The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses of Alaska, Hawai’i, and the U.S. Pacific Territories, by Elinor DeWire. Paradise Cay Publications, 204 pages, softcover, $19.95.
When it comes to lighthouses, most of the country’s attention focuses on the East Coast, particularly New England, where the density of lighthouses per square mile is greater than the population of fleas on a dog’s back. On the opposite end of the density scale, as well as the opposite side of the planet, are the lighthouses in Alaska, Hawaii, and the country’s island possessions. Though fewer and younger, these light stations have just as many interesting stories to tell, and prolific lighthouse historian Elinor DeWire has captured them perfectly in her new book, The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses in Alaska, Hawai’i, and the U.S. Pacific Territories.
DeWire’s 16th book is detailed enough to be a solid reference on the subject, while compact enough to help the casual traveler find and enjoy these sentinels. The lighthouses of the 49th and 50th state pose special problems for the visitor; many, if not most, are fairly remote, if not outright impossible to visit, unlike the urban lighthouses of the lower 48. And DeWire’s history of the lights on tiny islands such as Tinian and Howland (believed to be the final resting place of aviator Amelia Earhart), are a revelation. Until I read her book, I had no idea these lighthouses existed. And some, such as the lights on Guam, are as important to navigation as famous lights on the U.S. mainland.
DeWire rounds out her entertaining book with a tutorial on the history of buoys, silent, reliable, unsung guardians that have helped mariners since at least the 13th century. Today, the various types of floating markers, some of which gather information for weather and tsunami forecasts, make up 75 percent of America’s official aids to navigation, and the U.S. Coast Guard spends much of its resources on maintaining them. Though sea rescues are the most glamorous work performed by the Coast Guard, keeping these devices operating and in good condition is accomplished by a fleet of ships and an army of specialists. These men and women are heroes in their own right, and DeWire has done justice to their contribution.