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Fort Washington Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, September 25, 2002


Photographs by Malcolm Pinckney

''Once upon a time a little lighthouse was built on a sharp point of the shore by the Hudson River. It was round and fat and red. It was fat and red and jolly. And it was VERY, VERY PROUD.''
-The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, 1942

More than 7,000 people gathered in Fort Washington Park on Saturday, September 21 for the 10th annual Little Red Lighthouse Festival. Co-sponsored by the Historic House Trust and Urban Park Rangers, the Festival brought together families from all over New York City to celebrate this beloved landmark with games and music. A record turnout of kids and their grownups enjoyed live music, fried fish, games and face painting courtesy of Parks. Over 40 exhibitors, including South Street Seaport, the New York Restoration Project, West 181st Street Beautification Project, and Reading Rainbow, provided fun activities, while the New Jersey Lighthouse Society and National Lighthouse Museum brought information for lighthouse lovers.

Happy faces abounded as the Rangers ran tours inside the lighthouse - usually off-limits to the public - for delighted visitors all day. Best of all, actor James Earl Jones, writer Carol Higgins Clark and Parks' own Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro were on hand to read aloud the book that made the Lighthouse famous: Hildegarde H. Swift's The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

The Festival was particularly special this year because the Historic House Trust has brought light to the Little Red Lighthouse for the first time in more than 50 years. The Lighthouse was made obsolete by the completion of the bigger and brighter George Washington Bridge in 1934. In 1947, it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard and its light was put out. Letters of protest from children around the country, inspired by Swift's book, were all that prevented the Lighthouse from being dismantled and its 48 cast-iron panels sold for scrap.

The Lighthouse became Parks property in 1951 and placed in the care of the Historic House Trust in 1997. Last fall, the Coast Guard loaned the Trust a historic fresnel lens of the same type that the Little Red Lighthouse once used. Over the summer, Parks and the Historic House Trust worked to bring electric power to the Lighthouse (the original light was a gas flame) and install the new light. On September 17, the Lighthouse was officially re-lit with a ceremony aboard the historic John J. Harvey fireboat, and it now flashes the original distinctive sequence - one second on, two seconds off.

2002 also marks the 60th anniversary of Swift's book. Therefore, this Festival celebrated two classics: the Lighthouse and the children's book that helped save it from destruction. The great crowd proved that, in the words of The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, Parks should be "VERY, VERY PROUD" of preserving the Lighthouse for New Yorkers and children everywhere.

The Trust and the Rangers would like to thank everyone who helped make the Festival possible, including Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Assistant Commissioner for Citywide Services Jack T. Linn, Anna Carey, K.C. Sahl, Jibrail Nor, Manhattan Special Events, Queens Greenhouse, Central Park Conservancy, and all the Recreation staff who donated their time and equipment. A special thank you goes to the Parkies who worked so hard to re-light the Lighthouse: Manhattan Chief of Operations Namshik Yoon, Deputy Chief of Operations Larry Scoones, and Jerry Quinn, Ken Rowe, Hans Klausen, Larry Hagburg, Benjamin Caleb and Raymond Aubel of the 86th Street Shops.

Written by Sarah Landreth

''The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means.''
William Faulkner

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