Saving the Gay Head Lighthouse


The importance of the Gay Head Lighthouse, which is on the verge of toppling into the ocean as a result of erosion, transcends the fact that it is so closely associated with Martha’s Vineyard’s most famous landmark - its “painted” cliffs - since its beacon forms the focal point of views from Falmouth to Cuttyhunk – meaning that people from Cape Cod to the Elizabeth Islands have almost as much to lose in practical terms as those living in the western part of the Vineyard. This is the same tower that New Bedford’s whalers strained to see as they returned from the Pacific. Generations of  keepers have turned its sentinel into a symbol of perseverance for the Wampanoag Tribe and Native Americans in general. And its bricks are even made of the same clay that makes the cliffs the most fossiliferous geological feature on the northeast coast, deepening its anchorage in eons of time.


But our lighthouse no longer contains the Fresnel lens, which could magnify a flame through hundreds of facets and comfort us with the beauty that humans can pull off, when we marry art and science. Instead of being something we could count on, its fate now counts on us, and our ability to rally around an effort to pull it back from destruction. The irony of it is that we are all probably responsible for hastening the erosion, which is threatening the light, by contributing to climate change. So our role as saviors is an ambiguous one, since the lighthouse’s plight also serves to remind us how vigilant we must be in protecting things under our care.


Almost as if we were lighthouses ourselves.


What we can all do to save the Gay Head Light

It will take about three million dollars to move the lighthouse to a safe location on the same headland, where it can continue to shine for generations to come. You can help protect this beautiful symbol of protection and endurance by sending your tax-deductible donations to the Gay Head Lighthouse Fund at Aquinnah Town Hall, 65 State Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535. Make checks out to the “Town of Aquinnah” while specifying on the subject line that the money is for the “Gay Head Lighthouse Fund”.

Thank you!

Duncan Caldwell

On behalf of the Committee to Save

the Gay Head Light

A TV broadcast on CBS Boston about the efforts to save the Gay Head lighthouse from rapid erosion. July 2013