Light up your life

It’s that time of year again. There are baseball games and lawns to be mowed, but there are also stories of Lake Erie shipwrecks, the War of 1812, life in the 1800s, and even of ghostly hauntings because as of May 1, the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum reopened for the 2014 season.

Recipient of the 2013 “Community Organization Award” from the Dunkirk Community Chamber of Commerce, the Lighthouse had over 4000 visitors last year from around the state, country, and globe. Part of the 518-mile-long Great Lakes Seaway Trail, it is a destination sought out by many people.

A beacon of light since 1826, just a year after the opening of the Erie Canal, it is one of the older lights on the trail. The second lighthouse keeper’s home, built in 1875, is a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture with a tower boasting a “Fresnel” lens that still operates today. Only two exist in New York State while there are 16 left on the Great Lakes.

The local lens was purchased in 1857 and would cost over $ 1.5 million to replace. Resembling a large beehive, it can be seen up close when climbing the beautiful tower stairs and enjoying the panoramic view of the lake which can include a view of Canada.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the museum grounds include several maritime relics, monuments dedicated to heroes including two from the Civil War, a home decorated as it was when lighthouse keeper’s families resided there, and upstairs rooms dedicated to each branch of the U.S. military with artifacts from very early years to the current time.

Some of the artifacts a visitor can see include original photos of Marilyn Monroe while she was in Korea, a portrait from the Fredonia home of Civil War hero William Cushing, a Japanese knee mortar from WW II, various helmets and weapons, to name just a few of the countless treasures. The home is currently getting a much needed new roof of slate as it had when first constructed. A “period” garden is planned with the help of master gardeners from the Chautauqua County Master Gardeners outreach of the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Come and enjoy the lighthouse and museum in the upcoming weeks. Although it is a local attraction, the visitor’s log shows that visitors come from all over the world. Some people book the grounds for weddings and school field trips.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily May through June, 10 a.m to 4 p.m. in July and August, and back to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in September and October. Visitors can walk the grounds free of charge. Admission to the museum which includes volunteer tour guides is $10 per adult, $8 per senior citizen and veterans, and $3 per child, but with a slightly reduced rate for families. More information can be found at www.dunkirklighthouse.com or by calling 366-5050.

The Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum is always looking for volunteers to help out, particularly as tour guides. This community service volunteer position is a great way to meet people from all over the world while learning and sharing history. Volunteers, teenagers and older, are trained and of course are greatly appreciated! Those interested should call the museum at 366-5050.

Make it a good week and mark your calendar for a lighthouse event.

Mary Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Comments may be directed to lifestyles@observertoday.com.