If you’re at all interested in lighthouses or lighthouse history you’ve probably heard of the Morris Island light. It was originally built before the Civil War (although that structure was destroyed by Confederate soldiers during the war to prevent Federal troops from using it), but was rebuilt in its current location late in the 19th century. You wouldn’t know it from this image, but there were a number of other buildings on the island (yes, there actually was an island out there), including a keeper’s house and a one room school. The light, of course, was a marker for the entrance to Charleston harbor.
The island, as you can see, is now gone. The only thing that remains is the light tower itself (minus its Fresnel lens). The tower itself would have been destroyed if a metal underwater barrier had not been constructed around it. The problem in this area is that the channel itself sometimes shifts; when it does, things like small islands begin to change. Or disappear. In this case, jetties were built to protect the channel into Charleston. The resulting shift in ocean currents caused Morris Island to disappear. The lighthouse was doomed.
You can still see it, though, from the end of Folly Beach, on federally controlled land. Not many people go out there, however. Except maybe for kids who go out to the isolated beach at night to party. Which brings me to our most recent visit to Morris Island and my little run-in with “federal authority”.
A visit to the end of Folly Beach to look at the Morris Island light tower is kind of a tradition with us. If the weather’s good, it’s a nice place to spend a quiet afternoon. As I said, it’s usually not very crowded (probably because parking is a bitch and then you have to walk about a half mile to actually get there). So out we went. My wife took a big towel, spread it out on the beach, and sat down to enjoy the sun and the sound of the surf. I just walked around, as I always do, to see what was what. And that’s when I got in trouble.
Off to my right I could see a wooden structure that appeared to be part of some kind of break-wall. It also ran perpendicular to a jetty that pointed straight out toward Morris Island. I figured it would be a good spot for a photograph – a near object that would lead someone’s eye to the lighthouse.
This is the structure I’m talking about. The lighthouse is directly off to the left. But as I’m standing here, deciding on where to take the picture from, I hear somebody yelling. I don’t know who they’re yelling at but the noise gets me to turn my head. The guy is pointing at me. “Get down from there!”, he yells.
Get down from where, I’m thinking. I’m like 2 feet off the ground.
“Get down!”, he yells again. “You’re not supposed to be up there!”
So I jump off, to the right. I don’t know what’s gotten up this guy’s butt but I figure if I get “down” that’ll be the end of it. Nope. He keeps walking toward me. And he ain’t happy.
When he gets to me he informs me that I’ve “wandered” into a protected area, that I’m supposed to stay on the beach. “i thought I was on the beach”, I said.
“No”, he says. “The beach is over there. This is protected. There’s a $500 fine for being over here. I could write you up”.
“Was there a sign or something?”, I ask. “I didn’t see any signs”.
“Lots of signs”, he says. “There are signs all over the area”.
“I didn’t see any”.
“Well, the damn kids steal them. I put them up and the kids steal them”.
“So there aren’t any signs”.
“There’s supposed to be signs”, he says. “But they get stolen”.
Silence from me.
Then he turns and walks away, back to his transportation, which turns out to be a small golf cart. And just sits there. I figure he’s deciding whether or not to “write me up”. My wife, who’s been watching this whole thing, agrees that it’s time to go. We didn’t need any $500 citations.
Strange. Weird, even. I even looked for signs on the way out. Didn’t see any. There were plenty of “signs” of the kids he was talking about – food wrappers, bottles, beer cans, etc. But no actual signs telling people where they could and could not go. No signs about $500 fines. No signs, period.
I thought of a question, though. If someone is taking the signs, what the hell are they doing with them?