A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

From the Lens Room

A blog by Rick Cain, Deputy Director of Operations at the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

December 13, 2013

1881 Instructions to Light Keepers

Posted by: Chuck Meide


An email made its way across staff computers today bringing to our attention a new post on the Lighthouse History blog. Its a summary of the Instructions to Light-Keepers, a formal set of guidelines set by the U.S. government's Light-House Board for Lighthouse Keepers across the country. Its a great read so I thought I'd bring it to folks attention on our own blog.

Some highlights from Lighthouse History:

The 1881 Instructions began, “The Keeper is responsible for the care and management of the light, and for the station in general. He must enforce a careful attention to duty on the part of his assistants; and the assistants are strictly enjoined to render prompt obedience to his lawful orders.” Absences had to be communicated to those left in charge and reported to the inspector. “Light-keepers may leave their stations to attend divine worship on Sundays, to procure needful supplies, and on important public occasions.”

“Watches must be kept at all stations where there is an assistant. The keeper on watch must remain in the watch room and give continuous attention to the light while he is on duty. When there is no assistant, the keeper must visit the light at least twice during the night between 8 p.m. and sunrise; and on stormy nights the light must be constantly looked after.”

Continue reading "1881 Instructions to Light Keepers" »

April 22, 2013

The First Woman Lighthouse Keeper, Right Here in the Nation's Oldest Port

Posted by: Chuck Meide

The original St. Augustine Lighthouse was built of coquina around the 1730s, and collapsed into the sea just three years after the present-day tower was completed in 1874. It was here that Minorcan resident Maria Andreu served as Lighthouse Keeper after her husband, the former Keeper, died in 1859.

There was a great article in the St. Augustine Record today, that also ran in Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union, about the first woman to serve as a Lighthouse Keeper in the U.S. And it happened right here, another first for America's first successful, continuously operating port city. Not surprisingly given St. Augustine's diverse heritage, this pioneer was not only the first woman but the first Hispanic woman to serve in this post, and is also considered the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard (though at the time, the agency managing Lighthouses was known as the U.S. Lighthouse Service).

From the St. Augustine Record:

Maria Mestre de los Dolores Andreu stands out both in the annals of the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal government.

In 1859 she assumed the watch as the lighthouse keeper at St. Augustine Lighthouse after her husband, Juan, died. Maria Andreu thus became not only the first Hispanic-American woman to serve in the Coast Guard but also the first to command a federal shore installation, say officials.

Her appointment came after her husband died on the job. According to a report in the St. Augustine Examiner on Dec. 10, 1859, “Monday last … (Joseph Andreu) was engaged in white washing the tower of the Light House” when the scaffolding gave way and he fell 60 feet. He died almost instantly.

Its a really great article, one of the best I've seen on the Lighthouse, so go read the entire thing here.

April 19, 2013

Cleaning the Lighthouse

Posted by: Chuck Meide

Before and after photographs of the tower, after an outbreak of mold was cleaned in March 2013.

Historic preservation and the maintenance of historic structures is a never-ending challenge. Our team recently made a great step forward in the ongoing caretaking of the Lighthouse. Improper maintenance back in the 1970’s destroyed the surface of the brick on our keeper’s house, presenting us with a special problem today. Mold grows on the side of our tower (especially on the north side, like moss on trees) and it must be regularly cleaned. Previously, we used scaffolding or harnesses to do so, a process both expensive and dangerous. This year the maintenance team at the Lighthouse put their heads together and developed a special cleaning system, consisting of a pressure washer suspended and controlled from a series of lines running from the ground to the top of the tower. The pressurized spray of bleach and water, controlled like a marionette by our maintenance staff, worked great, and the new tower looks fabulous! Kudos to our Operations team, including Site Supervisor Brenna Ryan and Maintenance staff David Popp, Brian McNamara, and Blake Soulder, and directed by Deputy Director of Operations Rick Cain.

Click below to see some more before/after shots of the tower.

Continue reading "Cleaning the Lighthouse" »

February 5, 2013

So You Want to Own a Lighthouse, Do You . . . ?

Posted by: Chuck Meide


A great blog entry has been making the rounds lately, written by Craig Morrison, the owner of the Execution Rocks Lighthouse in Long Island Sound. In his Diary of a Light Keeper he tells the story of how he was first inspired to seek out, acquire, and manage his own lighthouse. We here at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum are proud that we played a role in his inspiring story:

Sometime back around 2001, I was watching the NPR show on TV about the lighthouse act written by Gale Norton, Secretary of the Department of the Interior with my girlfriend/attorney, Linell. I asked if we could start a nonprofit and get one. She agreed.

I found a course at St. Augustine Lighthouse, Florida, hosted by the US Coast Guard, the National Park Service, the GSA, among many other lighthouse constituents. Linell and I spent a week in classes about bricks and Fresnel lenses and the Secretary of the Interior's standards for lighthouse restoration. We bought the book in print, which is now available online. We also met a lot of folks that had ownership interests in lighthouses and that were interested in getting one. Some folks just loved lighthouses.

Our Lighthouse here in St. Augustine was chosen as the first to be turned over to a responsible non-profit organization by the Department of Interior, and we organized and ran the training course that Mr. Morrison refers to. So we are proud to be a leader that has helped the cause of Lighthouse preservation not only in our nation's oldest port but elsewhere across America.

Craig's story is a great read! Check out the whole thing for yourself here!

August 13, 2012

St. Augustine Lighthouse Among Nation's Prettiest

Posted by: Chuck Meide


The Huffington Post website compiled a slideshow of the prettiest lighthouses in America, in honor of National Lighthouse Day last Tuesday. Several pictures of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum were listed, some ranked as high as number 8 best lighthouse photo by viewers. Go check them out!

National Lighthouse Day remembers a Congressional act that established support of lighthouses, buoys, beacons and public piers in 1789.

