Light Hearted

Light Hearted episode 5 redux – Bob Trapani, Jr., American Lighthouse Foundation; Hook Head Lighthouse in Ireland

This episode of Light Hearted was originally released on June 17, 2019. It featured an interview with Bob Trapani, Jr., executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation since 2005, and also a segment about the Hook Head Lighthouse in Ireland, one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the world.

Listen to the podcast here:

Complete transcript:

OPENING MUSIC

JEREMY

You are listening to Light Hearted, the official podcast of the United States Lghthouse Society. My name is Jeremy D’Entremont.

We are recording in the beautiful Exeter Inn in Exeter, New Hampshire. And my cohost today is Cindy Johnson. Cindy is operations manager of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses. And she’s also on the staff of the Exeter Inn. How are things in the lighthouse world and the hospitality industry, Cindy?

CINDY

Hi, Jeremy. Well, there’s a lot going on with both. As far as Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse goes, we’ve had over the last few weeks, we actually had just under 500 students tour Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, and we’ve had between one and 200 visitors at our Sunday open houses. We’ve had three of those so far. The hospitality industry is very similar, in that we are seeing a lot of tourists and it’s also wedding season here in northern New England.

The most exciting thing happening I have to say is the repainting of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. We’re finally having the lighthouse tower repainted after about nine years, and it’s really needed this paint job for the last couple of years. So we’re really excited that that is beginning.

JEREMY

It is exciting. And matter of fact, we’re recording this on—what is today’s date, June—

CINDY

Today is June—

JEREMY

Twelfth?

CINDY

Today is Wednesday, June 12th.

JEREMY

Yes, I thought I thought it might be. Thank you for helping me with that. And the paint job actually just started today. Well, they brought—they delivered the scaffolding yesterday and they started putting the scaffolding up today. The J.B. Leslie Company, based in southern Maine, is doing the job. They’ve worked on a lot of lighthouse projects, over twenty, I believe. They did the repainting and a lot of other work on the Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse in York, Maine, last year. And they’re doing the repainting job on Portsmouth Harbor Light for us. And the crew started putting it the scaffolding this morning. I went over there this morning.

Portsmouth Harbor Light, for those who don’t know, is in New Castle on the short New Hampshire seacoast. And I actually had a chance to speak with Kyle Brant, who is one of the workers on the project, this morning. And I recorded a little audio. So let’s listen to Kyle talking about that project. And again, I just recorded it this morning, so let’s listen to that.

KYLE BRANT

First of all, we’re erecting the staging. We’re going to stage it up to the deck. And then as soon as that’s done, we’ll start taking off the old trouble spots, where the rust comes through and the flaking paint. We’ll wire brush that and—any loose debris, and old rust stains we’ll clean. And then we’ll spot prime with an Ospho; it stops the rust from spreading. We’ll let that dry. And when we get the real problem areas real flaky, we’ll get all that off and on a nice tight finish we’ll prime it.

And after that sets for the appropriate time, we’ll come back with a Corothane paint and do at least two coats. And then start top to bottom and then we’ll do the same thing up top on the deck, any problem areas we’ll remove the rust and repair, prime and paint. And, recaulk the windows and that’s the whole of it. The number one, the painting processes is a little quicker—the biggest thing is we’re moving into the paint and the rust and keeping it all contained.

JEREMY

This is all going to take probably at least about three weeks?

KYLE

Yeah, approximately. I mean, it’s weather dependent, but that’s what we’re hoping for. Get it in and out as quick as possible, but if every day is like today, it’ll be a lot easier. And hopefully that’s the case.

JEREMY

Thank you.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE

JEREMY

A little later, we’re going to have a segment on lighthouse history and also a trivia question with prizes. But first we’re going to have an interview I recorded with one of the leading figures in American lighthouse preservation. Cindy, please tell us about our guest, Bob Trapani, Jr.

CINDY

Since 2005, Bob Trapani, Jr., Has served as the executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation, a nonprofit organization with its headquarters in the historic keeper’s house of the Owls Head Lighthouse in Maine. In its 25-year history, the American Lighthouse Foundation and its chapters have been directly involved with many restoration projects, and the organization has been responsible for more than $4 million spent on lighthouse preservation.

