Saturday, 2:15 PM
Case of the missing lighthouse solved; beacon found 3,000 miles away
The lighthouse, which was built in Cape Cod, now stands watch over a different coast, in Point Montara, Calif.
By Jonnelle Marte, Globe Correspondent
For decades, local historians believed the 30-foot iron lighthouse that once shone over Wellfleet Harbor was destroyed.
Then a family of lighthouse fanatics set the record straight -- the beacon long thought to be lost forever is actually intact 3,000 miles away.
Colleen MacNeney told the tale of how the Mayo Beach lighthouse was moved to Point Montara, Calif. in 1925 in this month's edition of Lighthouse Digest, released on Monday.
"When you uncover a story like this, this is like finding gold at the end of the rainbow," said Tim Harrison, editor of Lighthouse Digest.
MacNeney pieced together the story with her parents, Sandra and Bob Shanklin, who are known to other historians as "The Lighthouse People" because they've photographed every lighthouse in the United States.
Bob Shanklin came across an old photo of the lighthouse last year at the US Coast Guard Historian's Office in Washington, D.C., while he and his wife were organizing their photos. The style of the lighthouse is not especially unique, but a few lines handwritten on the back of the photo, which was taken soon after the lighthouse was moved to California, gave them a clue: "This tower formerly used at Mayo Beach, second district."
"It feels really good to have had a part of setting the record straight -- of making history," said Sandra Shanklin. "There are so many facts that just get repeated over and over again until people believe them."
The Shanklins recognized the historic photo of the lighthouse as one they had photographed in California, but they needed more evidence. During another trip to Washington, MacNeney found more paperwork supporting the story: delicate handwritten letters recommending the transfer from Cape Cod to California and other papers confirming that they are the same lighthouse.
The news shocked historians both locally and nationally.
"This lighthouse we thought was extinct, destroyed so many years ago, turned out to be on the West Coast," said Jeremy D’Entremont, a historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation who wrote a book on New England lighthouses.
No one knows for sure how the lighthouse was transported from coast to coast. Some experts speculate that it could have either been dismantled or sent in one piece, and MacNeney said she wants to figure it out. The move appeared to be an effort by the lighthouse service to save money by replacing a dilapidated lighthouse in Point Montara with the Cape Cod lighthouse.
"It’s a great discovery filling really a huge void in a part of Cape Cod's history in discovering what really happened to that lighthouse," said Bob Trapani, executive director for the American Lighthouse Foundation. "From another perspective….you see the economic benefits of how the old U.S. lighthouse service conducted the operation as economically as possible."
Jonnelle Marte can be reached at email@example.com.
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