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Even Dozen - The Best Two Weeks

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

2023 marked the 12th year I’ve owned the lighthouse and the 12th year it’s been under renovation. What I call “Lighthouse Season” runs from Memorial Day (late May) to Columbus Day (early October) because the lighthouse is not heated.

To open the lighthouse in the Spring, we remove the interior storm windows (large, original, free standing wooden panes that are installed inside the lower-level windows to keep Winter out), open the lower level cast iron shutters, check the generator, return the outdoor furniture and bbq grill to the platform, inspect for leaks, and clean away the cobwebs (literally and figuratively). The plumbers and water treatment teams come out and test and turn on the water.

This year, I was fortunate to have my friend, Jean, ride with me to Ohio from Virginia to visit her family. Jean has helped me enormously before at the lighthouse as she loves to clean! Really. I don’t understand why, but she finds it relaxing and satisfying. So, Jean stayed two nights with me at the lighthouse and scrubbed to her heart’s content. She cleaned the kitchen, living room, guest room, and numerous other dirty nooks and crannies. I also hired professional window cleaners to give the windows a good wash, both inside and out. When they were done, the lighthouse sparkled.

Media Calls

As Jean and the window washers cleaned, I pounded away on my laptop drafting emails for work when my phone rang. It seems the General Services Administration (GSA) released its 2023 list of lighthouses for sale/auction and it was BIG NEWS. My first media call was from BBC News (yes, THAT British Broadcasting network across the pond). The reporter wanted an interview on what it was like to purchase a lighthouse from a GSA auction, the renovation process, what advice I would give to someone interested in also doing so, etc. etc. The BBC article ran over Memorial Day weekend and was very well done.

Just after I finished the BBC interview, I got a message from a reporter I knew from Lake Erie Living magazine. Lake Erie Living was interested in the same information, however, since one of the lighthouses on GSA’s list for 2023 is the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse, Lake Erie Living had a more local angle because Cleveland West is only about 20 miles from Fairport Harbor West.

A few hours later, I got yet another call from a random number. It was the NY Times. YES, THAT NY Times. They were also writing a story on GSA’s release of its 2023 list of lighthouses available for disposition. The line of questioning was similar to the other two outlets: What was it like to purchase a lighthouse via auction from the GSA?; What were your biggest challenges in renovating the lighthouse?; What advice would you give someone interested in purchasing [and renovating] a lighthouse? The reporter asked for a few additional details about my purchase and Fairport Harbor West. When I hung up the phone, I was in complete disbelief.

Sure, I’ve done a lot of media interviews over the years about buying a lighthouse – including one in the early years with the Wall Street Journal. But it had been a long time and, frankly, I thought the novelty of buying a lighthouse had worn off a bit. Ironically, I don’t have my own subscription to the NYTimes and wasn’t sure when the article was going to run. Lo and behold, the very next day, I got a text from a friend (with a NY Times subscription) quite incredulous that she was reading the paper and, well, there I was, talking about buying a lighthouse.

As exciting as media calls are and the prospect of promoting the restoration of Fairport Harbor West, that was just the beginning of The Best Two Weeks (aside from the brand-new generator going kaput) I’ve ever had at the lighthouse.

Following the media frenzy, I began preparing for the first ever proposal that was going to happen at the top. I had worked with a young man named Anthony for months planning the perfect engagement. And on June 3, 2023, Anthony and Maddie got engaged at Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse. You can read all the details on this separate blog post. It was quite the undertaking with a dozen family members, a photographer, multiple surprises, cake, champagne, gifts, hugs and many, many photos.

The Huron Jewel

As calmer days returned, I began to look forward to the upcoming Annual Birthday Open House. As I worked through last-minute details and double checked with all my volunteers, I saw a notice that one of the Tall Ships, the Huron Jewel, was making a stop in Fairport Harbor for an overnight on its way back to Michigan. As a huge Tall Ship fan, I was excited to see another beautiful ship sail by the lighthouse and into the harbor.

The ship was scheduled to arrive on June 9, the lighthouse’s actual 98th birthday. As such, I reached out via social media to the Huron Jewel and asked directly when they thought they’d be arriving and whether they’d be under sail. Initially, Julie, my contact, thought they’d arrive between 4:30 and 5:00 pm, but didn’t think they’d be under sail due to wind conditions. I explained to her that it was the lighthouse’s birthday and if they were going to be under sail, I’d share that with numerous local photographers who would love to shoot the ship and lighthouse together.

Not much later, Julie contacted me again and said that the Captain of the Huron Jewel thought coming in under sail for the lighthouse’s 98th Birthday was a great idea. The plan was that they would pause outside the break wall to hoist the sails then proceed into the harbor. I put out the word to several of my local photographer friends, who in turn, notified other photographers. While I ran into town to pick up the lighthouse’s birthday cake for the next day’s Open House, the photographers gathered on the Fairport Harbor pier to wait for the show.

