Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Shoot 2.19.10


Cape Canaveral Light

Canaveral Lighthouse Shoot: 02.19.10

Through the kindness of Eric Brian, Chief, Media Relations 45th Space Wing Public Affairs of Patrick Air Force Base, Ex-Deputy Cape Commander, John H. Johnson, who is also Director of the Apollo One Memorial Foundation, Inc. and Current Deputy Commander of Detachment 1, 45th MSG, Director of Operations, Sonny Witt, we were able to secure an appointment to photograph the lighthouse for our up-coming 2011 Lighthouses of Florida Calendar and experience the Cape and its unique history.

Our party consisted of my father Col (ret) John Howard, my husband, Raymond, and me.  At 9:00am sharp we arrived at the Gate 1 Pass and ID Parking Lot to meet with our tour escort, ex-commander John “Johnny” Johnson.  Though the day dawned a bit gray and cloudy any darkness was dissipated quickly by  the crinkly blue eyes and sunny disposition of our guide!!  Once introductions were made, he got us properly outfitted with our Media badges and settled into his car for the tour. After he shared some media photographs of the current NASA  space shuttle crew, we were on our way.

The landscape up to the light was really dry Florida scrub with clearings here and there but mostly broken only by abandoned concrete structures used for past space program projects and activities. Some of this we examined more closely after I shot the light. The lighthouse itself is very handsome with its black and white horizontal stripes. Most of my compositions were trying for best placement of the old oil house and the sabal palms near the light. Always trying to see what looks attractive and how I can arrange the distracting elements so that they can be artistically diminished. Though the lighting was initially dim the clouds were sweeping and impressive around the light. And, while shooting, the lighting on the lighthouse just kept getting better and better as the ascending sun brightened the lighthouse against a darker sky.

While I was wandering around angling for compositions, the men stayed engaged in conversation as Johnny offered a wealth of knowledge about the site.  At one point I looked back and realized they were having an animated conversation with someone who had stopped by.  Re-joining the group, I learned that he was Sonny Witt, the current deputy commander of the Cape who I already knew was very involved with the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. He had been my original contact person when lighthouse was being refurbished and readied for a new lighting ceremony a few short years ago. Sonny is an intense individual deeply interested in the light and its history. Although, I was unable enter the lighthouse at this time the following link pictures Sonny and describes the interior and the view from the top of this historic beacon:  An additional link of interest regarding the refurbishing of the light is

The first thing Sonny asked me was if I had taken a picture of the sign, which I had indeed photographed already.  He pointed out one line of information on it which was inaccurate.  I had read up on the light before the visit and had that fact in my head also. I mentioned reading of it in Frank Childer’s book on the Canaveral light among others.  The main point of issue was that the lens and its workings before the Civil War had been hidden and buried by keeper Burnham in his orange grove.  I learned these items were really taken to St Augustine The original light at the cape was erected in 1848, but was really too short.  At only 60′ and by the time mariners could get close enough to see it, they were in danger of the areas it was trying to help them avoid. So another was erected in 1868. In 1894 due to proximity to the sea and erosion, it was moved back to its current location one mile further in. As I understand it,  lens one went to St Augustine for safe keeping before the Civil War and lens two for the taller light is on display at Ponce Inlet where I saw it on a visit there.  Today the light has two rotating beacons with 1000 W lamps. The most interesting part of Sonny’s lesson to us was why Cape Canaveral’s space program located there.
The California location was not working out well. To take advantage of the Earth’s rotation the shots would have to travel east over land and so they searched for a suitable east coast site.   Much of the area was problematic due to population density. So finally they learned of the land owned by the Coast Guard  for the lighthouse. Basically, without the lighthouse, Cape Canaveral’s Space facility might not have happened. So it would be true to say that a beacon to guide ships at sea lit the way for ships of space long before they were dreamt of.
As Sonny departed I noticed the beautiful emblem on his truck, a circular design with the Canaveral light and a rocket going up next to it!! There does exist a photo of the lighthouse with a rocket going up in view on the right side, so the emblem is not just symbolic. Sonny must have noticed me pointing it out to my Dad as the truck was backing out. They stopped and Sonny came over to me with something in his fist and said ‘Shake my hand.’  So I did and he passed me a bronze coin/medallion with that emblem on it. Such a surprise and will remain a treasured memento of our visit.  I should mention that Sonny Witt has gathered some source documents and has put together a book with publication pending on the history of the Canaveral Lighthouse. It is entitled “Drawn to the Light, a history of Cape  Canaveral and its People.”

One of my favourite mental images of the Canaveral Light is that of Dr. Werner Von Braun using the top of the lighthouse as an observation deck to watch his rocket launches in the 1950’s. Although, I could not shoot from the top towards where Von Braun watched the rockets go up, I was able to shoot from the spot where rockets went up toward the light. Though the patch of concrete is ordinary and unmarked, it bears its hidden history for those who know of it…just a patch of concrete which was once Pad 3..observed by Dr.Werner Von Braun. Too cool if you ask me!! Johnny Johnson also took us to a patch of grass where keeper’s quarters once were and next to that a circular pad with some brick floor in the center and ringed with ancient rusted bolt shafts which was the original location of the second light. I walked over to the beach just to shoot the water and show that it was really there…too much dense vegetation for anything like a shot with both in it. You cannot see the light from the beach least not on foot from my vantage point.

As Johnny drove us around the see the artifacts of various space projects including the spot where fire claimed the lives of the Apollo One crew, I was reminded in a strange way of Egypt. In Egypt the most barren of landscapes deceptively hides man’s efforts to conquer time and be remembered… Canaveral you have the Florida scrub and weeds claiming the concrete and metal ruins of man’s efforts to conquer time and space. And, through it all the lighthouse has persevered serving ships at sea and then illuminating, by virtue of location, the portal into space. The romance of these endeavors at the edge of human experience will always fascinate and more than that needs to be remembered. Unlike Egypt whose monuments were mostly to serve the egos of Pharoahs, the lighthouses and ships of space are a testiment to the best of human spirit.
After spending a wonderful morning we concluded our tour and parted company back at the parking lot. I passed along some of our 2010 calendars and Florida Bird Cards and walked away with memories, a renewed appreciation of some of America’s most interesting history, some wonderful photos, a sun-bleached whelk I picked up during the beach shot, my bronze medallion, and some new friendships.
I would encourage everyone to learn more at and to explore the opportunities for tours at the Cape.  This is a striking tower with a truly unique history.

UPDATE: 6.17.10 – Sonny Witt has published his book on the history of Canaveral Light. It is entitled Drawn to the Light, The History of Cape Canaveral and its People…please visit him at



~ by Judy on February 27, 2010.

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