August 8, 2012

St. Augustine Lighthouse Listed Among Nation's Top Lighthouses

Posted by: Chuck Meide


The Weather Channel just released their list of the top eleven lighthouses in the country as their celebration of our nation's lighthouses for National Lighthouse Day, August 7th. The top choices were chosen by the Weather Channel's Facebook fans, and after tallying hundreds of votes the St. Augustine Lighthouse was listed in the top eleven in the country! Congratulations to the staff of the Lighthouse and LAMP for their part in making our Lighthouse such a great place to visit!

Lighthouse's "French Connection" and the State French Heritage Trail

Posted by: Chuck Meide


The St. Augustine Lighthouse's First Order Fresnel Lens is included in the French Heritage Trail published by the State of Florida.

The Lighthouse lens was hand blown in Paris in 1874, specifically for use in St. Augustine, so our Spanish City has a French night light. According to the American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee archives, there are only 16 such original, first-order, Fresnel lenses in light towers as working aids to navigation in the United States. The publication of the State French Heritage Trail was announced at the Florida Historical Commission Board meeting on-line on July 14, 2010.

Continue reading "Lighthouse's "French Connection" and the State French Heritage Trail" »

May 4, 2012

Update from the Teaching With Small Boats Conference!

Posted by: Brendan Burke

I am sitting on the banks of the Puget Sound this evening, waiting for dinner, and enjoying the beautiful scenery of western Washington state. Under my feet is a pebble beach, a log for my butt, behind me is a well ordered row of woody cabins. In front of me is a mile wide stretch of water about 48 degrees but crystal clear and full of sea lions, otters, salmon, dungeness crabs, and gray whales. On the other side is Whidby Island, framed at times by the even more distant but majestic Olympic Mountains. Rising to over 12000 feet, their snowy crags are a reminder of the youthful vigor of the landscape, the restless Pacific Rim. Eagles chatter and whistle from the giant cedar trees and the lapping of the water are all that meets the ears.

No trip to Seattle would be complete without a shot of the Space Needle, but I thought I'd add the flair of the conference to this picture. Superposed on the Space Needle is the mainmast and rig for the schooner Lavengro, a beautiful 1920s Biloxi lugger now sailing Lake Union.

But that us not why I am here. LAMP sent me here to learn from the best institutions in the country who build wooden boats and train young people in solid math and science skills using a philosophy that 'boats build people', not the other way around. Groups from all over the country are here to share their success stories in programming and it has been an astounding success. How do I measure this success? The 80 or so participants who have participated this weekend have kept a remarkable energy going to blend ideas, come up with new ones, and refine existing concepts of how to make our young people better, smarter, and stronger. While we do many of these things at the Lighthouse Museum with our education programming, we are thinking about making the LAMP Boatworks more of a part of this. It has been a successful part of the museum and deserves to share its skills with a broader group.

Continue reading "Update from the Teaching With Small Boats Conference!" »

April 16, 2012

LAMP Boatworks Update

Posted by: Brendan Burke

The most recent project at the LAMP Boatworks. Foreground left is the Chaisson dory tender, a 17' spritsail skiff to right, and a 1760s ship's yawl in the background.

A quick update, since I’ve been remiss in sending one for a while. I hope this finds you all in kindred spirits and enjoying this fine weather. Things around the boatworks have been heating up this spring and continue to simmer at a solid pace.

Continue reading "LAMP Boatworks Update" »

February 3, 2012

Get behind the scenes...

Posted by: Brendan Burke

Jacksonville.com published a nice piece about our behind the scenes tours here at the Museum. If you haven't take one of the tours, they are well worth it. See how the museum works, how we are learning about our past from artifacts buried in the seafloor, and learn about the many things which go on behind the veil to keep our history alive and exciting. Even if you have visited the lighthouse before, or recently, come back for this experience. Visit our webpage too, for more information on how to get involved, for more on our other tours and opportunities, and learn how to contribute to our museum. Read on for more information!

CLICK HERE for the link.

Many thanks to Dan Scanlan for this nice article!

October 4, 2010

Ninth Maritime Heritage Conference in Baltimore

Posted by: Rick Cain

The SS John Brown waits for us to board for a twilight cruise around the harbor on a living piece of history that takes my breath away.

The middle of September found me in Baltimore once more for the Ninth Maritime Heritage Conference. I was there to do a presentation on Disaster Planning, and what happened here in St. Augustine during the hurricane season of 2004. The presentation was well received by the lighthouse group, but as with most conferences I got more than I gave. The lighthouse group was well represented with folks from around the country, but I found myself drawn to some other presentations touching on things near and dear to my heart. Perhaps it was the welcome cruise aboard the 1944 Liberty Ship John Brown that caught my attention the first night, but for the rest of the conference I was looking away from light stations and toward the sea.

Continue reading "Ninth Maritime Heritage Conference in Baltimore" »

August 3, 2010

Very Cool Video Highlights the St. Augustine Lighthouse

Posted by: Chuck Meide

Check out this new video, hot off the press! It's narrated by Ray Hamel, long-time Lighthouse and LAMP volunteer who also serves on the Board (and is a former Board Chair). Ray does a great job sharing the excitement of new visitors who come here for special events such as our Sunset Moonrise, which occurs every full moon and is highlighted in the video clip. The footage is great--check out the expansive camera view of the lens room and deck full of visitors . . . how'd they get that shot?! (Hint: no helicopters were involved). The 1st order Fresnel lens, one of only 13 active specimens in the country, is also captured in exquisite detail. Click and enjoy!

If you can't get enough of Lighthouse videos, here's an earlier promotional video that we produced some time back. While you can tell this one was done in the days before hi-def video, it also has lots of great info for visitors to the Lighthouse.