I made it back just in time to get to the top to watch. When the sails were hoisted and crew in place, the ship turned into the harbor. I was able to snap some photos and videos from above as she sailed by. Then the Huron Jewel put on a show. She sailed directly toward the pier and the gaggle of photographers who were waiting. She turned east for a gorgeous side view. She looped around the harbor like a champion dog at an exclusive dog show. As she passed the lighthouse again, the crew shouted, “Happy Birthday” and headed out into the lake. She turned one more time and aimed straight for the Fairport dock. What a show. The Huron Jewel was striking and majestic. The day was beautiful. The photographers were happy, and the lighthouse had an amazing birthday salute.

Annual Birthday Open House

After the excitement of having a proposal at the lighthouse and the visit from the Huron Jewel, it was time to make the final preparations for the Annual Birthday Open House. Since I bought the lighthouse, I’ve felt very strongly that I needed to make it available to the community and held my first Open House in 2012. That year, we had a few brave souls visit who had seen flyers I posted around town or just wandered in from the beach. Each year it has grown in attendance (it was suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic) with people enjoying the opportunity to see the inside, take in the view from the top, and learn more about the renovations that I’ve completed.

Open Houses are a great opportunity for me to chat with local residents and others who drive hours to see the lighthouse and all that has been done since I’ve owned it. As attendance grew, I recruited volunteers to help me “man” the various floors and assist with crowd control as people ascend into the service level and ultimately out to the widow’s walk via the narrow and steep staircases. And Thank God I did!

This year, I had a suspicion that we’d have a large crowd based on three factors 1) the pandemic was truly over and everyone was comfortable being back in large crowds 2) the larger sand area on the beach meant that no one had to deal with the challenging break wall rocks and 3) I was getting regular questions via Facebook i.e. where to park, how to walk out, what was the cost, was it pet friendly (no – except Lucy, of course), etc.

By 10:00 am on Saturday, I had my first “guest” at the gate. I explained to the that it didn’t start until noon and sadly shooed him away. He said “someone” told him it started at 10:00, but I just wasn’t ready. I headed to the park to throw away some trash, place the signs, fill my backpack, and headed right back.

Fortunately, two of my volunteers came early and we connected on the path. And it was a good thing we did. By 11:00 am people were mingling near the staircase and a line was beginning to form. I was torn at letting folks in early, but I knew I needed the rest of my volunteers to ensure everyone was safe on the outside staircase as well as making their way to the top.

By 11:30 most of my volunteers had arrived. I gave them a quick briefing on what to do if someone had questions, where they could grab water or a sandwich, how merchandise sales worked (online only) and asked them to share stickers, cards, and the before and after book. By 11:45, the line was as far as I could see down the beach, so we opened the doors.

People streamed in as others continued to queue on the beach. In very short order, people filled the main floor, the 2nd floor, the service level, and the widow’s walk outside. I cut the cake, answered questions, and just watched people mill around with amazement. Even more incredible was that every time I looked out the window, the line was still there. My volunteers were awesome. Phil, Dennis, Joyce, Sharon, Tina, Angelo, Amy, Darla, Dan, Dan and Cyndi, chatted with the visitors, asked them to sign the guest book, handed out business cards and stickers, and directed them to me when necessary.

I love chatting with the people who attend the Annual Birthday Open House. They all have such different interests. Some are interested in the history of the building; others comment on the décor choices I made. Many ask about the original items such as the chain winch, trap doors, and foghorn table. Many ooo and aw over the original circular staircase or speculate about what life was like when the keepers lived there. But every single person was appreciative, complementary, and positive about the experience – despite waiting in line.

As the day wore on, I heard that people had been waiting an hour, 1 ½ and even 2 hours in line. I was so shocked. So, I headed outside to say Thank You. I felt like a true celebrity working the line of those waiting. I introduced myself, answered questions, and thanked them for coming. Given the length of the line, I did that three separate times. On one trip, even my adorable recently engaged couple, Anthony and Maddie, were waiting in line. It was great to see them. While they couldn’t wait their turn, they came with a Thank You note for the engagement experience and a gift card.

Each time I went out, people were happy, enjoying the sunshine, playing in the sand and eager for their turn. Some asked if there was still cake, but sadly, it was long gone. And they brought presents! The lighthouse received plenty of wine to restock the wine cellar, water, T-shirts, beach glass jewelry, and other delights. When the clock struck 4:00, we cut the line off, but it took almost another two hours to get everyone in line through for a look.

When the last visitors left, the volunteers and I nearly collapsed. We were exhausted yet humbled at the number of people who visited and all the positive comments we received. When the final count was in, we all agreed that more than 800 people had come through that day.

12 years of ownership and this was the best two weeks ever!

The Huron Jewel Visit to Fairport Harbor on the Lighthouse's 98th Birthday

The Lighthouse's 98th Birthday Open House June 10, 2023

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