Iconic Lighthouse Structure – Wall of Lights Exhibit

As visitors enter the doors of the NLM, the first thing they will encounter is a large, faceted lighthouse-inspired structure, immediately recognizable by its official lighthouse colors, pattern and cupola top. This iconic structure serves as the spatial organizer for the exhibits that sets the tone for the Museum. In the future, this structure will house a multi-media Orientation Experience presently an unfunded naming opportunity available to any generous donor).Befitting the purpose of all lighthouses, this structure is the central orienting feature in the landscape of the space, a hub around which primary thematic elements are arranged, while still allowing free flowing circulation around it.

On the facets on either side of the Welcome panel, a variety of over 150 miniature lighthouse models are displayed: The Wall of Lights.These models illustrate the wide range of lighthouse types seen throughout the world, as well as serve as donor opportunities. There are presently over 50 models that remain unsponsored.  Also integrated onto the structure’s exterior is space for a digital interactive station will allow visitors the opportunity to access a database for more information about specific lighthouses around the world — when they were built, geographical locations, fun facts, etc. This feature of the exhibit also remains unfunded.  For more information about donating a gift that will fund this and other exhibits, go to the support page of this website.

Exhibit Areas 

Surrounding the Wall of Lights, five permanent exhibit areas will explore the primary themes of the NLM: The Purpose of Lighthouses, Lighthouse Technology, Lighthouse Keepers, Lighthouse History and NLM Site History. A series of double-sided moveable exhibition panels in the center of the space will present a series of Lighthouse-related topics. The following narrative describes each of these elements in detail.

Purpose of Lighthouses

To the left of the Lighthouse structure, adjacent to the Reception/Retail area, a large visually compelling graphic panel introduces visitors to the essential purpose of lighthouses: to ensure navigational and life safety and to aid in economic development, as set out by the Lighthouses Act of 1789.

Lighthouse Technology

The area to the right of the Lighthouse structure, adjacent to the administrative office, explores the key elements of lighthouses: the Illuminates and the Optics. “Illuminates” interprets the range of light sources used as navigational aids throughout history, from candles to oil lamps, and especially, the transition to electric light sources. “Optics” introduces visitors to Gustave Fresnel, interprets his development of the Fresnel lens, which represented a quantum leap in lighthouse technology, and explains how it works. (A possible future media interactive could engage visitors in exploring this technology in a more interactive way.) The display of two to three 4th, 5th, or 6th order Fresnel lenses in vitrines will give visitors the opportunity to view these beautiful objects up close.

Lighthouse Keepers Stories

Beyond the central Lighthouse structure, a series of large graphic panels on the right-hand wall of the exhibit space presents opportunities for visitors to “meet” lighthouse keepers and their families. Life-sized images and personal stories of featured keepers, such as Frank Schubert and Fannie Mae Salter, create up-close and intimate encounters with the people whose character embodied the dedication, perseverance and resilience of these remarkable individuals in the “lonely life.”

Lighthouse Timeline

Opposite the “Lighthouse Keepers Stories,” adjacent to the “Purpose of Lighthouses” a detailed, illustrated graphic timeline traces the world history of lighthouses from the Pharos Light in ancient Alexandria to the lighthouse at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, the most recent built in the United States.

US Lighthouse Services Depot History

Adjacent to the “Lighthouse Timeline,” this area will follow on from that chronology to present an in-depth interpretation of the history of this site and its vital importance as the national USLHS depot from 1864-1939. This exhibit will include artifact displays in addition to interpretive graphics and text.

Navigation Chart Display

This exhibit, next to the “Lighthouse Keepers Stories,” will present and interpret nautical charts used by mariners to navigate the coastlines and harbors for which lighthouses serve as beacons. A large navigation chart of New York harbor is the central feature surrounded by smaller displays of historic charts from harbors around the world.

Flexible Exhibit Area

Distributed throughout the space between the Lighthouse and the rear exit, a series of five curved, double-sided, moveable exhibition panels present a number of Lighthouse-related topics. When this space is temporarily re-purposed for special events these panels can easily be moved inside the Lighthouse (where they will fit along the curved walls so that one side of the panels will be visible). These exhibition panels will display artifacts, text and graphics that focus on specific lighthouse content or narratives. Some of these stories may include:

  • Lighthouse Patterns and Colors
  • Lighthouse Architecture and Architects
  • Lighthouse Equipment
  • USLHS Furnishings and Supplies
  • Lightships and Lighthouse Tenders
  • Life Saving Stations
  • Transition from USLHS to Coast Guard
  • Lighthouse “Fun Facts”
  • Lighthouses in Pop Culture
  • Lighthouse Ghost Stories, Legends, Songs, Literature