Spoiled for other lighthouses

A tall white lighthouse and two one-room buildings at its base, against a blue sky.
Boston Light, plus the small "museum room" where you enter
and a cistern house that collects rainwater for the island.
Day 538

As I mentioned when I added “visit a lighthouse” to my blog list, I don’t remember the last time I toured a lighthouse but I remember telling my American Girl doll all about it when I got home, so it was probably a while ago. On Saturday, I played tourist in my own town and visited Boston Light. At $45 for an adult climbing the tower, it’s a steeper price than I’m used to for an afternoon’s adventure, but I liked it enough I’d consider going again (just not all the time, because $45). I had such a good time, I wonder whether other lighthouses will compare.

It’s not the lighthouse itself that’s so special. It is lovely, roughly 100 feet tall, with a second-order Fresnel lens, a particular style of lighthouse lens which is a pretty cool piece of engineering. What made it for me was that the outing had a bit of everything I like in a tourist or “tourist” experience: history, scenery, nature, and exploring. It’s the oldest light station in the country, and second-oldest standing lighthouse (it would be the oldest if the original hadn’t been burned by the British in 1776). I was there on a day when it had been foggy in the morning but the fog was lifting as we boated out there, and everything was perfectly picturesque. A staff member was there to point out the most interesting things in the tidepools on Little Brewster Island, the home of the lighthouse. I’m not afraid of heights, per se, but I felt a little challenged by the two ladders leading up to the upper levels of the lighthouse. It didn’t feel like we were there for very long, and I would have enjoyed a longer stay -- most of the 3.5 hour round trip was taken up with the ferry ride -- but I tend to be more thorough than many people when I visit a historic site.

I appreciated a lot of what the staff did to make it a good experience. I say “the staff” because they included people from a mix of organizations: Coast Guard officers, National Park Service rangers, and a volunteer from Friends of the Harbor Islands. The ferry ride included narration about the history of the islands and landmarks we were passing, which unfortunately was rather hard to hear unless you found the sweet spots on deck where the sound was good. On the way out to the island, it was mostly Native history, and on the way back, it was mostly US history. It was closer to a proportional divide, based on the length of time each set of cultures has been dominant in the area, than you normally get, which I liked. The staff was also good at making sure the visitors had the information we needed, which I’m sure was informed by dealing with lots of tourists. For example, they emphasized that there’s a public bathroom on board the ferry but not on the island. They also repeated that in going up the lighthouse, you can opt out of climbing at any point. One staffer said, “you won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last.” While it made the lighthouse sound a bit intimidating, it was also great that they made it so clear that a visitor who didn’t feel comfortable going to the top was not going to cause any problems. For me, determined to get to the top, I appreciated that once the stairs stopped and the ladders started, they had very clearly marked hand-holds at the top. 

Looking down a spiral staircase with black treads at the edge of white steps. A curved brick wall is at the left.
The spiral stairs weren't bad, but not quite as comfortable as the stairs at home.

They had us go up the tower (can I call a lighthouse a tower? Well, I’m a landlubber, I don’t have to be precise) in groups of 8 people at a time. We only had fifteen minutes, but the top of the lighthouse is actually very warm and small, so after the initial oohing and ahhing at the view and at the light itself, I was fine coming back down to explore the rest of the small island. This time, I went alone, but next summer, I’ll be back, and bringing friends.