Bob Trapani, Jr., with one of the interpretive displays in the keeper’s house at Owls Head.

JEREMY

Bob, who was originally from Pennsylvania and lived for some years in Delaware, previously served as executive director of the Delaware Seashore Preservation Foundation, which is devoted to the preservation of the 1876 Indian River Lifesaving Station at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. And he co-founded the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation.

CINDY

Bob is also the author of four books and many articles on lighthouses and maritime history and lore. And he’s an accomplished photographer whose work can be seen in a number of books and magazines and on several websites.

JEREMY

Bob Trapani with wife Ann (center) and their children Dominic, Katrina, and Nina.

Bob also joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Cape May in 1998 and started training to become a certified aids to navigation technician. Since moving to Maine in 2005, he’s been working with the Coast Guard aids to navigation teams on the Maine coast, servicing the lighthouses, buoys, and other aids to navigation. I’ve known Bob for close to 20 years. He’s a good friend. And I had the chance to sit down with him and the keeper’s house at Owls Head Light Station this past December. Our conversation ranged from the challenges of preservation to the technology of modern aids to navigation. Let’s listen to that interview now.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE

BOB TRAPANI

Thank you, Jeremy. It’s great to have you and looking forward to really talking all things lighthouses.

JEREMY

What first sparked your interest in lighthouses?

BOB TRAPANI

Oh, wow. Let’s see. First sparked my interest. I would say it was in the early 1990s. My family and I would often visit the beaches of Delaware prior to moving to Delaware and seeing some of the lighthouses there, not in the best of shape, and wanting to know why this was. And being not familiar—just doing a little research and understanding—you know, all the different complexities that was it at that point in time facing the Coast Guard with preservation. And eventually I decided that maybe I can help do something about this. You know, it takes a team effort, but you know, in this case there really was no effort started in Delaware at that time for this type of thing. And it was like, well, why can’t we start one. So that’s how my interest really started.

JEREMY

Why don’t we talk a little bit about Owls Head Lighthouse?

BOB TRAPANI

Well, we first got involved with Owls Head Lighthouse back in 2007 when we secured the first lease on the tower. But at that point in time, we did not have responsibility for the keeper’s house. And then that changed in October of ‘012 when ALF did become the stewards of the keeper’s house and of the property itself. And from that point forward, when the organization was able to relocate its headquarters here, it placed the organization on yet another important step towards its long-term growth, and what the possibilities were that that could be for this organization.

And what a spot! It is my opinion—because I think lighthouses have two different personalities, one when you’re on land looking at them and then one when you’re from the water looking at them—and I think from the water, this may—and this is my opinion—may be the most picturesque lighthouse in Maine from the water. I know you could give me an argument on that.

Owls Head Light Station. Photo by Jeremy D’Entremont.

JEREMY

It’s up there, for sure.

BOB TRAPANI

When you think about the south view when you think about how it can be framed with the Camden Hills and how the lighthouse and then the oil house and the keeper’s house is all situated, from that angle from the south, it is quite a majestic view.

JEREMY

Well, as scenic as it is from land, I do think its best look is from water. That’s my opinion.

BOB TRAPANI

I agree. I agree. And we tell people that all the time to come visit. They’re all like, how beautiful this place is. I say, you know, get on one of the local schooners tour boats, and you’ll be surprised what a different view you get from the water of this place. But it’s a very old station. I mean, 1825, you know, and the tower dates back to 1852 today. Proud to have its Fresnel lens still in place, a fourth order. And we open this tower up three to four days during the summer. I’d love to have it open more, but we’ll work on that with the volunteers.

And people are able to see a working Fresnel lens, just like at Pemaquid Point. And I think that’s a big storyteller, because when they get up topside, I mean, one of the first things that obviously everybody’s like, “wow, what a view,” but then they’re struck by this beautiful gem, this treasure, this Fresnel lens, with its thousand-watt lamp, you know, they can feel the heat even with their hands away from the lens. That’s just how bright it is. It’s quite a story to be able to also tell about lighting and the Fresnel lens and what it meant to lighthouse history.

