Keeping the Flame Alight With the Last of the Lampists

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Jim Woodward is a lampist. A what, you ask? A lampist’s main job is to keep the enormous, delicate glass lenses of lighthouse lights in tip-top shape so that ships at sea stay safe. But over the years, glass lenses have fallen out of vogue.

Now, most of the notable lighthouse lenses in the United States are beset with plastic LED lights. But Woodward, one of the country’s last lampists, soldiers on. We joined him at Point Reyes National Seashore, where one of the great glass lenses is still in place, lighting the way for sailors at sea.

His fascination began at age 8 when he studied shipping on the Great Lakes. “One story hooked me. I was a nut on history, not lighthouses,” he said.A one-second white flash from the lighthouse every 30 seconds lets captains and boaters know they are at Point Conception.

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In the U.S. there are approximately 1,000 lighthouses in 37 states. Michigan has the most, with 118 currently listed. Maine has 69 lighthouses. California has 47 lighthouses.The tallest lighthouse is at Cape Hatteras, N.C., and is 207 feet tall. The shortest is at St. Clair Flats on the South Channel in Michigan and is 17 feet tall.

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