LOWER TOWNSHIP - Little William Cline was exactly the type of visitor they wanted to attract to the Cape May Lighthouse for Wednesday's celebration of National Lighthouse Day.
Cline, 3, talked his mother, Lisa, into bringing him to climb the Cape May Lighthouse. The Clines live in Burlington, Mass.
"We live in Massachusetts, and he specifically asked to come to the Cape May Lighthouse. He has this book, "Good Night New Jersey," and it has all the New Jersey lighthouses in it," said Lisa Cline.
So how was it? After trekking up and down 199 steps, seeing the lighthouse from every angle inside and out, the boy gave his approval.
"It was just like the book," William said, before tugging on his mom and telling her one more thing: "I'm hungry."
The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities used the day to celebrate its 25th year running the 1859 beacon as a tourist attraction. It also used National Lighthouse Day to try to get the younger generation interested in lighthouses.
A pirate theme, with actors dressed as pirates and three live parrots, face-painting, rub-on tattoos, and a booth to make pirate hats by hand all helped draw families with children to the event. In spite of steady rains, organizers said at least 1,000 people visited, with more than 500 climbing to the top.
Wednesday wasn't just for children. Dave Yeager designed a special postal cancellation that drew some lighthouse junkies and stamp collectors. It read: "National Lighthouse Day, Cape May Light Station," and included the city, ZIP code and date. Those who missed the day can still get the postal cancellation on an envelope for the next 30 days at the Cape May Post Office on Washington Street.
Yeager, who portrays Harry Palmer, the local lighthouse keeper from 1924-33, said it's important for children to understand the importance of lighthouses. National Lighthouse Day celebrates that 224-year heritage.
"It's a part of the past and you can't let the past disappear without letting people know how they used to navigate," said Yeager.
While most mariners these days have GPS systems on their boats, some still rely on the rotating beam from lighthouses along the coast and in some bays. The U.S. Coast Guard still maintains the Cape May Lighthouse as a working lighthouse.
It's hard to say how a lighthouse would rate compared with, say, Disneyworld, for most children, but MAC's manager of tour operations, Rosemary Rombado, said the winding staircase is a big draw.
"The kids do love the lighthouse. They want to get up there. I think it's a fascination with the stairs. There's also the view. On a clear day you can see Delaware. On the night climbs, it's so clear, it's like you could pluck a star out of the sky," Rombado said.
Children who took the climb Wednesday seemed pretty excited when they got back down to earth.
"It was cool because we really went high. The people (below) looked like little crumbs," said Kelani Sharp, 6, of Somers Point and Upper Township.
Tom Valentino, of Medford, used the day expose his children, Connor, 11, and Emily, 9, to some history.
"I take off Wednesdays and search out historical places. We like visiting old places. We go to Batsto a lot and have been to a few lighthouses," said Valentino.
The lighthouse event was also about celebrating 25 years since MAC restored the beacon and opened it back to the public. More than 2 million people have visited since 1988. Lower Township Mayor Mike Beck commended MAC for all its hard work.
"Since its restoration they managed to have 2,125,878 visitors come to the lighthouse. We recognize in Lower Township that tourism is the backbone of industry in Cape May County and were glad to be able to showcase not only the lighthouse but all the assets that we have in Lower Township and the surrounding area," said Beck.
MAC is continually raising money to keep the light in good condition and will use proceeds from the day for the cause. MAC is currently saving up to paint the beacon.
"It's an ongoing restoration," said Rombado.
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