The Fresnel lens in Owls Head Lighthouse. Photo by Jeremy D’Entremont.

JEREMY

And of course you have the story of one of the most famous fog dogs of the Maine coast.

BOB TRAPANI

Spot the dog. You know, when you tell people this story, but really when you speak to children, we have school groups here and you tell them about Spot the dog, man, their eyes get big. They really pay attention then because who doesn’t love a good pet story at a lighthouse. And Spot was just credited with saving the Matinicus mailboat on its way back during a storm in the 1930s. But to read that story and to see—we talk about keepers and their families—sometimes we forget to talk about the pets in those places. But in some cases, they played an irreplaceable role in some of the historic happenings that happened at these places. And Spot certainly has survived the historical time passage and people just love hearing about it. So yeah, Spot’s been great. And having a picture of him, to be able to actually have a real photograph showing Spot the dog to people, it really brings it to life even more for them.

Spot the lighthouse dog with the keeper’s daughter, Pauline Hamor, at Owls Head Light Station in the 1930s. (American Lighthouse Foundation/Bill Geilfuss)

JEREMY

Well, what a special thing it is to be able to work here every day. And so many of us enjoy seeing your photographs that you post, that you take here, of passing vessels and the changing weather here, from the lantern room of snow and so forth. You know, it’s very special. And I think people kind of envy you having that experience here.

BOB TRAPANI

Well, I think what’s kinda neat is, that we all know, I mean, anybody who loves lighthouses understands that it was part of that maritime scene and connection. But when you have an opportunity to, in this case, work out of the keeper’s house here on a pretty much daily basis, and you’re seeing the everyday activity that otherwise might be mundane to the average person, but then you start to realize, yeah, I mean, this is the lighthouse keepers—it was more than just them caring for the lights. It was everything that was happening around them. And yeah, the weather plays a big role. Weather always plays a big role. Seeing what different types of light, and different kinds of snow, and different kinds of fog—not all fog is the same—and how it comes rolling in. So yeah, you learn a lot. There’s a big educational opportunity as well.

JEREMY

As a preservationist and a lighthouse technician, I think you’re pretty uniquely positioned to view lighthouses from multiple angles. There aren’t many people who have that ability. Do you think lighthouses still have much navigational value in today’s world?

BOB TRAPANI

Well, I’d like to think they have some important navigational role today. Obviously, with the advent of GPS and the other technologies that we have today electronically, it is fair to say that lighthouses at best are probably a secondary aid to navigation. They’re not certainly the primary aid that they used to be. You’ll get some folks that even say they’re somewhat obsolete, but at the same time, if a lighthouse goes out, it becomes extinguished, first thing people want to do is report it in. So they do pay attention. They want to say that light, you know, the Coast Guard needs to be able to go out there and repair it, get that light back online. So when you’re at, especially for some of the smaller boats, I mean, some of the commercial shipping today, you know, they’re probably not using the lighthouses. But for some lobstermen, some sailboats, things of that nature, they may still look at those lights as a secondary and something they know is always going to be there. Whereas if they have an electronic failure aboard their boat, they can look out and see that lighthouse and know that, okay, I am where I need to be, or I need to adjust my course.

JEREMY

What about so-called fog signals or sound signals, foghorns, as people call them? What do you think is their role or value in navigation today? Or do they have a role in navigation today?

BOB TRAPANI

Well, they still play a role because they’re still active. But that role is even far more reduced than the lights themselves. The horns that are operating today for the most part, most of them are about a half a mile to a mile range. So when you think about that and think about the boats when they’re far offshore, they’re probably not going to hear these horns. However, you know, I really take my hat off to the Coast Guard on this, because certain countries around the world are decommissioning foghorns or already have. And our Coast Guard has decided to basically extend their life through the MRASS program, which is the Mariner Radio Activated Sound Signal system. It was met with some, you know, some people weren’t very happy with it, but at the same time, when you look at it, I think the MRASS system is going to allow foghorns to play a role in navigation, albeit small for many years to come. Otherwise, like anything, with the parts and stuff for these types of horns that are no longer really needed worldwide, they’re just not manufacturing anymore. So it’s going to extend the life of our horns and you know, kayakers and small boats may still use the horns. I know kayakers are stories we still hear kayakers say they heard a foghorn and it really saved their life. They would have been out to sea otherwise, you know, whatever. I know there was a story about that at Libby Island recently, and that’s been some other places. So yes. And I guess if you look at it that if we’re impacting even a few lives with it, that’s a good thing.

