the island is leased by the University of Florida as a marine lab that houses a dozen or so students in the lighthouse building several times of the year. What’s more, the island is only open to the public twice a year when the lighthouse has a special open house. Otherwise, the island is off-limits to the public due to its protected status as a nesting area for over 200 species of birds.
It just so happened that when I planned to visit Cedar Key,the island was not open to the public. So, to go to the lighthouse, I needed special permission from the university’s director of the marine lab. I contacted the director, and in what I believe is a God-wink, the director allowed me to go so I could do research for my book. Since I didn’t have transportation, he even provided that for me. I met the island caretaker at a boat dock in Cedar Key, and he took me to Seahorse Key.
What an amazing experience to view this uncivilized area through my character’s eyes! The caretaker proved to be an invaluable source of information as he pointed out various special features on the island, such as a small cemetery where Civil War sailors are buried and a hidden cistern within the lighthouse building itself.
General Zachary Taylor proposed the lighthouse on the island in 1850 due to its unique height above all the surrounding islands and the heavy commercial traffic in the area. However, it was General George Meade who designed the lighthouse that provided guidance to vessels transporting Florida’s red cedar to the two Cedar Key pencil factories.
By the late 1800’s, the area’s resources had been depleted, and with a new railroad built to Tampa, business shifted south. When an 1896 hurricane wiped out the majority of the commercial buildings, the area economy was lost. In 1915, the light was extinguished, and in 1929, President Herbert Hoover created the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge reserving three of the keys (islands) as bird sanctuaries.
On my trip to Seahorse Key, I had the opportunity to climb the spiral stairs of the lighthouse and step out on the gallery where I could see for miles—islands and water galore—the same sights the characters in Revealing Light saw. During my visit, I also saw shoreline trees filled with so many birds on nests, they looked like flowers. Hearing their symphony of nesting coos was amazing, accompanied only by the splashing of the waves on the beach. I wonder if Sally Rose heard that too?
Guess you’ll have to read Revealing Light to find out.
Leave a comment and your email address below for a drawing to win a copy!
Marilyn Turk writes historical fiction set on the coast. The Gilded Curse, a World War II novel, published in 2016, won a Silver Scroll award and its sequel, Shadowed by a Spy, will be out in July 2018. Rebel Light was the first book of her Coastal Lights Legacy novels which feature stories with lighthouse settings. The second book in the series, Revealing Light, will be published in 2018. In addition, Marilyn’s novella, The Wrong Survivor, will be in a collection called Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides coming out in November 2018. She has also written a book of devotions called Lighthouse Devotions. She blogs about lighthouses and writing on her website @ http://pathwayheart.com. In addition to climbing lighthouses, Marilyn enjoys boating, fishing, tennis, and gardening.