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Community spirit relights Cape beacon

After 75 years of being “headless,” Sandy Neck Lighthouse in Barnstable, Mass., got the ultimate birthday present: its beacon.

After 75 years of being “headless,” Sandy Neck Lighthouse in Barnstable, Mass., got the ultimate birthday present: its beacon.

At 7:10 p.m. Oct. 20 to a surprise backdrop of sparkling fireworks, a grand celebration was held in honor of 150th birthday of the lighthouse that guided sailors into BarnstableHarbor from 1826 to 1931.

More than 200 people were ferried out to Sandy Neck with the help of the Hyannis Whale Watch Cruise based in Cape Cod, Mass.

“It was a great night,” says David Crocker, member of the Sandy Neck Restoration Committee. “We kept the fireworks a secret to control the crowds, but afterwards people said they were the most beautiful they had ever seen.”

Crocker says the Sandy Neck Restoration Committee started meeting nearly five years ago on a monthly basis, spearheaded by the efforts of local attorney Ron Jansson, who acts as committee chairman.

“My grandfather [Gustaf Johannson] loved all things maritime, and he would take me to look at lighthouses in the area,” says Jansson. “One day we were in the BarnstableHarbor clamming and fishing, and I was about 5 years old. I looked at the Sandy Neck lighthouse and asked him why it was broke, and he said, ‘I don’t know, but maybe someday you can fix it.’ So I decided that’s what I would do.”

Jansson’s grandfather had left Sweden in his late teens to come to America in 1912. He originally planned to go by the Titanic.

“At the last minute his friend persuaded him not to go, but his name is on the registry to this day,” says Jansson. “Good thing because otherwise probably none of this would have happened.”

The U.S. Congress appropriated $3,500 for a lighthouse on Sandy Neck on May 18, 1826, according to an online history written by Jeremy D’Entremont, author of The Lighthouses of Massachusetts. Two acres of land were bought from the town of Barnstable for one dollar for the lighthouse, which consisted of a wooden lantern on the roof of a brick keeper’s house, and it was first lit Oct. 1, 1826. At the time it helped mariners avoid the dangerous bar that extended from Sandy Neck. It was replaced in 1857 with the 48-foot brick tower that stands today north of the first light’s location offshore. Because of shifting sands and erosion, the lighthouse was no longer in an advantageous spot to warn residents coming into the harbor. In summer 1931, the lighthouse was decommissioned and a steel, spider structure with a light on the top was placed 200 feet closer to the tip of Sandy Neck.

“They were so cautious that the light of the sun would reflect off the glass of the old lighthouse and misdirect boaters, that they took the top off,” says Crocker. “So from 1931 to 2007 it was dark with no top.”

After it was decommissioned, the tower was auctioned off and passed through several owners before landing in the hands of the Hinckley family in 1950, who maintain the property today.

“I was related to the second lighthouse keeper, Thomas Baxter, through his wife, Lucky Hinckley Baxter,” says Crocker. “So this lighthouse has always been very close to my heart.”

The committee raised more than $65,000 in private donations according to Crocker, starting with a donation from Lila Lorusso, widow of late philanthropist Paul Lorusso.

“She really got us started on the project, and then people started donating their services. For instance, we got glass given to us from the L&M Glass Company in Barnstable,” says Crocker. “Federal or state funds would have required opening the lighthouse to the public, and that would be difficult since it is offshore, and we wanted to maintain the privacy of the community that is on Sandy Neck.”

The group was also assisted by the Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation during the restoration, and at the last minute, Lorusso gave one more final donation that enabled the lighthouse to shine on its birthday.

“She can see the lighthouse from her window, and wanted to see it completed as much as we did,” says Jansson. “We are forever grateful to her. She was the one who also arranged to have fireworks at the celebration.”

The committee will maintain the solar-powered light, and Sandy Neck will be identified on navigational charts as “a private aid to navigation.”

“We just kept persisting,” says Jansson. “After a lot of hard work, effort, and sweat it finally happened. It was a labor of love to do it and we all feel pretty good we did it. This is something for the generations to come.”