A Visit to the Light of My Life

Jojay By Jojay, 10th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>United States>Washington

Visit the The Grays Harbor Lighthouse in Washington state and learn
what it means to be a lighthouse keeper before electricity was introduced.

Can We Go Inside?

Ever since I was seven years old and I saw my first stone lighthouse along the Oregon coast I’ve been fascinated by these splendid towers of red and white flashing lights that could be seen by ships miles out in the ocean.

Can we go inside? I asked my dad. We were vacationing and on our way to visit my mom relatives that lived in Portland. No, the lighthouse was not one open to the public, he said. Maybe another time.

When we returned to our dust-covered home town some two hundred miles away from the ocean, I was determined that some day I would visit a lighthouse. Heck, I might even make my home in one. You see, I was determined to live where there was a body of water larger than the surface runoff caused by a heavy rain.

And so with summer winding down in the Pacific Northwest, I thought it might be fun to
Visit the Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse: "A must stop" visit, the visitor guide claims, for anyone visiting West Port Washington.

Since I was visiting my fraternal twin who lives in Ocean Shores---only forty miles from West Port, we decided to give it a look. This lighthouse was open to the public and had been since December 2003 when the U.S. Government granted ownership of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse to the Historical Society.

The Jewel in the Lighthouse Crown

Once inside the 107 foot tall lighthouse with its four feet thick walls at the base, our volunteer guide told us to stand in the center and look straight up. As I looked up at the 135 foot circular stairway, my heart skipped a beat. I'm not afraid of heights, but I'm afraid of climbing ladders, and this looked more like a ladder climb. But, on the other hand, the 360-degree ‘bird’s eye’ view at the top would make make the climb worthwhile.

The guide from the Historical Society showed us early pictures of the lighthouse (it was commissioned on June 30, 1898) and said originally it was unpainted. Before 1914, she said all of the lighthouses were unpainted.

We then began our ascent. I was surprised how easy it was! There was a woman whose face looked a little ashen, and she hugged the wall as she climbed but the others in our party seemed to take it in stride. We stopped on each level to hear a short lighthouse history lesson, and before you knew it, we were at the level where the original light turning mechanism once set.

This was set in a drum of mercury and was cranked by hand every day to rotate the oil-fueled lamp. Just imagine, our guide said, what it would have been like to have to carry the fuel up all those stairs.

We climbed a few more stairs to the lantern room at the very top where the Fresnel lens dominated the room. The Fresnel Len was the huge jewel in the in the lighthouse crown. "Do not touch the lens" our guide said.

The Fresnel lens was made in France, as was the original light turning mechanism on the level below. Originally, the Fresnel lens floated in a trough containing twenty gallons of mercury. The mercury allowed near frictionless movement and the lens were rotated by a weight that hung inside the towers.

The Fresnel lens stopped rotating in 1989. The U.S. Coast Guard removed the mercury-filled drum that housed the rotation mechanism and put a new small, but very powerful light and mounted it on the west side of the lighthouse railing. The guide pointed to the ugly light that housed the thirty-five watt bulb, that according to LIGHTHOUSE Friend.com., “can be seen nineteen miles with the white sector and seventeen with the red sector.”

Lord, what next? Light house keepers sending out signals of beacon and safety from their smart phones while on their coffee break!

The guide pointed out other points of interest, and said on a clear day you could see the Olympics, but I was more interested in the inside of the lighthouse. I had to contain myself not to sneak a touch of the Fresnel Lens but thought better of it: No need for a "Je suis désolé" from this girl!

"Are there any more question?", the guide said as she looked toward me. For some reason, I was the only one asking them. Everyone shook their heads, including me and we headed down. How fast the descent! It didn’t seem more than five minutes before we were at ground level. The climb both up and down was a piece of cake. My original fears of making the climb were (forgive the pun) ungrounded.


Gray, Grays Harbor, Light Station, Lighthouse, Maritime Museum, West Port Wa

Meet the author

author avatar Jojay
I am a published and produced playwright. I enjoy writing about anything that strikes my fancy as well as engages my passion for a lifetime of learning.
Also find my
writings at

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author avatar drrajeevddn
12th Sep 2013 (#)

Nice Post :)

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author avatar Sherri Granato
8th Sep 2014 (#)

I love the Oregon coast. I partially grew up in Klamath Falls, and we would take trip's up to the Sea Lion Caves. Lighthouses are one of my favorite sights to behold. I also grew up in Delaware, so I had the benefit of both oceans and lighthouses galore.

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author avatar Kingwell
14th Feb 2015 (#)


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author avatar SaigonDeManila
4th Sep 2015 (#)

Very nice..i havent been inside a light house..the most closest thing is to have a selfie on the foot door..under a hndred old light house fom colnial period.

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