|They've trudged down many a
trail, high winds blowing, slogged through sand carrying camera bags
in hundred degree temperatures, with bugs biting, Nikons slung around
their necks. They've waded knee deep on a trail flooded with water
from the Hudson River. They've gone out on the water in sports boats,
crabber's boats, lobstermen's boats, rowboats.
|They don't know how many ferries that
they have taken. They lost count long ago. They've flown in twin
engine planes, single engine, and seaplanes. They've climbed over
boulders, hung from tree branches over a cliff and rolled in a mud
puddle under a fence.
Why? To photograph a
On their wedding trip in 1987, Bob & Sandra
Shanklin traveled to New England, and among other things, photographed
a few lighthouses. The first one was picturesque Portland Head
Lighthouse. It was love at first sight. They started searching for
more lighthouses that very day. At an age when most people are
thinking of retiring, the Shanklins started a whole new and exciting
Bob contends that lighthouses are a virus
with no known cure, and at that very first lighthouse, the bug bit
both of them. Since then the couple have traveled over all the coasts
of the United States looking for lighthouses.
The Shanklins call themselves "the
Lighthouse People", and they feel they have earned the title. Some
years ago the Associated Press did a story on them. The story was
printed in newspapers all over the United States. At that time they
had photographed around 200 lighthouses and so, had only a good start
on their project.
Whenever they were in an area, looking for a
lighthouse or trying to find transportation to a lighthouse, someone
would come up and say, "Aren't you the Lighthouse People?"
The Lighthouse People are
photographers Bob and Sandra Shanklin. After that first trip to New
England, it became a goal, a cause, an obsession to photograph all the
lighthouses in the U.S. In their calculations, there are about 670
lighthouse in the U.S., some of them major, some minor. They have
photographed them all including Alaska and Hawaii. They have just
published their first book of full color photographs:
"Lighthouses of the Hawaiian Islands".
The Shanklins have had wonderful adventures
on their quest. According to Sandra, "They almost always are in
beautiful places, and there's always good seafood near a lighthouse."
Some lighthouses are like their first lighthouse, Portland Head Light,
easy to reach. You can drive right up and view or touch them. Many
others take a special effort just to view, like Ship Shoal,
Louisiana. Ship Shoal is over 10 miles off the Louisiana Coast, in the
Gulf of Mexico. The Shanklins had to charter a seaplane to take them
there and to the six lighthouses at the mouth of the Mississippi
The plane ride to Ship Shoal was the most
miserable plane ride Sandra had ever taken. Louisiana had a cold front
come through, with record cold temperatures for December. The plane
was not heated. The pilot said his planes almost never need heat. The
sun was shining but the wind was blowing, the flight was rough. Sandra
got airsick and stayed airsick for the whole three hour flight. She
was barely able to lift her camera to take the shots. She had so
looked forward to seeing the last one, Ship Shoal. She was able only
to shoot two shots. After that she was too sick to take more photos,
or even to care.
|The Shanklins agree that the
most fun seaplane ride they took in search of a lighthouse was from
Key West out to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. The plane skimmed
over the water most of the way. They could see fish, turtles and
shipwrecks in the clear waters around the Keys. After the couple
photographed the lighthouse on the Fort, the Coast Guard transported
them in an inflatable boat to Loggerhead Key, where another lighthouse
stands. A large, old, grizzled Labrador Retriever named Wally greeted
them. He had been brought to Loggerhead as a pup, and had lived there
all his life. The coastguardsmen and the local fishermen called
Loggerhead Key, "Wally World."
adventurous trip was to the lighthouse on the Farallon Islands, 20
miles off the coast of California. First of all, they were told they
would never set foot on the Farallons, only botanists, biologists, and
the Coasties who maintained the light were allowed there. Sandra says
telling her they can't go to a lighthouse is like waving a red flag at
her. She kept making phone calls and writing letters, until, a year
later, the couple was allowed to go out with the Farallon Patrol,
volunteers who take supplies to the scientists.
lighthouse is on the highest peak of the Island which is basically a
mountain sticking up out of the Pacific. There is no place to dock.
Bob, especially, wondered how their party would get ashore. First of
all, everyone was transferred from the trawler they took from
Sausalito, to a nine foot Boston Whaler. Just three people at a time
would fit in the Whaler. With the boats pitching in the ocean, going
from the trawler to the Whaler was not an easy task. Then, to the
Shanklin's surprise, as they got near the cliff, a ring buoy called a
Billy Pugh was lowered down to them, and just a few at a time, the
group had to put their gear on the netting of the ring buoy and jump
onto it, timing the jump as the boat raised on an ocean swell and came
up to the Billy Pugh. The ring buoy or Billy Pugh was raised up by the
crew of scientists ashore and swung with a derrick to the top of the
cliff, where a botanist was waiting to escort the party. The scientist
told the party precisely where to place each footstep so as not to
crush a rare plant or the nest of a burrowing bird. It was an exacting
climb up the path to the lighthouse at the top. Adding to the
adventure, everything was covered with bird guano, including the path
and the metal handrail beside it.
