Climbing Absecon Light

At 17 stories, Absecon Light is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey.  My 82-year old mom said she was game to climb, so up we went, stopping periodically as we navigated the 228 spiral metal steps.

Absecon Light opened in 1857, the first of three lighthouses built in southern New Jersey. Prior to the light’s construction, Absecon was known as Graveyard Inlet, and with good reason.  In the decade prior to its opening, 64 ships were lost off the Absecon coast, including the passenger ship Powatan, which sank in 1854, with 311 immigrants and crew lost.

“Nearing the end of its journey, the Powhatan

 encountered a hurricane-like snowstorm near Long Beach Island, New Jersey. The storm was one of the worst in the state’s history, and the crew struggled against the powerful and dangerous currents. On the morning of the 16th, the ship was forced closer to the island and hit the Barnegat Shoals, just 100 yards offshore from present-day Surf City.

Because of the weather, a lifeboat station six miles away was unable to send help. As word spread, a small crowd gathered on shore. Throughout the afternoon the Powhatan

 was pummeled by huge waves and fierce winds. Finally, the ship was slammed against the shoals around 5 p.m., and a large hole was punched in the bow. The Powhatan

 began to break apart, and passengers, some already dead, began to be washed overboard. Eventually the vessel broke in two. The crowd on shore searched among the bodies for signs of life, but none was found.”


US Army engineer and future general George Meade, best known for defeating Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, designed the structure which features a first order Fresnel Lens that utilizes prisms to magnify light and guide ships that were up to 23 miles away, an amazing technological accomplishment for that period. 

The most interesting part of our visit was our delightful conversation with volunteer lightkeeper and tour guide Buddy Grover, who met us when we reached the top.  Buddy is 93 years old and climbs 171 vertical feet several times each week, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with all who visit.

Absecon light is in downtown Atlantic City, within site of the boardwalk and casinos – but visit soon- as a $3.5 million rehab project is being planned to ensure that “Dear Abby” as Buddy calls her, will shine long into the future

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