JEREMY

If we could go back for a moment to the lights themselves, as a lighthouse technician, do you have any comment on the VLB-44 led optics that have become kind of the prevalent offshore optics these days?

BOB TRAPANI

Well, I for one love them. Again, like the MRASS system with the foghorns, the VLB-44s have been met with some disdain by lighthouse traditionalists, but I would say that aside from a Fresnel lens—if there’s a Fresnel lens in place, of course you want to keep that in place. But aside from a Fresnel lens, if you were talking more of the acrylic beacons, even the rotating VRB-25, I would say that really, this is going to be a huge improvement for anybody who uses lighthouses. And I think maybe too, we have to look at it from the mariner’s perspective rather than our own. You know, for instance, some of the VRB-25s that have been taken out, people have lost the romance of that beacon that would just revolve. So I get that. I totally understand that. But at the same time, the incandescent technology is fading.

Bob Trapani with the VLB-44 at Whaleback Lighthouse in Maine

Me, personally—what is the mariner’s take on it? Traditionally, all the way back, even in the 1800s, mariners probably didn’t ever understand, for the most part, what kind of optic was in a lighthouse. All they wanted to know, was it bright? And did have its proper characteristics? Well, the VLB-44 is bright and it’s going to show that proper characteristic for the mariner who’s not even using lighthouses as a primary aid anymore. That’s all they could ask for. And then from the Coast Guard’s perspective, it’s so much more efficient and going to allow the Coast Guard with these dwindling budgets that continue to happen, to continue to put a light in a lighthouse at a very efficient cost. Because they are unbelievable in terms of not just their brightness, but their ability to last.

So as a preservationist too, then you think, well, geez, I hate to see a lighthouse, without a light, the light’s kind of like the heart and soul. So if the LED provides that at an efficient rate, well out into the future, then we as preservationists win, too. So, from both sides, both as a lighthouse technician, as a preservationist, I think it’s a fascinating technology that we should embrace.

Jeremy D’Entremont, former Maine lighthouse keeper Ernie deRaps, and Bob Trapani, Jr.

JEREMY

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing preservationist facing lighthouse preservationists today?

BOB TRAPANI

Well, if you’d asked me that question a few years ago, I might’ve had a different answer, but I think as time has evolved, I think the biggest challenge facing preservationists today is the digital world that is fast enveloping all of us. Meaning that so much of what we do—and even seeing AI coming in and virtual realities and all—is having what we call, and I say this very respectfully, but having these static, historic monuments, these towers—how do we get that kind of historical site to appeal to a generation or generations that are continually having what interests or stimulates their interest being so much more futuristic? How can we show them that, hey, wait, the lighthouse is—they need to keep pace and they’re worth us bringing forward. I think that’s our biggest challenge.

I mean, it used to be, I would have thought that, okay, the aging volunteers that originally got involved with the lighthouses, and that is a problem today, you know, in terms of volunteers being able to carry forward and who’s going to replace them. But I think the biggest challenge is truly, we as a culture or people, where are we going with our attention? We have a very short attention span in the world today and we seem to not value anything as much as we used to.

And so, yeah, that’s a huge challenge. And I don’t have an answer for that other than the fact that what we continue to do, what all of our lighthouses continue to do. And that is you reach out to one person at a time and you impact and try to make a meaningful difference. But there is no easy answer to how you overcome that. I think the lighthouse world being able to integrate its program into more (of) the digital world will help a little bit with that. Being able to reach people with the technologies and softwares and what have you in a different way.