Getting back off the Island was even
tougher, as a storm was moving in, the Pacific swells higher, the wind
blowing the ring buoy back and forth over the little Whaler that was
riding up and down the twelve foot waves. They made it, but both felt
it was one of the most difficult things they had ever done. Sandra
says they are glad they did it, but not sure they'd want to do it
In the summer of 1995 the Shanklins flew into Boston to finish
photographing the lighthouses of Maine. After going with the Coast
Guard to photograph Isles of Shoals, Whaleback, Ram Island Ledge and
HalfWay Rock, they headed to Owl's Head, Maine and the airport there,
where pilot Mike Ball took them on a 5 hour flight to photograph all
the offshore lighthouses they hadn't shot before. Steadily heading
north, they photographed many island lighthouses, . The further north
the plane flew, the foggier it got. As the plane circled over the
Little River Lighthouse at Cutler Maine, the lighthouse was barely
visible, making photography difficult. From there, the plane headed
out into the Atlantic to the farthest offshore lighthouse in that
area, Machias Seal Island. The fog thickened and the Shanklins
despaired of photographing that lighthouse. They wondered if they
would have to return to Maine sometime again, just to photograph
Machias Seal. The fog was below them in hills and valleys, like a
mountain range. Just as they arrived at the place the lighthouse
should be, the fog opened and there stood the red and white lighthouse
below them, bright and clear.
This serendipity happens to them very often. Bob says it means
they are doing what they were meant to do.
|When photographing the
lighthouses of Rhode Island, they took the walk-on ferry to
Prudence Island to shoot the Sandy Point Light. The day was gray
and drizzly when they started out, and the weather worsened as the
ferry crossed the water. It started to rain, the wind blew. They
began to dread the two mile hike to the lighthouse. During the
ferry ride, the Shanklins struck up a conversation with a lady who
lived right across the road from the lighthouse. She offered them
a ride to save the two mile hike.
Prudence Island, Rhode Island
started taking photos, the black clouds opened up, a ray of
sunshine broke through to illuminate the lighthouse, and then
closed up after they took their shots. Afterwards the lady's
daughter came and got them for homemade cookies, coffee and a ride
back to the ferry landing. The ferry wasn't due for several hours.
The place to wait was on the porch of a little store, without much
shelter from the wind and rain. The ferry captain, worrying about
them, located a truck load of gravel that had to be ferried to the
Island so he could make an extra trip to come back and get them.
Over and over, difficult circumstances and rewarding
photographs went hand in hand. Two years ago, the Shanklins went
to Michigan to finish photographing the offshore and difficult to
reach lighthouses of Lake Michigan. The plane flew out of
Cheboygan, out over Lake Michigan and as far as Green Bay. The
weather was terrible, the flight rough and they encountered rain,
sleet, and snow. True to Bob's belief, every time they approached
a lighthouse, the sun came out and they got their shots. The pilot
said that the six hour flight over Lake Michigan was the roughest
flight he had ever taken.
But difficulties can take many forms, for example, a
boatload of sick 9 year olds. The couple had flown into Los
Angeles to photograph the lighthouse on Anacapa Island, one of the
Channel Islands. Arrangements were made before they left their
Florida home, to go out with a cruise line called the Island
Packers, who had a contract with the National Park Service. The
Island Packers offered the only transportation to the Channel
Islands. When the Shanklins arrived at the pier at the appointed
time they discovered the trip had been canceled and no more were
scheduled in the next few days. The Shanklins were very upset but
after Sandra explained their situation and begged a bit, they were
allowed to go the next day with a boatload of 100 fourth graders.
The children ate their lunches on the way over, and most of them
got seasick before they got to Anacapa.
The boat Captain let the Shanklins off
first, to climb the stairs to the top of the cliff, so they could
go take their photos without 100 fourth graders in every shot. The
trip back was rough, the kids rowdy, feeling better now. The
teachers were worn out, and so let the kids run wild. The perfect
end to a perfect day.
Another lighthouse in California that is
nearly impossible to see is Point Conception. It is on the grounds
of a large ranch with very heavy security. Normally no one is
allowed to view it, except people that have jobs or business on
the ranch, and the Coast Guard who still maintain the light on
that dangerous coast. With months of phone calls and letters,
Sandra had persuaded the Coast Guard to take them in. For some
reason, the Coast Guard didn't show up. Luckily, a sympathetic
security guard took pity on them, taking them to the lighthouse
after his day's work was finished.
The Shanklins like to say that they went
out and took photos of lighthouses until their money ran out,
went home and worked until enough money was accrued to go out and
take photos again. They sold their photos at art shows in the
Florida Panhandle and Alabama Gulf Coast and by mail order. Sandra
says they barely survived, but had more fun than anyone she knows.
Bob says every trip to a lighthouse was an adventure and they
hated to see it all come to an end.
After they photographed all the lighthouses in the
U.S., they didn't stop. They went on to photograph some
lighthouses in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and ALL 63 lighthouses
of Prince Edward Island.
We self publish our books, which means we
do all the work on them, then pay for printing with a credit
card. A scary thing to do! We are hoping for help, a grant, some
backing, for "Lighthouses of Puerto Rico". It is a void of
knowledge that needs to be filled and we have the photos to make a
Then, a new project.
We wanted to work
to save the historical and archival photos of lighthouses that
are scattered around the country. We have been to the
Coast Guard Historian's Office in Wash. DC. We have st
2000 old photos scanned from there.
We also have at least 1000 old photos from the Coast Guard
Museum of the N.W. in Seattle. During Hurricane Katrina,
the Coast Guard in New Orleans lost their historical photos and
documents. We would like to see copies of these important
things saved in different places so this loss does not happen