Castle Morro lighthouse keeper in Havana gives Graves Light a tour

The keeper of the Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana, Cuba, shows us the original 1845 Fresnel lens.

The keeper of the Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana, Cuba, shows us the original 1845 Fresnel lens. Manually wound every 3 hours, the lens sits on its original pool of mercury for smooth rotation.

As authentic as it gets: Graves Light got an up-close look at the historic 1744 Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana harbor, Cuba, and saw an original Fresnel lens in about as original a state as possible.

Enrizio, keeper of the Havana lighthouse, takes us on a visit through Castle Morro.

Enrizio, keeper of the Havana lighthouse, takes us on a visit through Castle Morro.

On a quick visit to the island last weekend, Graves Light keepers Lynn and Dave talked their way into the lighthouse just as the Morro keeper was reporting for duty.

The light is closed to the public. Lunchpail in hand, Enrizio, the friendly keeper, gave us fellow keepers a tour and took us up to the lantern room.

It was like climbing back in time. What appears to be the original Third Order bivalve Fresnel lens is still in operation.

The lens was made in about 1845 by BBT Paris, the same manufacturer of the old First Order lens at Graves Light, which is now at the Smithsonian Institution.

The keeper fired up the early hand-cranked motor that spins the lens, which still floats smoothly on its mercury bath. Half the windows in the lantern room are cracked or broken out, but the lens produces a brilliant double white flash every 15 seconds. The mechanism is still manually wound every three hours.

The lens was modified by “the French” in the 1950s with the addition of small reflecting panels to bend some of the beam 45 degrees upward so that aircraft could navigate by its light. Other than those panels and an electric lamp that uses a 70 watt halogen bulb, the entire apparatus appears completely original.

Each evening, the keeper withdraws the curtains and engages the mechanism to spin the lens. By day, the curtains are drawn to prevent the sun from entering the lens and starting a fire inside.

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Diver’s discovery helps us complete our interior doors

Chris, of Boston Scuba, discovered an original Graves Light porcelain door knob on the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Chris, of Boston Scuba, discovered an original Graves Light porcelain door knob on the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Discovering the original from under water let us install authentic replacements.

Discovering the original from under water let us install authentic replacements from a wrecking company..

Some of the clues to the faithful reconstruction of the interior of Graves Light have come from the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Chris, a diver from Boston Scuba, found yet another artifact offshore at The Graves.

Pictured in his hand is a heavily weathered porcelain door knob.

We had already restored the surviving interior door and built two copies on Nantucket, but we didn’t know what the original knobs looked like. Now we do.

So we found four antique sets of knobs at a local wrecking company. Voila! The doors are now complete. Thanks, Chris!

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Glass jewels for lantern room get cast on Nantucket

Getting the glass jewels ready for the Watch Room skylights/Lantern Room floor panels.

Alison MacDonald of ACKfire studios gets the replacement glass jewels ready for the Watch Room skylights/Lantern Room floor panels.

We’re getting down to the fine details now. The missing glass jewels that form the skylights for the Watch Room ceiling and the floor pieces for the Lantern Room are now being cast.

The Nantucket artisans at Ackfire Studios are hard at work right now creating replacements for the missing heavy glass jewels embedded in the round bronze skylight frames.

Alison MacDonald of Ackfire visited Graves Light in April to examine the job and take measurements.

Now, the colored glass disks have been cut and are being cast in tiny molds within a large kiln.

We love our local artist community! Here is the Ackfire crew cutting individual discs of glass which will be melted and formed in these little molds.

The resulting glass jewels will be glazed into the lantern floor this month.

These glass pieces are reproductions of the missing original glass from the 1903 architectural design, and are copied from the remaining originals.

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Oak ceiling is put in place

G installs the 5th floor ceiling

G installs the new 5th floor ceiling, an exact reproduction of the original, surviving parts of which were left in place.

Remember the oak ceiling we showed being built on Nantucket back in April? It’s now installed at Graves Light.

Karl installs the 5th floor ceiling

Karl Phillips puts the new oak ceiling panels in place.

Master carpenter Karl Phillips built perfect replicas at his Driftwood Construction shop, based on surviving original panels and the original architectural drawings.

Karl and G put the new oak panels in place up on the 5th floor library of the lighthouse. G is performing the trimming and shaping.

Karl did most of the other woodwork at Graves, too, including reconstructed oak windows based on the original casement design, interior oak window panels and sills, interior oak doors, and the mahogany staircase handrails.

As we’d previously noted, we decided to leave the original damaged ceiling panels in place, covering them with the new ones to give some future renovators a surprise.

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Bunk room ‘almost ready’ – lots more work going on

First look at the new Bunk Room at Graves Light, June 2015.

