To the (Montauk) Lighthouse

While I technically live on Long Island, I’ve seen little of it outside of Brooklyn. Back in September we took a day trip drive to the very end of the island to see the Montauk Lighthouse.

As none of us own cars, we rented one at La Guardia and were soon passing by the Long Island towns with their forced quaintness and actually quaint little churches with old cemeteries. In only a couple of hours, the lighthouse came into view with its lovely red and white body standing out against the light gray skies.

I was most excited to see the beach and the water. While I glimpse the harbor from my apartment window, I feel very far from living on the coast. Yes, technically I do live on the coast…but I only feel that as much as someone living on an oil tanker would. Instead of rocks and sand there are factories and parking lots. And the wind coming off from the Atlantic felt amazing.

The lighthouse on the eastern tip of Long Island is the oldest in New York, having been authorized when George Washington was president. Its construction was completed in 1796 and was originally lit with wick lamps.

Of course, a lighthouse this old has gathered many wonderful anecdotes, including a legend about Captain Kidd burying treasure near its base and a poem by Walt Whitman that reads: “I stand as on some mighty eagle’s beak/Eastward the sea absorbing, viewing, (nothing but sea and sky,)/The tossing waves, the foam, the ships in the distance/The wild unrest, the snowy, curling caps–that inbound urge and urge/of waves,/Seeking the shores forever.”

Montauk itself is a small fishing hamlet with a lot of city folk like us coming in for tourism. I’m not sure if any of the Algonquin tribe from which it takes its name are still there, but I’m not too optimistic. I think Montauk’s most interesting moment in history is in 1839, when the Amistad ship that had been seized by slaves came to shore for provisions. The trial and their subsequent liberation were touched upon in the museum inside the lighthouse.

Despite some ominous signs about blood sucking insects, we did walk along the shore and I  found a rock for my collection. I have a small group of rocks and shells I’ve picked up from around the world, from La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires to the Château Crussol in Valence to the Little Red Lighthouse in Manhattan.

We climbed the narrow winding staircase to the top of the lighthouse, which really only had room for one person going up or down so you had to hold onto a rope in the center while people passed. It was a beautiful view from the top, from which I spotted what would be our next destination: Camp Hero.

A military base established during World War II, Camp Hero is now a state park with mysterious and creepy bunkers and military structures scattered around. I loved it. The huge radar can be seen above the trees from the Montauk Point Lighthouse and there are many conspiracy theories about military experiments performed at the base. In one called the Philadelphia Experiment, a huge Navy destroyer was supposedly rendered invisible, and another called the Montauk Project includes studies on time travel and psychological warfare.

Sadly, we did not find any portals in time, but there were many wonderful military relics to explore. I would love to come back and see more of it. Even if they say the secret underground compound doesn’t exist, I know better.

Driving back west, we did encounter some experiments with visual perception at the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton. It was established in 1983 as a permanent exhibition space for the American artist’s work with fluorescent light tubes.

The art institute was originally a firehouse and was then used as a church before becoming an exhibition space. The whole second floor is full of the structured vibrant lights, their futuristic glows mixing colors in some areas and staying starkly apart in others.

We then stopped at the Duck of Flanders which…well, there’s really nothing to add that the picture doesn’t tell you. It started as a poultry store and now it is an absurd landmark. Not as awesome as my beloved Blue Whale, but kind of fascinating nonetheless.

We were worn out by fierce ocean winds, devilish conspiracy theories, mind bending light installations, and inexplicable roadside animals, so we returned to New York City, to the part of Long Island I call home.

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