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Glass Eye

January 2, 2011

The interior of Split Rock Lighthouse, along the north shore of Lake Superior, in Minnesota. A little history, from my novel, Isle Royale. (Just substitute Split Rock for Wolf Point. My fictional lighthouse is based on Split Rock.)

High in the lamp room, rough hands buffed and polished a section of brasswork surrounding the lighthouse lens, rubbing methodically until the brass gleamed like daylight. Clarence MacDougal stood back, satisfied at last with his work. A smile slowly crept onto his weathered, red-bearded face. Everything was in order.

The four-ton lighthouse lens rotated on an enormous pedestal six feet above the floor. Imported from Paris, the bi-valve Fresnel lens floated on a bearing surface of liquid mercury. Hundreds of glass prisms, both reflecting and refracting, and assembled by hand inside the lighthouse, focused the blinding white light and sent a 450,000 candlepower beam shooting out into the murky night.

Wolf Point Light was one of the first to use an incandescent oil vapor lamp, a technological innovation making it one of the most powerful of the more than four hundred lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Filtered kerosene, brought up daily from a special storage shed next to the lighthouse, was poured into a single brass fuel assembly tank bolted just under the lens assembly. The kerosene was pumped by hand each night until enough air pressure was created to keep the light burning all night. The fuel itself was vaporized by a Bunsen burner flame and, together with specially made mantles housing the flame, made a pure white light that was blinding to the naked eye.

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