June 29, 2009

Drowning in Social Media

Posted by: Rick Cain

Just a quick note to say that I am back. I didn't realize how long it had been since I had blogged, and so I thought I would post a quick note. Sometime earlier in the year my kids convinced me to sign onto Facebook to keep in touch with them. Since then I have gotten in touch with folks I haven't heard from since high school. But the interesting thing is that lighthouse enthusiasts have started finding me as well. This was particularly true when I signed on with Twitter. I now tweet with fellow lighthouse folks from around the country. The St. Augustine Lighthouse also has it's own Facebook page. So if you are on FB or make a habit of tweeting, look for us as we would love to know what you are up to. Just keeping up with Twitter and Facebook is enough of a challenge for this old guy that I almost forgot about my blog. Well no more! I am back on it.

You may also want to check out the Split Rock Lighthouse blog. My buddy Lee Radzak, Historic Site Manager at the station there, just started it a couple of months ago. Split Rock is already one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and then someone went and put a lighthouse there. I will do my best to get Lee on FB and Twitter as well, but things are a bit delayed up there in the wilds of Northern Minnesota, so we must be patient. You will want to check out some of his photos on their website as well.

January 1, 2009

Lantern Restoration at the St. Augustine Lighthouse

Posted by: Rick Cain

Sunset 1
Sunset is refracted through the 1st order fresnel lens at the end of a long work day.

Last fall work started to treat some corrosion issues in our lantern. Anyone who has ever worked in historic preservation knows that maintenance on historic structures is on-going and the same is true here. The following photos will bring you up to speed on our progress.

Continue reading "Lantern Restoration at the St. Augustine Lighthouse" »

October 17, 2008

Wind and Lighthouse Keeping

Posted by: Rick Cain

A couple of months ago we had some serious winds blowing here at the lighthouse from the west. We have a door stop at the top of the tower that keeps the heavy cast-iron door from banging into the lantern wall.

wind effects

Our site interpreter Bob was on the gallery deck when the winds arose. He restricted access to the deck to ensure guest safety until he had taken some wind readings and determined that he needed to close the door. The winds had quickly increased into the 40's with a gust close to 50 mph. He lost his grip before getting the heavy door shut, and this is what the door did to the door stop from the force of that wind.

wind effects

Here at the lighthouse we monitor weather conditions very closely, and make frequent checks of wind speeds when we feel they are increasing in strength. We close the deck to all visitors when wind speeds go above 40 miles per hour (30 mph for children under 12), and also if there are storms in the area. A few guests don't understand sometimes why we do that, and this is a good example why. It is good to appreciate the power of mother nature. Safety is our highest priority here at the lighthouse, and Bob did an excellent job that day, following in the best traditions of Lighthouse Keepers of old.

September 5, 2008

Tropical Storm Fay at the St. Augustine Lighthouse

Posted by: Rick Cain

Just a quick look at what a tropical storm looks like from the lens room of the lighthouse. This was shot on Thursday, one of the calmer days, when visibility was better. It became much worse on Friday.

June 26, 2008

Great Lakes Lighthouse Conference in Traverse City, Michigan

Posted by: Rick Cain

Traverse City 063

I recently traveled to Traverse City, Michigan for the Great Lakes Lighthouse Conference presented by the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance. I was pretty excited since it had been four years since I last set foot in the north woods.

Continue reading "Great Lakes Lighthouse Conference in Traverse City, Michigan" »

May 29, 2008

Florida Attractions Association Conference 2008

Posted by: Rick Cain


It seems impossible that another year has gone by, but I have been in Weston, FL for the past couple of days for our yearly Florida Attractions Association conference.

Continue reading "Florida Attractions Association Conference 2008" »

May 2, 2008

Florida Lighthouse License Plate Passes

Posted by: Rick Cain

Good news from Tallahassee. This week the state legislature passed the lighthouse license plate bill. It just needs to be signed by Governor Crist and we will all be sporting this new plate on our vehicles. An outstanding job by the volunteers of the Florida Lighthouse Association, and remember, all of the money from its sale goes to lighthouse preservation here in the state.

New Florida Lighthouse license plate

Oddly enough, an employee of ours came running in today and told me that there was a car in the parking lot with the Florida lighthouse plate on it. I said, "That's impossible. It hasen't been signed into being yet." But, sure enough, we went out to the parking lot and saw this plate on the back of a Volvo.


The plate belongs to a group in central Florida running a school for the blind and visually impared, "Lighthouse Central Florida; Vision Rehabilitation Services," hence the name of the plate, "State of Vision." That's a good thing since lighthouses have always been about keeping folks safe, even though our plate is way nicer than theirs.... but you didn't hear that from me. :-)

Light at Night

Florida lighthouses rule!

April 18, 2008

Florida Lighthouse Assoc. at St. Marks Lighthouse

Posted by: Rick Cain

St. Mark's Lighthouse

I was recently in Tallahassee for the FLA board meeting and member's meeting the following day. Of note was the progress of the proposed Florida Lighthouse license plate currently in committee in the state legislature. It was championed by our own Representative William L. "Bill" Proctor and with the support Senator Mike Fesano, Rep. Matt Hudson and many others in the legislature, has been passing with flying colors. One reason it has not met with much opposition is that the FLA is an all volunteer organization and so $0.90 out of every dollar spent on the plate will go to preserving our Florida lighthouses. We are also very honored to be the featured lighthouse on the plate when so many of our friends have lighthouses in the state too. We love them all!

New Florida Lighthouse license plate

Continue reading "Florida Lighthouse Assoc. at St. Marks Lighthouse" »

February 19, 2008

Can You Help Grow our Community Service at the Lighthouse and LAMP?

Posted by: Kathy Fleming

The Lighthouse would love to have you as a member of our Founding Lights Family. You can make a difference.

It takes a great many of us working together to keep the Light Station strong. It takes all our support to keep the lighthouse preserve and programs going.

Today, we are about $25,000 short of having $350,000 dollars in our small, but growing endowment fund. Why is $350,000 the magic number? Well, when we hit $350,000, then we can apply for another $250,000 from the State of Florida. And that will help us a great deal. It makes us more secure, more stable in a world where changes happen and surprises hit us with new things to repair. It makes us more able to continue wonderful community services like those so many enjoy.

