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Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse The Bodie Island Lighthouse is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and stands south of Nags Head and north of Oregon Inlet. Contrary to folklore, which claims "Bodie" refers to the number of dead sailors that washed up on the beach; the lighthouse was named for the Body family who originally owned the land. Bodie is pronounced "body."

Plans for the lighthouse were approved in 1837, but due to delays in purchasing the land and disagreements on its placement, construction didn't begin until the summer of 1847. Problems, however, did not end there. The original design was for a 54 foot tower, but it was too short to be seen, and the foundation wasn't stable. The tower began leaning toward the sea.

By 1859, the tower was in such bad shape that a new one was built. This tower was 80 feet tall and in the new style of lighthouses, conical, brick and on a solid foundation on piles driven into the ground. The iron lantern room was updated with a Fresnel lens. This tower lasted only until 1861 when Confederate soldiers blew it up.

After the Civil War, the U.S. Light House Board was reluctant to build yet another tower. After many petitions from vehement sea captains, the Board relented and in 1871 purchased a new 15 acre plot north of the Oregon Inlet. The first two "Bodie Island" Lights had been located south of Oregon Inlet, on Pea Island. This original location has long given way to erosion.

In 1872, the third Bodie Island Lighthouse was constructed at a height of 156 feet, utilizing the crew and some of the leftover materials from the new Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. A first-order Fresnel lens was installed, giving the light a 19-mile-reach out into the sea. Quarters for the light keepers were constructed as well.

Bodie Island Lighthouse Unfortunately, the light attracted geese, which crashed into the light and damaged the lens. This problem was quickly solved by placing screening around the lantern and a lightning rod on top of the tower. In addition, the tower was painted with black and white horizontal bands. Since that time, the tower has been relatively trouble free.

In 1931, a generator provided electricity to the lighthouse, which led to complete automation in 1940. The light is powered by a 1000 watt bulb which emits a white flash pattern of 2.5 seconds on, 2.5 off, 2.5 on and 22.5 seconds off, or two flashes per minute. During World War II, like many other coastal lights, the Bodie Island Lighthouse served as a lookout tower for the U. S. Navy.

In 1953, the U. S. Coast Guard turned over the property surrounding the lighthouse to the National Park Service, but not the tower itself. In this same year, power for the light switched from generators to commercial power.

In July of 2000, the U. S. Coast Guard finally transferred the ownership of the tower to the National Park Service. Since the tower had not undergone any large-scale preservation work since it was constructed, the tower needed repair. The urgent need of these repairs was frighteningly evident in August of 2004, when two large cast-iron chunks fell from the top of the tower. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The park service closed the tower and erected a fence around the lighthouse to keep visitors at a safe distance.

In July, 2007, as the result of an emergency stabilization project, the base of the Bodie Island Lighthouse reopened. The tower still isnt open, but visitors can enter the base to view the old oil house and to gaze up the 214 step cast-iron spiral staircase. Extensive repairs of the stairway and of the first-order Fresnel lens are planned for 2008. Once these projects are complete, the NPS hopes to open the tower for limited climbing.

The lighthouse is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The old keeper's house underwent two historical restorations and now houses the NPS Ranger office and a visitor center which contains maritime exhibits, a gift shop and a book store.

The base will be open to visitors only when volunteers are available and only a few days a week. The visitor center and museum are open year round. For more information on tours and hours of operation, call 252-473-2111.

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