In the Shadow
of the Lighthouse: Lighthouses of the South Atlantic
War II and the U-Boats in the Outer Banks
The Outer Banks changed nicknames from "The Graveyard of the Atlantic"
to "Torpedo Junction" as German U-Boats sank countless U.S. tankers in
the early months of 1942. According to Roberts (Lighthouse News, Vol. 1, Number
4, p. 1-2) there were more ships downed off Cape Hatteras in 1942 than at Pearl Harbor
in 1941. Many of these were oil tankers that brought much needed oil to the northeast
to supply industries vital to the war effort. Researchers say that 60-80 is a modest
estimate of the American ships sunk off the immediate Outer Banks in 1942. Writer
Homer Hickam, Jr., documents the German Operation Paukenschlag (Drumroll)
and the naval battles in the area in his tale "TORPEDO JUNCTION".
In the Insiders Guide to North Carolinas Outer Banks (p. 168-180),
there is a dramatic story of the sinking of the German U-85 by the U.S.S. Roper
off Bodie Island. (The author reports that as of 1991, Captain Hamilton Howe lived
in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Captain Kenneth Tebo lived in Falls Church,
War II Terrorism in Ponte Vedra, Florida (near St. Augustine Light)
On June 17, 1942, four German saboteurs landed from a submarine in Ponte Vedra
Beach, Florida, reportedly with the intention of demolishing U.S. ammunition plants
and other acts of terrorism. (This was coupled with a landing in Long Island.) The
four were executed for espionage in Washington, D.C. just two months later.
at the African-American Life Saving Station at Pea Island
The Pea Island Light Station, about 40 miles from Cape Hatteras, was manned in
the late 19th Century by the only all African-American crew in the service. On October
11, 1896, the schooner E.S. Newman grounded two miles from the life station during
a massive hurricane. Surfman Theodore Meekins was on duty, spotted the distress signal,
and trudged through two miles of quicksand conditions, after warning his keeper,
Richard Etheridge. The nine passengers on board the stranded ship, included six crewmen,
the captain, his wife and three-year old son. Meekins tied a strong rope around himself
and a fellow lifesaver to lead the human safety line to the stranded crew and passengers.
The Keeper and the rest of the crew joined Meekins to battle the raging waves and
chilling waters to rescue all the passengers. The crew was recognized for its bravery
in the post Civil War south. However, in the spring of 1995, Kate Burkhart, a young
student from North Carolina, wrote to Senator Jesse Helms to request that they be
honored and she started a process that culminated in a March 1996 Awards Ceremony
Family members of the crew received certificates at the ceremony. The last surviving
surfman of the Pea Island crew, eighty-two year old William Bowser was present, in
addition to Commander Stephen Rochon of the Coast Guard, researchers David Wright
and David Zoby, and Kate Burkhart.
Civil War -- Destruction and Rebuilding of Southern Lighthouses
Many of the Southern lights were destroyed by Confederate troops who were afraid
they would offer aid to Federal troops. As a result many were rebuilt after the Civil
War and are in excellent condition. Some of these lights include:
- Cape Hatteras -- lens and lighting apparatus damaged by Confederates; rebuilt
- Ocracoke Light - lens destroyed by Confederates in 1861
- Jupiter Inlet -- lens put out by Confederates in 1860
- Tybee Island -- partially destroyed by Confederates in 1862; rebuilt in 1867
with 54 added to tower
- St. Simons -- tower and keepers house destroyed in 1862 by departing Confederate
troops. New tower completed in 1872, thirty feet away from original site.
- Cockspur Island was darkened by the War, but escaped damage.
AT KEY LARGO NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Key Largos 7,000 Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge boasts Americas only
crocodile. In 1994, a new habitat or "crocominium," was developed along
an elevated Card Sound Road, with a series of 14 shallow ponds stocked with fish
and crabs and connecting 4 deep sections dotted with peat and sand mounds for basking
and eggs. Theres a host of other protected animals there as well.
THE SHADOW OF KEY WEST
Ernest Hemingway House Museum
At 907 Whitehead Street, is a stones throw away from the Lighthouse. It was the
authors home from 1931 to 1961, and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell
to Arms and several other books while there. The house and gardens are open for
tours. The pool, which cost $20,000 to build, still has a penny stuck in it, which
Hemingway threw when he learned the cost, saying "Here, take the last penny
Sunset Celebration at Mallory Dock
A daily colorful "happening" every evening as locals and tourists gather
to watch the spectacular sunset -- the sun is a fiery orange ball that disappears
into the blue-green waters of the Gulf. Jugglers, musicians, fortune tellers, mimes
and other street entertainers add to the street ambience, while food and other vendors
Key West Cemetery
Filling 21 acres in the heart of the historic district, this picturesque and unique
cemetery has stone-encased caskets resting on top of the earth due to the rocky,
geological makeup of the island. It houses a special memorial to those who perished
on the U.S. Maine, as well as quirky gravestones, with epitaphs such as "I
Told You I was Sick " and "At Least I Know Where Hes Sleeping Tonight."
Centennial Commemorative of the explosion and sinking of the U.S. Battleship
Maine, (which precipitated the start of the Spanish-American War, 1898) will
honor the efforts and sacrifices of the American people and military forces.
Spring 1998 events include:
- Feb. 14: Community and VIP dinner/entertainment at Fort Taylor
- Feb. 15: Early morning Memorial Service on a naval vessel; official opening of
the "Remember the Maine" exhibition at the East Martello Museum; presidential
ceremony and presentation of Maine Memorial Plaque that will be placed at the historic
Custom House; community fireworks display and Naval salute to the U.S.S. Maine
- March 3: Re-enactment of the 1900 U.S.S. Maine Memorial Dedication Ceremony at
Key West Cemetary
- April 18-19: Air show at the Naval Air Station; Boca Chica
Other area attractions include the East Martello Museum and Gallery, Audubon House
and Gardens where John Audubon stayed while painting the wildlife of the Florida
Keys in 1832, and the Wreckers Museum/Oldest House.