Our Founding Lights Campaign helps preserve and keep alive our story for generations. Fifty percent of every Founding Lights pledge becomes part of the endowment. This money is not ever spent, but and stablity and generates interest that supports programs and our restoration efforts. The remaining funds are put to good use right away.

Won't you help protect the lighthouse? Won't you help save our maritime heritage?

Please join us as a Founding Light!

The Levels Founding Lights: $1,000 per year for five years - Leadership level Legacy Circle: $500 per year for five years - Recognition in a special annual ceremony here and up. Heritage Club: $250 per year for five years Guardians: $100 per year for five years
Find a Pledge Form at this link: http://www.staugustinelighthouse.com/foundinglights.php.

Or call us here at the Lighthouse 904 829-0745.

Kathy Fleming
Executive Director

February 11, 2008

Getting Away Can Pay - Strategic Planning with the Florida Attractions Association

Posted by: Rick Cain

I recently attended a two-day strategic planning retreat for the Florida Attractions Association. It was held at the Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center on Lake Hatchineha, Florida, just southwest of Orlando. This site is rented by many companies for staff training and really showcases some of the natural beauty of Florida. The planning session was facilitated by a very competent Disney staff person specializing in organizational development. We got so much accomplished in a short time that it reinforced for me the importance of getting away from the office periodically to an enviornment where you can focus on the task at hand without interruptions.

Sunset on the lake 1
Sunset on the lake helped everyone relax before dinner the first evening.

Continue reading "Getting Away Can Pay - Strategic Planning with the Florida Attractions Association" »

December 28, 2007

Lighthouse Keeping Across the Generations

Posted by: Rick Cain

A few weeks ago we performed quarterly maintenance on the rotation mechanism. Accompanying our team was a new volunteer at the lighthouse, Dave Reed, who just happens to be the great-grandson of Head Keeper William A. Harn.

Dave Reed in rotation room St. Augustine Lighthouse
Dave Reed gets to put his hands on some of the same equipment his great-grandfather took care of 120 years ago.

Continue reading "Lighthouse Keeping Across the Generations" »

October 29, 2007

My First Visit to Baltimore

Posted by: Rick Cain

A couple of weeks ago I got to attend a deputy directors roundtable discussion in Baltimore. It was held at the Engineer's Club which is located in the old Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, just off Mount Vernon Square, location of Baltimore's own Washington Monument. I have to say that while I like to occasionally visit big cities, I usually don't like them. Baltimore changed all that.

Inner Harbor, Baltimore

Inner Harbor, Baltimore

Continue reading "My First Visit to Baltimore" »

September 18, 2007

Florida's Historic Restoration is Flying High

Posted by: Rick Cain

Last week I went to Lakeland, FL. for another Florida Attractions Association board meeting. It was held at the Florida Air Museum. The meeting went well and was shortened somewhat when our hosts informed us there would be airplane rides when we got done. But this was not any ordinary old airplane. This was a ride in a beautifully restored 1941 Stearman Trainer. This is the same plane that our dads trained in as cadets in WWII. Unfortunately I had to take a raincheck when they ran out of time, but just to see it in the air and hear that engine gave me the shivers. Most were built in 1940 by Boeing's Stearman division in Witchita, KS. Boeing built 8,584 of the biplanes for the military.

1941 Stearman Trainer

Continue reading "Florida's Historic Restoration is Flying High" »

August 20, 2007

Simon the Lighthouse Cat Says Hi!

Posted by: Rick Cain

Many of you ask about Simon. I thought I would bring you up to date on his activities. For those of you who don't know Simon, he lived here right behind the lighthouse tower but spent most of his days (and nights) on the premises. Guests would frequently stop to pet him and at times would report a "dead cat in the ferns" since he would sleep among the green plants on his back with his legs up in the air. One guest was very insistent that we had a dead cat on the property and that "It should be removed immediately!" I asked him to describe the critter and he gave me an exact description of Simon. Having reached the spot of the tragedy, I slowly reached down to stroke his belly. I was rewarded with a soft "mew" at which time he rolled over. The guest jumped back and started laughing his socks off. He later said it was the highlight of his vacation.

Simon Sleeps

Just take away the bed, put him among ferns, and you get the idea. This is how he spends most of his days. He likes to prowl at night.

Continue reading "Simon the Lighthouse Cat Says Hi!" »

August 10, 2007

Launch of Endeavour - Pictures from Your Friendly Neighborhood Lighthouse Keeper

Posted by: Rick Cain

Got up Wednesday and headed down to Kennedy Space Center with my wife and daughter for the shuttle launch. Steve Geis, Operations Director at the center, had invited some members of the Florida Attractions Association down for VIP viewing. This was an opportunity that I didn't want to miss since there are only a few more launches prior to retiring the shuttle program. The security guard at the first checkpoint waved us through to the Visitor's Center. We parked at the administration building and got checked in, recieved our passes, and relaxed in their conference room while viewing the astronauts being strapped into thier seats on NASA TV. A short time later we boarded busses and were taken to the Saturn V building conference room and enjoyed a great buffet and cold drinks. From the balcony of the room we were as close as you can get to view the launch, a distance of three miles (read on for more pictures of the launch).


VAB - Vehicle Assembly Building where the shuttle is mated to the external tank and the solid rocket boosters.

Continue reading "Launch of Endeavour - Pictures from Your Friendly Neighborhood Lighthouse Keeper" »

July 30, 2007

St. Augustine Lighthouse Full Moon

Posted by: Rick Cain

Last night as I was driving home with my wife and daughter, we passed the lighthouse during the rise of a full moon. It was spectacular! Our first order Fresnel lens was lit while the light from the moon behind sparkled through the windows of the lens room. I raced home (1 mile south of the tower) to get my camera and came back to snap a few shots. I have a brand new Nikon COOLPIX S50 and it just could not capture the image to do it justice. But one shot was interesting and so I tried to enhance it by changing the color hue, contrast, etc. It should at least give you the mood without the clarity. Looking at it with the naked eye you could see all of the detail of the lens and the surface of the moon. If anyone has any ideas on how to improve shots like this with a compact digital let me know, otherwise, if anyone wants to donate a Nikon D-80 to the lighthouse I can do much better next time. LOL.

