LOWER TOWNSHIP — Dave Yeager, of Wildwood Crest, probably has greeted most of the nearly 100,000 annual visitors who make their way to Cape May Lighthouse.
“In 1989, the manager called me up and said, ‘We’re having problems getting someone to work at the top. Would I do it?’” Yeager said. That top room is 157 feet off the ground. “They needed someone up there. They needed a body.”
Yeager, 89, started working as a lighthouse keeper that year and has been at Cape May Lighthouse ever since.
“I always worked with people. I like working with people, especially at the historic sites,” Yeager said. “There are those who follow lighthouses. They are interested in lighthouses. It’s one of the most visited spots in Cape May County, outside of the zoo.”
Yeager thinks parents bring their children because it’s something different to do at the shore, and because the lighthouse is a learning experience.
“People do like the fact that you can climb to the top, and you can see all the way over to Delaware, and a lot of people are interested in why we have the lighthouse. It was a way of navigation back in the old days,” Yeager said.
Built in 1859 and one of the oldest continually operating lighthouses in the country, the Cape May light requires a 217-step climb to reach the top.
The beacon is still working. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to operate the light as an active aid to navigation. The light flashes every 15 seconds and is visible 24 miles out to sea.
Currently, funds are being raised to paint the exterior of the lighthouse. The last time it was painted was in 1994.
The state owns Cape May Lighthouse, but the Coast Guard maintains the beacon. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities in Cape May leases the lighthouse from the state with the mission of restoring the structure and operating it as a historic site.
Earlier this summer, Rick Price, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was in Cape May Point for a couple of days. He said he always tries to visit state parks. Cape May Lighthouse is in Cape May Point State Park.
“I think it adds a lot,” he said. “I think a lot of people are interested in lighthouses. They always have been. It’s not just a recent thing,” Price said.
Price grew up in Philadelphia. His family would come down to the shore during summers, just as thousands of visitors do to this day.
“I always wanted to see the lighthouse. And I still do. I’m 70 years old, and I still want to see the lighthouse,” Price said.