KETCHIKAN - With more than 40,000 miles of rugged coastline to navigate, much of it challenging even in clear, calm weather, Alaska mariners of yore relied on lighthouses to provide a beacon, guiding them to safe harbor.
Nowadays, lighthouses are nearly obsolete, all but replaced by radar and, more recently, Global Positioning System devices. Some have been removed, and nearly all have been rebuilt over the years, but many Alaska lighthouses remain. A new Tongass Historical Museum exhibit celebrates those lonely structures, featuring more than 100 images from the early 1900s to the present.
City of Ketchikan Museum's Director Michael Naab said there have been 16 major lighthouses in Alaska since the early 20th century, and the upcoming exhibit includes a section for each, with photographs and historic information.
Three area lighthouses are among those in the exhibit, he said: Mary Island, Tree Point and nearby Guard Island, "which most of us see on a regular basis."
The exhibit also will include the original lens from the Tree Point lighthouse, Naab said. The lens has been in the museum's collection for many years, a donation arranged in the late 1960s by Judge Henry Keene, who was then the U.S. Coast Guard station commander.
Over the years, Leahy collected many historic photographs and documents related to Alaska's lighthouses, which were operated by the Coast Guard starting in 1939. Leahy died in December 2008 in Valdez, according to the Tongass Historical Museum, shortly after donating his collection.
The modern images in the exhibit will be large-scale color reproductions of photographs provided by a national organization, Lighthouse Friends, which documents lighthouses in the United States and Canada. Naab said Kraig Anderson and two other lighthouse enthusiasts have collected numerous images and historic information about hundreds of lighthouses, which can be seen on the group's Web site.
The modern photos include aerial views taken from helicopters, Naab said.
"You can see views of the lighthouses that we don't have from the (historical) photos," he said. "It's a different perspective, but also, most of them are really wonderful photographs, super-dramatic."
The exhibit, "Northern Lights: Lighthouses of Alaska," will remain on display through Nov. 15.