Full moon at the St. Augustine Lighthouse

June 21, 2007

Voyages to New Worlds

Posted by: Rick Cain

The Space Shuttle Atlantis will be coming home this week. Todays landing was cancelled due to the low pressure system spinning off our coast. They will have another chance tomorrow and Saturday to land at the Cape. Yesterday I spent the day down at Kennedy Space Center Vistor Complex for a Florida Attractions Association board meeting.
After the meeting Steve Geis, Operations Director for the complex, took us over to the Shuttle Launch Experience and I got to experience a shuttle liftoff for the second time (see my previous blog).

From left to right: Mike Donaldson, Florida Attractions Assoc. Staff; Steve Geis, Kennedy Space Center Operations Director; Keith Charlton, Pirates Dinner Adventure in Orlando; Drake Decker, Florida Suncoast Tourism Promotions.

Continue reading "Voyages to New Worlds" »

June 8, 2007

Four Centuries in a Day in St. Augustine

Posted by: Rick Cain

It was an interesting Friday at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Jenny Lynn, our head educator, came in period dress from the 1760's as a lady pirate for the lightouse summer camp. I shot a picture of her in front of the swivel gun from the shipwreck "Industry" (on display in our museum), the first British supply sloop to come down the coast from the northern colonies to outfit the British garrison when they took posession of St. Augustine at the end of the French and Indian War. She sank in 1764. The lack of flash with the picture gave it an antique look complimenting the 18th Century theme.

Jenny models her hand-made 18th Century garb.

Continue reading "Four Centuries in a Day in St. Augustine" »

May 31, 2007

Florida Attractions Association in the Florida Keys

Posted by: Rick Cain


OK. We arrived at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys for the 2007 Florida Attractions Association Conference Tuesday night. Registration was on Wednesday and things started rolling from there.

Continue reading "Florida Attractions Association in the Florida Keys" »

April 6, 2007

Greasy Hands and Smiling Faces - The Guest Keeper Experience

Posted by: Rick Cain

Last week our quarterly maintenance was due on the rotation mechanism. Every three months we put jacks under the flash panels, pull the friction rollers, inspect everything, and put it all back together again. What made this session more fun was that it was the first time that we had guest keepers here and they got to get their hands dirty and do some real lighthouse keeping. Corey and Angela were not at all shy. They jumped right in, got greasy, and seemed to enjoy the experience, particularly when we had everything reassembled and they saw how smoothly the mechanism turned.


Angela prepares to replace a chariot wheel


Cory gets up close and personal with our lighthouse


Ah, the rewards of being a lighthouse keeper. A job well done!
We hope you guys come back real soon because you do good work and I have a lot of painting that needs to be done and we need to clean windows and we need to remove some rust from the ironwork and I need ........ :-)

March 21, 2007

Telling Our Story

Posted by: Rick Cain

Last Saturday was our biggest event of the year, Lighthouse Festival. I spent months planning it as I have for the past three years. This year I handed off the leadership portion to two of our very capable staff members since I was going to be gone to Tallahassee the weekend prior. I asked them to finish up planning and oversight of the event, and run it the day of. It turns out this was providential since I spent that day nursing a very angry digestive tract. Stomach flu is not a pleasant experience and it brought back memories of my encounters with seasickness, first aboard the ferry that takes you from Long Beach to Catalina Island in California, and the second aboard a large catamaran sailing off Maui. Even the toughest folks can be brought to their knees by it. I often wonder how those who made the Atlantic crossing during the past few centuries managed, considering it took a couple of months to make the trip. We who study history hear some pretty horrific stories about what conditions were like aboard ship in those days.
Welcome Sentinel

But then to see a tall tower with a spiral of black and white stripes, standing majestically on the shore, wearing it's bright red hat. What a joy to see this sentinel, all dressed up for your arrival, signaling an end to your misery. It would be no surprise to learn that they carried the memory of that wonderful moment, that lighthouse, with them for the rest of their lives. They would pass that story down to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And then imagine if those generations could actually still go and see that tower...

That is why we do historic preservation... it's not so much about the lighthouse, as it is about people and the importance of their story.

March 10, 2007

Lighthouse Preservation is Smokin'!

Posted by: Rick Cain

It is Saturday, March 10, 2007. I decided to slow cook a beef brisket. I have been grilling for a long time and one of my favorite meals is good mesquite smoked brisket. I don’t have a smoker and you have to smoke brisket for a long time at low temps. I can’t control the temp on my grill like I would like to, and it would get too hot for a brisket. The only good brisket I have had was purchased at a Famous Dave’s BBQ. So then I remembered that I bought a gigantic roaster oven for when my family was here at Christmas and never used it. I do a dry southwest rub on the brisket and put it in the roaster at 200 degrees. I make some moppin’ sauce and add a packet of smoking mesquite chips to smoke the meat. After six hours I have beautiful southwest flavored rubber. Moral of the story…. You can’t rush the good stuff… especially brisket.

This week I go to Tallahassee to talk to the legislature about tourism in Florida and in particular, lighthouse preservation. Sometimes I get impatient because I have so many things I need to do to the tower, and I know so many other lighthouse groups who are struggling to preserve their towers. I hope the state legislature will back the Governor's new funding for lighthouse preservation. But then I remember that preservation started on our tower in the late 1980’s. We are seen as one of the premier lighthouses in the U.S. and it took a lot of time and love and sweat to get this lighthouse to where it is today. You can’t rush historic preservation just like you can’t rush brisket. It takes lots of time, care, and patience… like most worthwhile things in life. Oh for a real smoker... in Tallahassee and in my backyard!