So the experience doesn’t always have to be hands on at the lighthouse, which is ultimately going to always be the best, but for the masses who may never even be drawn to that, can we draw them through that—all the platforms that are quickly becoming available to us all?

JEREMY

I agree. It’s an enormous challenge and kind of a part B to that, kind of relating to what you just said. What do you think the—if there is such a thing as the average person or the average tourist—what do you think people are looking for when they come actually come to a lighthouse? What do they want, what are they looking for?

BOB TRAPANI

Based on my experience, I think people are coming to find a little fun, to get a great view, and to just be able to entertain others around them for a period of time. They already come in a little bit distracted. If they’re in big groups of people, they’re distracted. If they see a great view, that’s in itself a little bit of a distraction, because when you get them up into the lantern, right away their eyes get cast seaward, and they’re looking all around and you’re trying to teach them something in a few minutes that have there. But I’ve grown to accept that.

The biggest thing I want them to come away with is really more emotional. What did they feel? Did they have a good time? Of course, they’re going to get great views except on a foggy day, up top of the tower. And then I say, that’s our million dollar view. And sometimes they laugh. Sometimes they don’t, but I want them to go away feeling good. And if they learn something along the way, awesome.

I mean, that’s what we’re here for, but it’s going to be a niche market with the history part of it right off the bat. But for the masses who may not want to spend the time to listen, at least let them say, did I have a good time? Will I come back? Will I come back and visit? Did we support the organization through maybe buying some merchandise, maybe making a donation? Those are all important things because we will not make lighthouse enthusiasts out of everybody that steps onto the site.

JEREMY

In your years—and you’ve been involved in this field for quite a while now, would you say you’ve become more or less optimistic about the future of lighthouses, the future of lighthouse preservation in this country?

BOB TRAPANI

I think we’re at a point in time where that is yet to be determined. I would say I remain cautiously optimistic that we will continue to see the inroads and successes, go forward. But I think we’re also at a point where it’s critical in the now to be able to reach these people that we’ve been talking about, these younger generations, and not so much children in fourth grade who might learn history, but people in high school, college, in their twenties, thirties, even the forties, because when you go to some of your lectures and you look around and the people interested in lighthouses, they’re definitely on the older side of it. So if we don’t succeed in the present that cautious optimism might not be there, it might be pulled away. But right now I still remain cautiously optimistic that we can overcome some of these things that are around us.

And I think, too, we all tend to think a certain way and I’m going to use this term, but sometimes we can become a little, anything can become a little cliqueish, you know, and when you realize that it’s the diversity that’s going to help in the long run, how can we do a better job as preservationists today to allow other thought processes, to come in, allow other ideas, to be able, even if they counter a little bit, what we’ve traditionally done to be successful, we have to understand that we’re not always going to be in that place.

So how we embrace a wider audience and let them feel like they can make a meaningful difference is going to be important, too. So coming full circle, I remain cautiously optimistic that people will follow us and do bigger and bigger, better things, but we’ll just have to wait and see how we finish out our quote job in the present. And that’s just how we impact people who are following us.

JEREMY

It’s time now for the part of Light Hearted, where we discuss an aspect of lighthouse history.

CINDY

Today’s topic is the Hook Lighthouse or Hook Head Lighthouse in Ireland, which is one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the world. The tapering headland of Hook Head is in the southwestern part of County Wexford, which is on the southeast coast of Ireland below Dublin. The point of land is composed of limestone, which was burned in many limekilns that can still be seen in the area. The limestone powder was used to make mortar for the building of many local stone walls and houses.

JEREMY

In the fifth century, a monastery was established on the peninsula by a monk named Dubhán –that’s spelled D U B H A N, and pronounce duvane or duwayne. And the headland became known as Rinn Dubháin or Dubhán’s Headland. The similar sounding Irish word, Duán, means hook, so it’s possible that’s where the name Hook Head comes from. But it’s also possible that the name comes from the fact that the peninsula simply resembles a hook of land.