First look at the new Bunk Room at Graves Light, June 2015.

What an amazing week out at Graves!

Carpenters Nat, Karl, Will, and Peter are installing the new mahogany stair rails (see where brass castings of the original fixtures were made) and bunk beds, finishing the windows, and hanging the interior doors.

We’ve never seen this level of activity inside the tower, and it’s really getting exciting out here.

As a safety test, the carpenters camped out a couple of nights. They proclaim the bunk room “almost ready.”

 

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New brass castings set to restore mahogany handrail

John Nelson at work on the new brass fittings we custom-cast to restore the handrail system.

John Nelson at work on the new brass fittings we custom-cast to restore the handrail system.

Here’s a sneak peek from John Nelson’s metal shop in Portland, Maine.

John is coming down to install a beautiful reproduction of the original railing system, complete with a mahogany handrail.

Over the winter, we designed and cast some of the brass parts for this railing. It will be exciting to see the finished results. Of course we’ll keep everyone posted.

Follow John Nelson on Instagram @nelsonmetalfab, and like his shop, Nelson Metal Fabrication, on Facebook.

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Discovered: Original Fresnel Lens rotation mechanism

Polishing a century of grime from one of the brackets of the original First Order Fresnel lens rotation mechanism.

Polishing a century of grime from one of the brackets of the original First Order Fresnel lens rotation mechanism.

Ever wonder how the giant First Order Fresnel lens rotated to produce that smooth, sweeping beam lf light?

The good guys at the US Coast Guard revealed the secret by sending us the old engineering drawings of parts of the original mechanism, which are still bolted to the 5th level ceiling.

Since that ceiling is being restored, we figured we’d take the mechanism down and clean it up, which we did this week at home.

Here’s how it worked: Every two hours the Keepers wound a 300-lb weight up a 50-foot tube using a hand crank. The weight was connected by a series of pulleys (pictured) and connected to a big clockwork device, which regulated the speed and drove a gear that spun the two-ton lens.

The system was converted to an electric motor long ago, but happily the Coast Guard left all the old stuff in place, which made it possible for us to tell the story.

 

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Casting call: Making exact copies of original bronze fixtures

Arthur crafts exact copies of lighthouse fixtures out of bronze. He's at Mystic Valley Foundry in Somerville, Mass.

Arthur crafts exact copies of lighthouse fixtures out of bronze. He’s at Mystic Valley Foundry in Somerville, Mass.

In restoring and refurbishing Graves Light, we try to find original items from other lighthouses and ships.

Sometimes, though, finding an exact match proves to be impossible. That was the case of the bronze brackets to hold the wooden handrails in place on the lighthouse’s winding stairs.

We had some original pieces, but couldn’t find a match anywhere.

Arthur at Mystic Valley Foundry in Somerville, Mass., helped us out. He took an original bracket and made 10 exact copies out of bronze.

Here are pictures of Arthur at the foundry, as well as a shot of the 10 copies and the original.

 

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The oak ceiling is almost ready to be installed

At his Nantucket shop, Karl Phillips works on the new oak ceiling of the 5th floor of Graves Light - a perfect copy of the ruined original.

At his Nantucket shop, Karl Phillips works on the new oak ceiling of the 5th floor of Graves Light – a perfect copy of the ruined original.

We’re getting wicked excited about a winter project that’s entering its final stages.

The oak ceiling of the Graves Light living quarters are being reconstructed, just as it would have looked in 1905.

Down on Nantucket, Driftwood Construction’s own Karl Phillips is working day and night, this time building the amazing paneled oak ceiling for the 5th floor study.

Karl already built perfect oak copies of the original casement windows, window sills, window paneling, and interior stairway doors.

He’s been using the original 1903 architectural drawings to rebuild the ceiling. But since parts of the original ceiling are still in place (despite their heavy damage), Karl was able to take measurements right off the original.

For the fun of future generations, we think we’ll install this new ceiling to cover the original old one, so that in another 100 years, people will have something to discover.

Take a look at the pictures of Karl’s latest work.

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Super ladder 2015 replaces what the storm claimed

Super Ladder 2015 is ferried out to Graves.

Super Ladder 2015 is ferried out to Graves.

Remember that big ladder we installed on the dock last spring?

Well the November storms tore it away, and although we spent an afternoon scuba diving to find it, all we came up with was one lousy rung.

But today, friends, behold the new Super Ladder 2015!

All that's left of our 2014 ladder.

All that’s left of our 2014 ladder.

Fortified with double strength rails and bolted right to the stone pier below, this baby should last until … November?

Maybe we should take it down after the season this time. . . .

Hats off to Emmett who helped build it and Mike and Pat who helped ferry it into position using our dock fenders and a spare life ring!

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