Continue reading "Lighthouse Preservation is Smokin'!" »

March 5, 2007

Running to the Light

Posted by: Rick Cain

OK, so I am a couple of days late posting this week. I have been swamped. Ran up to Jacksonville on Friday to get the liquor license for lighthouse festival on March 17th. It is always an ordeal because you have to get a bunch of signatures from the city zoning office, the internal revenue service in Jax, and you have to have it notarized. Then you set up an appointment with the licensing agency and they interview you to see if the reason for the license is legitimate. We do this each year because we have the Michelob Ultra 5K Run at the festival and we have to serve beer. Then I have planning meetings for interpretive planning, website changes, the blog, manager’s meetings, along with daily fires that need to be put out, safety inspections, and an upcoming trip to the state capitol for tourism days. Then there are maintenance issues, personnel issues and keeping up with personnel records, and any number of other jobs that arise during the day…

In the lens room

Suffice it to say that now you know why I wrote my last blog. In the midst of it all, the tower just stands out there, quiet, sturdy, dependable. Every night the light is on, the beacons turn, and I look at it and catch my breath. What I do is called a job. All of the things that get me stressed are what feed me and my family, and the fact that I can feed my family when so many can’t is a huge blessing. I don’t have to work here… I choose to work here. And that is a good choice. I just have to remember it when I’m putting out fires.

February 23, 2007

Psychotherapy the Lighthouse Way

Posted by: Rick Cain

I feel like I’ve been running a lot and getting nothing done, so I took a climb up the lighthouse this morning to check on things. I go up once a day anyway, but usually in the afternoon. Spending time in the tower always helps me focus and quiet down. It really is remarkable. Once in the rotation room, I listen to the hum of the motor to see if anything is amiss. No problems there. I can keep my hand on the motor housing for several seconds, which tells me the motor isn’t working too hard. The gearbox is next, an older piece of equipment from the early 1960’s installed by the Coast Guard. I hold a screwdriver handle to my ear, placing the other end on the gear housing and listen to each of the bearings. They are purring today as usual. The lens is turning smoothly and everything is in order. My only concern is the condition of the friction rollers. There are eight bronze friction rollers or “Chariot Wheels” that turn the flash panels. The flash panels are the part of the lens that produce the “flash” for the ships at sea.

Friction roller inspection

We use bronze for the wheels because it is softer than steel and we don’t want the steel tables to wear. About one-half the weight of a 2-ton Fresnel lens turns on those wheels and for a time I have been watching some degradation of the bronze on the contact surface. They are all OK today.

Up around the lens the sun is warm as I look down on wind-blown guests standing on the gallery deck. The sea is an angry green today with small white caps, in spite of the clear blue sky. I take a few moments to be still…

suddenly everything is right in the world.

February 16, 2007

Of Ships, the Sea, and Walt Disney

Posted by: Rick Cain

A traveling exhibit arrived at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum yesterday. It is about the S.S. United States, the largest and fastest luxury liner ever built in the U.S. It is a wonderful maritime exhibit for our lighthouse.

S.S. United States

But for me it is something totally different. Having been born in 1957, I am a Mouseketeer from way back. Sunday night with the “Wonderful World of Color” (later “Wonderful World of Disney”) was the best part of the week. Old Disney is where I go to relax. For some guys it might be fishing or hunting or sports, but if I even step into a Disney Store my troubles just all melt away. When I say “Old Disney” I mean before Walt Disney’s death on Dec. 15, 1966. I thrive on the history of the studios, the production art for the classic animated features, and especially the live action movies from the 1950’s and early 60’s. One of these movies is “Bon Voyage” (1962) starring Fred MacMurray, Jane Wyman, Tommy Kirk, and Kevin Corcoran. A good portion of the movie was shot on board the S.S. United States. The scenes where the cast is boarding the vessel show her massive scale, and the “on deck” scenes really showcase what it would have been like to sail aboard her. It is funny that no matter where I go I can usually find evidence of the influence of this amazing American.

Walt Disney

At least Walt was always consistent… he always did everything first class!

We miss you Walt!

P.S. Do you know what Disney movie combined live action with animation, and featured a lighthouse in the town where the story took place (I also love Disney trivia)?

February 9, 2007

Jeep Keeper

Posted by: Rick Cain

Today my Jeep arrived. I have wanted one since high school days and since my daughter is taking my car to college and I am turning the big 50 this year, I ordered the dream Jeep. It is a thing of beauty. I should have gotten one a long time ago. I have had Cherokee’s in the past but never a Wrangler. The two are completely different critters. I like the Wrangler much better. I can justify the purchase as well since I have to brave rising tidal waters from time to time to keep the light operational during hurricanes… OK, I’ve never had to brave rising tidal waters in the past (just wind) to keep the light operational. But if I had to brave rising tidal waters I’m ready! The Coast Guard had jeeps here at the lighthouse during WWII, so I’m just carrying on traditions… right?

Jeep Keeper

February 2, 2007

Light keepers of the American Red Cross

Posted by: Rick Cain

It has been a couple of weeks since I have written. I woke up this morning to the news showing the devastation across central Florida from the tornados last night. The box with talking heads in my room makes it look unreal and distant somehow as I sit comfortably sipping my steaming coffee and check the roof over my head. People are crying, picking through debris of what, just last night, was their life. Hundreds of folks are in need of immediate help. A couple of weeks ago across southwest Missouri (where I grew up) thousands were without power for over a week after an ice storm swept through the area. In both cases as I came to work and checked out the streaming video during lunch, I see a banner across the bottom of the screen with the phone number for the American Red Cross. People depend on them and so they are always doing their job.

To work as a lighthouse keeper meant that you worked nights and slept during the day. There are many stories of keepers rowing small boats out to wrecked vessels and bringing the injured and sick into their own homes for a warm fire and something hot to eat. I spent my first nights as a real keeper during Hurricane Francis in 2004, when we lost power in the city for several days and I was up each night running the light off of a generator. It happened again during Hurricane Jean. People depend on the light and so the keepers were always doing their job.