CINDY

The famous phrase “by hook or by crook” comes from here. The phrase is believed to have been spoken by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. When he vowed that he would take the port town of Waterford “by Hook or by Crook.” Crook Head is on the opposite side of the Suir estuary from Hook Head, so they are the two points that guard the entrance to the port. Cromwell succeeded in taking Waterford.

JEREMY

According to tradition, the early monks from Dubhán’s monastery erected a beacon that burned fire to warn mariners away from the dangerous rocks on the Hook Peninsula. A more substantial lighthouse tower was built around the year 1200. It’s believed that it was built by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. The lighthouse was built primarily to help mariners reach the port of New Ross, about 18 miles upriver from the Hook Peninsula. Monks apparently helped to build the lighthouse, and they served as the keepers of the light for many years.

CINDY

The tower was constructed of local limestone and it stands four stories high with walls up to 13 feet thick. The first three stories still have their original thirteenth century stone fireplaces. Built into the walls are a number of chambers. The upper tier originally supported a beacon fire, which was later replaced by a lantern.a lantern.

Hook Lighthouse, Ireland. U.S. Lighthouse Society archive

JEREMY

A new lantern was installed on top in 1671, but the lighthouse continued to burn coal until a new lantern was installed with 12 whale oil lamps in 1791. Gas lights were installed in 1871, then kerosene-burning equipment in 1911. Three new houses for keepers were built in the 1860s. Finally, the power source became electricity in 1972.

CINDY     

The light was automated in 1996 and the last light keepers were removed. The station is remotely controlled by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The foghorn was heard for the last time in 2011 when all of Ireland’s fog signals were discontinued because it was felt that modern technology had rendered them obsolete.

JEREMY

The old keepers’ houses were turned into a visitor center and the light station was opened to the public in 2001. The site is open all year, except for a few days around Christmas, and guided tours are available. There’s a café with seafood chowder, toasted crab sandwiches, and scones, and a gift shop featuring local interest books and craft items. There’s lots more information available online at hookheritage.ie

MUSICAL INTERLUDE

CINDY

It’s time now for our trivia question. If you’ve been listening closely to today’s program, you should know the answer.

NOTE: TRIVIA QUESTION IS CLOSED

JEREMY

The first two people to answer this question correctly will win prizes. The first gets a 2019 U.S. Lighthouse Society calendar featuring photographs by 14 talented society members. The second gets a lighthouse illumination DVD. This video takes you on an animated tour through the history of lighthouse illumination. Okay, Cindy, please tell us the trivia question.

CINDY

Okay. Here’s the question. What famous phrase is associated with the location of the Hook Lighthouse in Ireland? Here’s a hint. It begins with the word BY. That’s B Y, by.

JEREMY

Okay, I’ll repeat the question one more time. What famous phrase is associated with the location of the Hook Lighthouse in Ireland? And again, it starts with the word BY, B Y. And how do people enter to win?


CINDY

They should send their answer in an email to you at Jeremy at uslhs.org. Right?

Speaker 2 (28:55):

Right. Send your answer in an email to me at jeremy@uslhs.org. State that you are answering the trivia question in Light Hearted show number five and include your full name and mailing address. Again, the first two people who answer correctly will win a prize.

MUSIC

JEREMY

So that’s it for another edition of Light Hearted. I want to thank the management and staff of the Exeter Inn, where we are today.

CINDY

Thank you to everyone at the U.S. Lighthouse Society headquarters in Hansville, Washington, and all the staff and volunteers of the USLHS. A reminder that you can learn more about the U.S. Lighthouse Society and their domestic and international tours by visiting the website at www.uslhs.org.

JEREMY

That’s right. I also want to remind people that if they’re on the New Hampshire seacoast this summer, they should come by Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle on a Sunday afternoon during the open houses. Cindy, you’re pretty much always there for the open houses.

CINDY

I am.

JEREMY

I’m usually there.

CINDY

For more information on our open houses, go to our website at portsmouthharborlighthouse.org.

JEREMY

I also want to thank today’s guest, Bob Trapani, Jr. Of course, to learn more about the American Lighthouse Foundation, go to lighthousefoundation.org. So that does it for another edition of Light Hearted. Until next time, keep a good light.

MUSIC

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