Teacher Maureen Masto recently brought her third-grade class from Sea Girt Elementary School to Sea Girt Lighthouse where her students toured, took many photos, asked good questions and wrote in their notebooks. They were doing research in preparation for each child writing an illustrated essay on the history of the town and its landmarks.
This is the fourth year Ms. Masto has brought her class to the lighthouse. As in previous years, the students, their teacher and several mothers walked the 10 blocks from school to the lighthouse, escorted by a policeman in a cruiser who guided everyone as they crossed the streets.
“We can read all about the history of Sea Girt and the lighthouse in books, but it means so much more to the students when we actually get to visit a historical landmark like the lighthouse,” said Ms. Masto. “The kids walk away with a great understanding and appreciation for the wonderful and unique town that they live in.”
Going Back In Time
The attentive and enthusiastic visitors were guided by docents through every room from the keeper’s office and throughout the living quarters. They enjoyed sitting in the parlor where keepers and their families spent their evenings in conversation, writing and reading and playing parlor games to entertain themselves in an era long before computers and television.
The students learned that before the living quarters were electrified in 1932, oil-burning lamps were used to light up a room. And during the winter, lighthouse families kept warm by burning coal in the parlor fireplace.
Ms. Masto well prepared the students by teaching them in class that the beacon projected by Sea Girt enabled mariners to fix their ship’s position and guide the crew safely in their journey to the next beacon, which then guided them further. Each lighthouse had a different sequence of blinks on and off, which is how the sailors identified one lighthouse from another.
Lesson in Light
The third graders were especially interested to see an authentic fourth-order Fresnel lens on display – similar to the Fresnel lens used at Sea Girt beginning in 1896 – and to discover how it worked. The beehive-shaped lens, with bullseye prisms in sections A and B and brass doors on the opposing sections, revolved on pedestal. A weight dropping down a shaft drove gears that caused the lens to revolve.
The Fresnel lens captured the light from the flame of an oil-burning lamp inside the lens and multiplied the light’s intensity so it could be seen 15 miles at sea. The mariners saw the illusion of a light blinking on and off as the lens revolved. The light from the flame was projected through prism A and then prism B, followed by darkness as the brass doors blocked the projection of light. Many times a day the keeper climbed into the tower to replenish the oil to keep the lamp burning and cranked the weight up to keep the Fresnel lens revolving.
In groups of five, escorted by their teacher or a parent, the children completed their tour by climbing the winding staircase and then the ladder into the lantern room at the top of the tower, where several students agreed the view was “cool.”
Upon completing the tour, the students met Jerry Hayward, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee who thanked them for visiting. He encouraged them to return to the lighthouse with their families and friends, thereby spreading the story of the lighthouse and helping to preserve its rich history. Each student was presented with a Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee Junior Member card.
In the days following the tour of the lighthouse, Ms. Masto instructed her class to write down what they learned about the lighthouse and what they liked best. Their observations were thoughtful and informative.
“The Fresnel light is awesome. The person who made it is Augustin Fresnel. People had to fill it with special oil,” wrote Haley.
“I think it was neat that people actually lived there and that we got to see their living room and other rooms,” noted Erin. She also thought it was “neat” that the keeper climbed up the tower several times a day to tend to the light. “I would get tired,” Erin admitted.
“I saw people’s writings and how they write back in the days,” reported Alexis O.
“The lighthouse is really interesting because there are so many facts,” wrote Connor. “It was the best trip in my life.”
Being at the very top of the tower was tops in the opinion of Alexis N., Alexis O., Andrew, Casey, Eddie, Erin, Keira, Miles and Nick. The unobstructed view taking in miles of beach and ocean was the best part for Alexis S., Connor, Lily and Stephanie. The chance to see a fourth order Fresnel lens was the most interesting to Haley.
“We are so lucky we have a lighthouse in our town,” wrote Casey. “I wish one day I could go back. It was a lot of fun. I think our whole class had fun!!”
Each student was assigned by Ms. Masto to create a scrapbook on Sea Girt history illustrated with the photographs taken during the tour and expanding on the notes they wrote on what they learned at the lighthouse and the next day when they toured the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey at Camp Sea Girt.
Arranging Group Tours
Group tours, like the one the third-grade class took, are conducted year-round for groups of all ages. Such tours are popular not only with schools, but scout groups, community groups and clubs looking for an educational outing.
To arrange a group tour, send us an email from the Contact Us page, or phone 732-974-0514, or write Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750.
There is no charge for group tours, although donations are appreciated.