ATLANTIC CITY — Absecon Lighthouse didn’t celebrate its 157th birthday by itself Saturday. Whether they knew about the birthday in advance or not, a steady flow of customers visited the lighthouse, which is the tallest in the state. They were greeted with free climbs up the 228 lighthouse steps. Birthday cake was served at 1 p.m. along with the announcement of the cash-prize winners of the “Abby & the Arts” contest.

April Smitheman, 43, of Williamstown, Gloucester County, learned about the lighthouse’s birthday through the Facebook page of another Atlantic County attraction, Lucy the Elephant in Margate. The birthday prompted Smitheman to make her second visit ever to the city and her first to the lighthouse. Smitheman brought her children, Tiffany, 17, and John, 15. Smitheman’s son likes lighthouses more than his sister, but she was impressed.

“The view was awesome. It was really, really windy,” Tiffany Smitheman said of being at the top of the lighthouse. “It was fun.”

Denise Mirandola, 61, of Meadville, Pa., was planning to come to the lighthouse and the city this weekend anyway, but her husband saw online that it was the lighthouse’s birthday. She is the lighthouse enthusiast in the family.

Mirandola has seen most of the lighthouses in this state

“My first lighthouse, I saw in Viriginia. I was in my 30s. I had kids already. It intrigued me,” said Mirandola, who added she had been at the Absecon Lighthouse about 13 years ago. “They have done an excellent job. The celebration is nice. I like that they involved the students and the community.”

Michelle Pudlak, 29, of St. Petersburg, Fla., stopped by the lighthouse with her mother, Anna Marie Pudlak, 57, also of St. Petersburg, and her mother’s sister, Joie Steadman, 59, of Monroe Township, Middlesex County. This was only the second lighthouse that Michelle Pudlak ever visited. She stopped by the lighthouse in St. Augustine, Fla., about a year ago.

“It’s a great view. It’s nice to feel the wind up there,” Michelle Pudlak said. “When you get to the top, you feel winter. My cheeks were freezing.”

This the second year of the “Abby & the Arts” contest, which was started last year, said Jean Muchanic, the Absecon Lighthouse’s executive director.

Cash prizes of $50 for first place and $25 for second place are given in the three categories of poetry, photography and drawing/painting, Muchanic said. The contest was open to city students in grades 6 to 12. Milt Glenn, director of the lighthouse’s education program, delivered fliers to the city schools at the end of September.

“There is nothing more wonderful than to see a child’s imagination come forth,” Muchanic said.

Last year, the lighthouse was still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy regarding attendance, Muchanic said. The first half of the year was slow, and the wet weather in June kept some people from coming to city, Muchanic said. Rainy weather during July and August is good for the lighthouse, but during the fall through the spring, sunny days generate more traffic, Muchanic said. As recently as 2005, the lighthouse only had 12,500 annual visitors, but it experienced its best year in  2010, with 28,000 visitors, Muchanic said.

Hurricane Irene struck in 2011. Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 held attendance down for the year to 26,940. Last year, the number of visitors was 25,971, Muchanic said.

The lighthouse’s birthday celebration continues from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today with “buy one, get one” admission. A visit to either the lighthouse’s exhibit or museum is free, but a lighthouse climb costs $7 for adults, $5 for seniors 65 and older and $4 for children ages 4 to 12.

The lighthouse celebration is sponsored by the Cultural & Heritage Affairs Office of Atlantic County through a grant from the N.J. State Council of the Arts.

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