Abby at 160: Happy Birthday, Absecon Lighthouse!

Picture it. Atlantic City. August 1996. (See what I just did there, Golden Girls fans? I know you read that out loud in your best Sophia Petrillo voice).

But I digress. Back to Atlantic City. 1996. During a weekend trip to see The Color Purple on Broadway, I was in Atlantic City for a few hours. While there, I noticed a replica of a lighthouse. Immediately, I was intrigued. The replica included a sign that said “Absecon Lighthouse,” along with an arrow indicating the direction of the lighthouse.

Above: Replica of lighthouse, and sign pointing towards Absecon Lighthouse, that I saw in Atlantic City in 1996.  

I knew I would not be in Atlantic City long enough that day to see the lighthouse up close. So I made a mental note to come back another time.

Fast forward to 2013. I decided to get serious about indulging my love of lighthouses, by actually beginning to visit these aides to navigation. When pondering what lighthouse to visit first, it was a no-brainer: Absecon Lighthouse!

And so on September 20, 2013, I spent my birthday climbing Absecon Lighthouse’s (or Abby, as she is affectionately known) 228 steps.

Above: Standing outside Absecon Lighthouse, preparing to go in, during my first visit on September 20, 2013.

Below: Standing at the bottom of the spiral staircase.

Since that moment, I have had a special affinity for Abby as the first lighthouse I ever visited. And I have made an effort to return to Abby every year (although I missed 2015 due to illness). I usually like to visit Abby around my birthday in September. It is my birthday gift to myself, to be doing something I am so passionate about: visiting and climbing lighthouses.

But today, there is someone else’s birthday I am celebrating. Abby is turning 160 years old. The Garden State’s tallest lighthouse, and the third tallest lighthouse in the United States, was first lit on January 15, 1857. Her first order fresnel lens shines brightly still.

Above: Abby’s first order fresnel lens, during the day on September 20, 2013, and at night, September 16, 2016.

And for lighthouse aficionados like myself, there is a magic to climbing those 228 steps, and imagining what it was like for Abby’s lighthouse keepers to undertake the physically challenging task of carrying an oil canister up 228 steps, to light Abby at night. And there is a sense of accomplishment in reaching the top, and receiving an I Saw The Light card from the volunteer light keeper on duty.

Above: The I Saw The Light card I received from Bayard, the volunteer light keeper on duty that day, September 20, 2014.

Above: As Miley Cyrus once sang: “It’s the climb…” Abby’s beautiful spiral staircase. As the incredible staff at Absecon are fond of saying: “228 Steps-One Amazing Journey.”

Above: Something I instantly noticed on display during my first visit to Abby: an oil canister like the ones Abby’s lighthouse keepers of yesterday, would have to carry up the 228 steps at night.

Above: My view of Absecon Lighthouse at night, after participating in the Harvest full moon climb, on September 16, 2016.  Isn’t she lovely?

This year, if you are in Atlantic City, stop by Absecon Lighthouse. Or plan to make a special trip there like I do annually. Be sure to let Abby know just how well she wears her 160 years.

Above: She’s a beauty!  Abby on September 20, 2014.

Happy birthday, dear Abby! 


Abby at Night: A Full Moon Climb of Absecon Lighthouse

Lighthouses, of course, have been a practical, life-saving tool for many mariners and others who have counted on these aids to navigation, to help guide them through dangerous waters.

But for many (like myself) who are avid lighthouse lovers, there is also something magical about them that helps capture the imagination. My journey of visiting lighthouses began in 2013, when I first visited Absecon Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey, and the third tallest in the United States.

Since then, each year, I have made an effort to experience lighthouses in a different way. In 2015, this included a day-long boat cruise to see 10 lighthouses along the Chesapeake, from the MV Sharps Island Boat.

This year, I asked myself how I wanted to experience a lighthouse in a different way in 2016. And the answer was easy: a nighttime climb!

Some lighthouses offer full moon climbs several times a year during a full moon.

On Friday, September 16, I returned to Absecon Lighthouse for their last full moon climb of 2016.

The doors opened at 6 PM, and the last climb was at 8 PM. I made sure to time the walk from the hotel to the lighthouse just right. I could see the lighthouse from the hotel room, and once I saw the light come on at Absecon (or “Abby” as she is affectionately called), I knew it was time to walk to the lighthouse.

Absecon Lighthouse just as day began to turn to night, September 16, 2016.

Upon arriving to Absecon, it instantly became clear that the lighthouse takes on a different feel at night, than it does during the daytime climbs. As I began the climb to the top, I noticed that the spiral staircase was lit, to guide visitors going up, and coming back down.

Absecon’s glorious spiral staircase, leading you up, and back down, 228 steps.

I took advantage of Absecon’s six landings, where you can stop, catch your breath, look out the windows and experience different views of Atlantic City, and read historical information about the lighthouse and some backstory on the view you are witnessing. Stopping at each landing on this trip to Absecon, was made even more magical by the full moon shining, and the various views of Atlantic City at night, with the lights from the hotels and casinos shining brightly.

On one of the six landings, taking a moment to appreciate the view of Atlantic City,  before making the rest of the way to the top of the lighthouse.

I reached the top and was instantly, and warmly, greeted by Mary J., the volunteer light keeper on duty, and received the “I Saw The Light” card that one always receives upon successfully climbing 228 steps and reaching the top of Absecon Lighthouse.

I stepped out on to the walkway and soaked in the incredible view of the full moon and chatted with other visitors just as in awe as I was. The view was so amazing, I felt I could have stayed out there forever.

Nowhere but to the top: looking out at Atlantic City from the top of Absecon Lighthouse during the Harvest moon climb.

Finally, I stepped back inside and inhaled the view of the first-order fresnel lens I was seeing. Although this was my third time seeing Abby’s fresnel lens, like so many other things about the lighthouse, it takes on another dimension at night, and I imagined Abby’s previous lighthouse keepers climbing the 228 steps with heavy oil canisters, to ignite the light each night as the sun would begin to set.

After a farewell and thank you to Mary J., I made my way back down the spiral staircase. I stopped back by the gift shop to collect the items I had purchased when I first arrived to the lighthouse that night, and walked outside.

Before leaving the lighthouse grounds, I took a few more photos of Abby in all her glory, including her beautiful garden.

If you have never experienced climbing a lighthouse during a full moon, reward yourself by making plans to do so in 2017.