In the lens room

With each disaster, volunteers of the American Red Cross are there. They help the injured; they find places for folks to stay; they provide a warm fire and something hot to eat. Sounds a lot like being a lighthouse keeper. Last week I re-certified as a CPR instructor. Since I am also a Registered Nurse they practically begged me to be a disaster volunteer as well. Nurses are difficult to find these days. After watching TV this morning, thinking about our traditions here at the lighthouse and what the keepers did for those in need, I think it would be a perfect fit. First meeting is Tuesday night. I’ll keep you updated.

January 12, 2007

Old Florida Attractions

Posted by: Rick Cain

This has been a good week. Florida Attractions Association forums were held this week all over the state. I attended one here in St. Augustine and one in Orlando.

It is good to get together with others in the tourism industry and hear what is going on in their world, from small sites like ours to big ones like Disney, Universal, or SeaWorld. I also got to hear from colleagues who refer to themselves as “old Florida attractions” like Weeki Wachee Springs, Gatorland, and Cypress Gardens, among others. These classic spots date back to the tourism boom that started in the post WWII 1940’s and give Florida its long vested history in family tourism.

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Photo courtesy of the St. Augustine Historical Society

As early attractions go however, I would like to point out that back in the 1880’s, Henry Flagler built a couple of big hotels in St. Augustine, and rich Victorians, primarily from the northeast, started vacationing here to escape the frozen north. One thing that they commonly did was come over to the island for a picnic lunch, stroll the beach and look at the lighthouse, maybe take a picture. There were two outhouses at the station, one for the Head Keeper and one for the Assistant Keeper. It was the Assistant Keeper who had to provide his outhouse for the visitors; the Head Keeper got to keep his private. Rank has its privileges. So the lighthouse was an attraction long before it was a museum, and it was one of the first in the state. It is good to be part of something that has been drawing people to Florida from the beginning, whether from the sea or from the interstate. It is also great to be part of the Florida Attractions Association family; old Florida or new, and we are honored to be counted among them. We are all about carrying on traditions.

P.S. We’ve made improvements in the bathrooms.

January 5, 2007

Lemonade and Lighthouse Keeping

Posted by: Rick Cain

Happy New Year! It took five days to pass the kidney stone, two trips to the ER, two Spiral CT scans, and some heavy-duty painkillers. I paced the floor of my house for four hours one night figuring that the pain had to let up sooner or later but it didn’t. Woke up my wife at 3:45am to take me back to the hospital.

This was my fifth stone since 1996. I am supposed to be drinking a lot of water and lemon juice(the citrate in the lemon juice is supposed to bind with the oxalates that make stones and prevent them from forming. You can’t have the rind or the pulp; they contain oxalates; just the juice), but I haven’t been doing it like I should. The guy who services my air conditioner says that I should change the filter more often too. Yet more lessons on what happens if you don’t pay attention to detail and adopt an attitude of neglect.

In the Keeper’s day neglect was something that could never happen. Ships traveling in the shipping lanes offshore depended on the light to fix their position along the coast as they sailed north and south. It is still true today. In spite of all the modern instruments aboard ocean going vessels, we are still human beings and captains like to use their eyes. It is a great comfort to them to look across the vast blackness of the ocean and see a signal light telling them the same thing their instruments do. That is why we like to continue to be operational as a private aid to navigation for the Coast Guard.

I guess if I paid as much attention to taking care of my kidneys as I do our lighthouse, I wouldn’t have started my new year run aground on a rock…(yea, I know it's a bad joke, but I couldn't pass it up).

December 29, 2006

Painful New Year

Posted by: Rick Cain

Took my parents to the airport yesterday. Came home and had a kidney stone attack. Two hours in the emergency room last night, home in agony today. This is not how I wanted to spend the New Year holiday weekend! Hope all is well at the lighthouse. No news is good news I guess.


December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

Posted by: Rick Cain

My sister drove in today from Nashville and my folks are already here. My brother and his wife come in on the 24th. They decided to stay in a hotel on the beach since we will be crowded at the house, which is a huge help. I brought Sis up to the station while I checked on things, as I do frequently after hours. It was about 8pm and things were quiet. She drove through some bad storms coming down here and it was sprinkling while we were out by the tower, the moisture in the air giving great definition to the light coming through the Fresnel lens. It was spectacular watching the rotating beams against the low, dark clouds. While I would have liked to have better weather for their visit, they will get to see the prettiest Christmas light ever lit in St. Augustine.

Merry Christmas!
Light at Night

December 15, 2006

Cramped Christmas

Posted by: Rick Cain

I am gearing up for the holidays at my house. All of my family will be coming to Florida for Christmas. First time that has happened… ever! It should be interesting since I have moved from a large home in the country in Wisconsin, to a small beach house here in St. Augustine, just a mile south of the tower. We moved here five and a half years ago with two daughters. I almost bought a house on the mainland that was larger, but my girls wanted to live close to the beach on the island, and so decided to put up with more cramped spaces until they went off to college. My oldest goes to college next year. Wow, it went by fast.

So there should be nine of us in 1800 square feet of space for Christmas. The Keepers’ House at the station is a large duplex. The Head Keeper lived on the north side and the First Assistant lived on the south side. Each family had two bedrooms upstairs and two rooms on the main level for living space. Most had five or six kids in those days. When you consider that the U.S. Lighthouse Service put a Second Assistant Keeper here, and he got two of the bedrooms to live in, there could easily have been 15 folks living there at any one time. I guess I can’t complain about few guests staying for a few days during the holidays.

P.S. The supply ship “Fern” came to the island once a year. The light station was the only thing on the island… The Keepers lived off the land just like any other frontier family in the 1800’s, plus had to take care of the tower and all of the markers in the inlet and the channel between the island and the mainland. And we think we’ve got it rough!

