Why haven’t lighthouses faded into obsolescence like RACON and LORAN? Because everybody loves lighthouses, and Elinor DeWire shows us why — not just tells, but shows, with attractive full-color and archival photos on nearly every page, plus diagrams and historical lighthouse log entries. Elinor Dewire, who has researched and written guidebooks to every one of our nation’s historical lighthouses, writes compellingly about lighthouse ghosts, pets, gardens, and the devoted men and women who kept the lights burning and the steam engines turning to drive their huge foghorns. Many keepers were women, such as the amazing Emily Fish of the Point Pinos Lighthouse on the rocky Southern point of Monterey Bay. She not only scrubbed the inevitable mess of bird droppings from the windows surrounding the massive Fresnel lens, but was a beloved Monterey socialite who held tea gatherings at her lighthouse home and always dressed fashionably even when weeding her garden.

Then there were the brave seamen who manned the old lightships, like the Columbia off the Columbia River Bar in Oregon. The lightships were painted with red topsides and, while equipped with powerful anchors, they had wholly inadequate propulsion. When the Columbia broke free in a November storm in 1899 she was unable to maneuver, landed on the rocks at Cape Disappointment, and was given up for lost. But an enterprising house mover from Portland employed teams of horses and a railway to salvage her and eventually put her back into service.

Elinor’s look at the lighthouses of California, Oregon, and Washington takes you on a journey from San Diego to the San Juan Islands, but it is not a dry reference book like a Coast Pilot. It has the copious illustrations and graphics of a coffee-table book, telephone and contact numbers in a sidebar for each lighthouse like a tourist guidebook, and fascinating sections about lighthouse history and personalities that read like short stories. You can read it from cover to cover like a novel, then keep it for reference when you get a chance to visit one of the historic lighthouses — some of which are maintained by private non-profits, others by park agencies. Today they function as fully automated aids to navigation, but also serve as museums, bed-and-breakfasts, and hostels. Elinor DeWire’s book will inspire you to visit them!

The Dewire Guide to Lighthouses Of the Pacific Coast, 2nd Edition by Elinor Dewire (Paradis Cay Publications, 2010; 292 Pages)