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Cape Lookout to Commemorate 160 years

Cape Lookout Lighthouse was first lit the evening of Nov. 1, 1859. Photo: File

To commemorate the 160th anniversary of Cape Lookout Lighthouse warning ships near Cape Lookout Shoals, the national seashore is offering from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday a free day of lighthouse climbing.

The evening of Nov. 1, 1859, the lamp what was then the new Cape Lookout Lighthouse glowed for the first time. Lighthouse Keeper John Royal climbed the 216 steps to the lantern carrying a 5-gallon container of whale oil He stepped inside the giant glass lens, trimmed the lamp wicks and filled the lamp.  Then, at sunset, Royal lit the lamp, according to Cape Lookout National Seashore.

The lighthouse was built following the new standard plans for tall, brick tower lighthouses and was the first of this style to be built on this coast. As more lighthouses were built along the coast following the end of the Civil War, the black and white, diamond-patterned “day marks” were added in 1873 to differentiate the lighthouse from others along the coast during daylight.

With the advancement of technology, the lighthouse upgraded its inner workings, going from lamps using whale oil to lamps using kerosene, and finally to light bulbs and electricity.  The last technological change was from light bulbs to solar panels and LEDs in 2017.

Children joining the climb must be at least 44-inches tall and able to climb the steps on their own.  Children 12 years of age and younger must be accompanied by someone 16 or older.  Footwear is required as well.

Ferry service is provided by the park’s authorized concessioner, Island Express Ferry Service, according to their fall ferry schedule. Check with the ferry for departure times, and fees by calling 252-728-7433, or visit to the website for more information.

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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.