December 8, 2006

Bright Lights

Posted by: Rick Cain

Once again in recovery mode after our big holiday event called Luminary Night. If you have never seen it, we put about 2000 luminaries (you know, those little paper bags with sand and a candle in the bottom) around the streets below the lighthouse. Santa comes and we open the tower for free to all our guests. We serve hot cider and cookies, have the local high school kids come and perform Christmas music on the lawn. We also have a string quartet playing music in the base of the tower. They sit around a Christmas tree that sits in the weight well and the music drifts up the tower as people climb. Once at the top you look down on all of these lights spread out below the one big light above your head. Combine that with all of the lights that you can see downtown, and the lights on the shrimp boats fishing offshore, it is a pretty special time.

The story here though is not the event itself but all of the volunteers here who make it happen. Monday night we had the “bag party” and enough volunteers showed up that it took only 40 minutes to make 2000 luminaries. Everyone usually stays after for snacks and drinks. Then, on the night of the event, the volunteers set them all out, light them, and pick them all back up. It is back breaking work! And they do it all to help out the lighthouse (our staff works hard at this too). The St. Augustine Classical Guitar Ensemble plays in the visitor’s center as well. But the real story of sacrifice is from the string quartet that plays in the tower. You see, while they are playing, people are climbing above their heads. Now we have a lot of sand on our trails here on the island, so that means that while they are playing, sand is dropping on their heads from above while they play… and they never miss a beat!… for three hours… and they don’t complain! We probably had 2500 people here that night. That is a lot of sand!

Our volunteers RULE!

November 30, 2006

Fear of Flying?

Posted by: Rick Cain

I am sitting in a hotel room in Nashville looking at Vanderbilt University. Flew up here from Jacksonville yesterday at 7:00am for a meeting. I fly back tomorrow. They say you should get to the airport two hours early to go through security. I had not flown since before 9-11 and, being a by-the-book kind of guy, I was up at 3:40am to get to the airport by 5:00. What was I thinking? I mean the traffic was light at that time in the morning but considering that I had a three-hour layover in Charlotte, I spent about 10 hours getting to the hotel yesterday. I can drive to Nashville in 10 hours! I can choose my own company, sip my coffee, see the countryside, and listen to books on CD. I mean…I like to drive! None of that terrorism anxiety to deal with; feeling like a criminal entering a penitentiary while going through security. I was stuffed in small seats next to total strangers, people coughing, sneezing, snoring. Then there is the throttle down moment. You know, the time when, after you have been cruising along for about an hour and fifteen minutes, suddenly you hear the engines shutting down; gives me chills every time it happens. They should warn people before they do stuff like that. The pilot should come over the loud speaker and say, “Just so you folks know, we are going to throttle down the engines in a minute so we don’t fly the wings off the plane while we make our descent into Nashville!” That would be nice.

I’m really not scared to fly. I just hate not being in control. No, give me the old open road any day, cruising in a self-propelled chunk of metal with leather seats, my own stereo, and deluxe cup holders. A machine I control; can pull over any time I want to and see the sites. And if you disagree with me, that is ok. But consider this: In all the years I have spent on top of the lighthouse, the vast majority of airline pilots who climb it are too scared to step out on the deck once they get up there. Hmmmm?

November 14, 2006

Sitting in the Seat of the Past

Posted by: Rick Cain

In recovery mode here at the lighthouse after a big Veterans Day event on Saturday. That means that we all worked an extra day here to do the event. I missed my Saturday off but it was excellent. The food was good. The Coast Guard helicopter fly-over was great but not long enough. It was terrific of them to burn all that fuel to come down to our event, but, like, I wanted an hour-long air show. No such luck. The best part is sitting around and hearing war stories from the folks who have really been there. Two days before, we had a guy here with his Willy’s Jeep, vintage 1942. It saw duty in WWII Europe; original seats that were used by guys fighting a war half way around the world 60 years ago. I sat in the seat. It even had the ax and shovel on the drivers side and the skinny tires and everything. I got to hold a Thompson sub-machine gun. Really heavy weapon, but it was just like the ones the sergeant’s carry in all those old WWII movies, and I always wanted to be a sergeant cause the gun was so cool.

I climbed the tower after we finished clean up and most everyone was gone except for the ghost tours on the front lawn. It is the most peaceful up there at night. I always listen to the hum of the motor in the rotation room and watch the wheels track under the lens. It is the best way to know if anything is wrong with the light. There were Coast Guard guys stationed here in WWII and they were up on the tower round the clock standing lookout for Nazi U-boats off the coast. Not sure what they did at night since you can’t see much of anything offshore without a moon or a light on a vessel. There was no moon that night, but I stood at the rail for a while anyway before going down.

Kind-a like sitting in the seat.

November 10, 2006

Introducing a Lightkeeper

Posted by: Rick Cain

It occurs to me that I should introduce myself prior to doing any blogging. I am the operations director here at the lighthouse. I am 49 years old, have a wife and two (almost-out-of- the-house) teen-age kids. I have been doing this basic job under different titles for the past five or so years. The museum just keeps adding to the list of things that I have to do so that I don’t get bored. The interesting part is that we are also an active aid to navigation for the U.S. Coast Guard. That means that our big light is not just on for show. It actually functions as a working lighthouse…cool! So that is the other part of my job; making sure the light stays on at night. That makes me a lighthouse keeper as well as a museum director… mondo cool!

I grew up in tourism in Branson, Missouri, lived a short time in California working for Universal Studios, and then moved back to the Midwest and finished College (B.A. in Philosophy with a minor in psychology). I spent the next 20 years working in medicine (my wife and I are both Registered Nurses). When I came here (moved from Wisconsin) I wanted to take a break from medicine and so looked for a summer job giving tours (like I did in Branson and L.A.). I figured I would get a real job at the end of the summer. I was hired by the lighthouse and never left.

Being a museum director is not a walk in the park. It is challenging and there is always work to do. I have grown personally since coming here and they have taught me a lot. The team I work with are talented professionals and we all have this job of teaching and preserving history which is rewarding, especially working with kids. But the big payoff of this job? When I get stressed at my desk, I can go climb up to the deck of the tower, smell the salt air, and have a 25-mile view of the ocean. Not too many jobs where you can do that; keeps me in perspective…very therapeutic… I think I’ll stay.