HRH Princess Anne Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Museum’s Gala
and the 5th Anniversary of the Museum’s Opening
Were you also aware that there is a National Lighthouse Museum dedicated to these timeless, fascinating beacons of nautical light? Located in the New York City outer borough of Staten Island, situated within steps of the pier of the Staten Island Ferry in St George, the museum has proudly welcomed visitors since it opened its doors five years ago, appropriately enough, on August 7.
Although officially still closed at present to the public due to covid-19 state mandate, I was delighted to have been invited by the museum’s executive director, Linda Dianto for a private tour and chat about upcoming events and the future plans for this Staten Island gem!
As a total museum and history buff, this invitation was a dream come true! The tour was given by Mr. James P. Sarlo, Avocational Historian, whose knowledge of the history of lighthouses was only matched by his knowledge of the borough of Staten Island from the early days of its founding to the present day. Spread out throughout the museum’s intimate space are timelines, artifacts and factual information about the lighthouse industry and its development in the United States throughout the past nearly 250 years.
From a showpiece mahogany row boat once used by lighthouse keepers going to and from their designated lighthouse to an impressive collection of mini replicas of the many American lighthouses to a display of original prism lenses and light samples, this relatively small space houses a wealth of information and archival history of lighthouses.
One of the things I found particularly intriguing is the collection of pristinely preserved original tools and materials used by Carlo Porazzi, an Italian immigrant who worked at the Staten Island Lighthouse Depot from 1901-1931. Seeing these items up close is a reminder of a time when these beautiful light beacons were manufactured in Staten Island.
1. The National Lighthouse Service was started in 1786 and President George Washington signed the Lighthouse Bill in 1789, making it the 7th U.S. bill passed.
2. The Oldest lighthouse in the United States is Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey, established in 1766.
3. In around 1820, French physicist, Augustine-Jean Fresnel developed the prism light system lens, which became the standard system for all lighthouses around the world, which provided visibility of 25 miles for ships.
4. The present site of The Lighthouse Museum on the North Shore of Staten Island, was the location of the New York Marine Hospital, also known as The Quarantine, beginning in 1799. This area pre-dated Ellis Island for arriving immigrants. The Quarantine was New York’s first line of defense against immigrant-borne infectious diseases like smallpox, cholera, typhus and yellow fever. As many as 1500 could be accommodated there at one time.
5. In 1862, the United States Lighthouse Service (USLHS), constructed the Staten Island Lighthouse Depot on the former quarantine hospital site. This became the key manufacturing, storage, supply and maintenance center for the US Lighthouse Service’s 3rd District, an area which extended from Sandy Hook in the South, North to Albany and East to the Massachusetts border.
6. Today, all of our nation’s lighthouses are lit using LED lights and controlled automatically by the Coast Guard, under which the Lighthouse Department falls.
In compliance with New York State safety rules, the museum closed its doors earlier this year in March and like so many businesses and public venues, they are awaiting approval to reopen. “We had hoped that we would be open in time for our 10th Annual Gala, which coincides with our 5th Anniversary, but as of yet we have not received official approval,” said Linda Dianto.
As a result of this ongoing reopening delay, the museum has been forced to cancel their “Lighthouse Weekend” Gala and upcoming Summer and Fall events and pivot to virtual celebrations. Reimagined as a virtual event, the National LIghthouse Museum’s 10th Annual Light Keepers’ Gala Production “Weathering the Storm,” which has traditionally been an in-person paid ticketed event will take place virtually tonight at 8pm Eastern Standard Time. It is open to the public to view and enjoy via Zoom, Facebook or Twitter.
This first-ever virtual Gala will honor HIstorian, Author and Researcher Kevin P. Duffus and Captain of Lighthouse Tender Firebush, Captain Robertson P. Dinsmore USCG, USMS, Ret. It will also be an opportunity to enjoy musical performances by Ingrid Michaelson and Vernon Reid.
Add to this lineup the fact that as Executive Director, Ms. Dianto was able to forge a relationship with HRH Princess Anne and she is now an Honorary Patron of The National Lighthouse Museum. The Princess was previously scheduled to be in Staten Island to attend the Gala via The Queen Mary II for the weekend festivities. This celebration was to include a special High Tea luncheon hosted by Casa Belvedere in Staten Island in conjunction with Harney & Sons Tea to celebrate Princess Anne’s 70th birthday, as well as a special tour of Lighthouse Hill with Her Royal Highness. Of course, due to the current situation, Princess Anne's in-person visit was cancelled, however, she will be virtually present via a four-minute video featured on the filmed Gala.
According to Ms. Dianto “I was well aware of HRH Princess Anne’s history and commitment to saving the lighthouses in Scotland and decided to take a chance in contacting her to request her official sponsorship of our Museum and mission. We were thrilled that she agreed, and so proud of her role as Lighthouse Ambassador and the work she does for more than 300 lighthouse groups around the world.”
The plans going forward for The National Lighthouse Museum are both exciting and extensive. Designs for an aggressive expansion include a multifloor complex that will comprise both the current building in which the museum is housed (the former “foundry and metal shop”) and that of the neighboring building (the former “2nd lamp shop”). Architectural plans and drawings are complete for what will be an absolutely gorgeous edifice to house the nation’s lighthouse history. The anticipated opening is 2023 for the new National Lighthouse Museum. “Many sponsorship opportunities are still available for the new building for those individuals and corporate entities looking to be part of our cultural institution,” says Ms. Dianto.
Whether you are a local, an out of town lover of the outer borough of Staten Island or one of the millions of lighthouse enthusiasts worldwide, mark your calendar and tune in this evening for the 10th Annual Light Keepers’ Gala Production. The recorded event will remain permanently on the internet and available for viewers to share after live streaming. Donations are welcomed as well through the museum’s website.
- Till next time,