For many of my years at MAC, my routine took me out to the World War II Tower on Sunset Boulevard. I’m a morning person, so most of these side trips I needed to take happened shortly after sunrise, before I got settled in front of my computer for the day
As I approached the tower basking in the sunrise, I couldn’t help but remember all the vacation trips when we’d always visit Sunset Beach to look for Cape May Diamonds, especially when my son was small and knew the next stone would be better than the one in hand; we’d wind up packing a pound or so of pebbles when we headed for home. I remembered seeing the tower but, at that time, it was pretty well camouflaged by weeds and sumac, and it looked pretty woebegone. The difference now is pretty dramatic, with the nice boardwalk across the sand, the interpretive panels, the interior Wall of Honor with photos dedicated to area men and women who served our country and an overall renovation of this little cement cylinder. I know it will never be as regal as the lighthouse, but it looks pretty self-important sitting there, and worth a visit.
I thought about the responsibility involved – including my role in it – in restoring and maintaining these historic sites. I guess, being so close to it. I just thought about it as “what MAC does” and hadn’t given a lot of thought to that sense of responsibility. You have to wonder, though, if we didn’t do it, how long would it be before the tower went the way of the concrete ship? I remember that, too, when it was still recognizably a ship, but look at it now. Chances are, even in my lifetime, the World War II Lookout Tower would have gone the same way.
The same could be said for our other historic preservation efforts. The lighthouse, back in my tourist days, was not open to visitors and looked pretty shabby. I guess it would have been maintained enough to keep the light shining, but I have a feeling that once that spiral staircase was eaten away by rust and neglect, the lighthouse might have joined the cement ship.
I am always amazed that the Physick house was never gutted and divided up into apartments or something similar. When you walk through the house today and see the original woodwork, banisters, fireplaces, even furnishings, it’s truly a miracle that it could be saved and restored to its former glory.
And why do we do this? Because, as Wilfred Brimley used to say in that commercial about eating oatmeal, “it’s the right thing to do.” These three sites are not just about history; they’re about OUR history. One represents a way of life in Cape May’s Victorian times, while another is a proud chapter on the area’s involvement in homeland defense during World War II. And the lighthouse has been guiding ships and sailors safely ashore long before I even existed, and hopefully will be long after I’m gone.
There’s no telling how long that will be, for all three historic sites, but it’s nice to know that we’ve given them a new lease on life, and kept them around for another generation or two or more. That’s a responsibility we’ve gladly taken on, and one I’m happy to be a part of. I never imagined on those summertime trips to Sunset Beach that a part of my time and energy would one day be devoted to that cement cylinder. I guess you just never know where the journey is taking you.
-- Barraclough is manager of publications and website at MAC