There are no words to express the feelings that induce a sailor to offer fervent prayers when he sees this mark of sympathy expressed by his fellow men. Suddenly he sees that he is no longer alone in the midst of the ocean waves: he sees that people are caring for him with paternal solicitude.
-Lt. Lavrentiy Alekseyevich Zagoskin
There are few landscapes as picturesque as a lighthouse along a rocky coast. This iconic view conjures up quaint coastal towns and peaceful afternoons along the shore. But the quiet postcard image belies a dramatic history, one filled with heroism and adversity. Today with our advanced technology and well equipped Coast Guard it is hard to imagine the challenges confronted by early lighthouse keepers and lifesavers. These hardy souls faced severe isolation and put themselves in danger to safeguard storm tossed mariners and rescue distressed boaters and swimmers.
National parks along both coasts and the shores of our Great Lakes tell these stories with lighthouses, lifesaving stations, artifacts, and exhibits. They remind us of our nation’s maritime history and of the families and individuals who braved the elements to offer safe passage and save lives. Lifesaving stations on Cape Cod and Point Reyes, among others, preserve memories of the U.S. lifesaving service – precursor to the U.S Coast Guard whose unofficial motto was “you have to go, but you don’t have to come back”.
Several lighthouses, like the Sandy Hook in New Jersey’s Gateway National Recreation Area, date back to colonial days. And others like Point Bonita in Golden Gate National Recreation Area are still operated by the U.S. Coastguard today. Many parks offer lighthouse tours so visitors can get a sense of the stories and challenges faced by these dedicated heroes while enjoying scenic coastal views.