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By Connie Leinbach
John Simpson looks forward to decorating the Ocracoke lighthouse with Christmas wreaths each year.
The activity connects him to the iconic structure through his grandfather, Joseph Merritt Burrus, who was the second to last light keeper and the last one to serve under the U.S. Lighthouse Service, according to “Ocracoke Island Journal,” a blog by islander Philip Howard on the Village Craftsmen website.
Simpson, who was born in 1960 and a graduate of Ocracoke School, remembers his dad, Lawrence O. Simpson Jr., talking about how “Pops” Burrus would turn on the lighthouse each night during his tenure from 1929 to 1946.
“They made the lighthouse electric while he was working it,” he said. That was in 1929 when electricity replaced kerosene oil to fuel the beacon.
On Sunday (Dec. 10), Simpson was honored to do his part for the former family business and hoisted two large wreaths to the top of the 75-foot lighthouse and secured them.
“One faces the street and one faces the harbor,” Simpson said.
The Ocracoke Civic and Business Association provides the wreaths as well as garlands to decorate other community buildings, such as the Community Center. Chester Lynn, another islander who supplies island events with flowers through his Annabelle’s Flowers business on Back Road, supplied the large red bows.
When he returned to Ocracoke in 2013 after being away for many years, he sought the task of Christmas wreath installer.
“It was one of my main objectives after returning home,” he said after completing his task. “It’s quite a thing to keep the tradition going. How many lighthouses on the Outer Banks do you see with wreaths on them?”
The lighthouse is under the oversight of the National Park Service, and while visitors in the summer may look inside the tower when volunteers are present to monitor it, the condition of the spiral staircase prevents the general public climbing to the top.
“The metal spiral staircase, although sturdy and sound, is supported, not only by a central pillar, but also by horizontal steel rods anchored into the almost-two-century-old brick walls,” Howard’s blog says. “Vibrations from hundreds of people climbing the stairs would surely weaken the connections and hasten damage to the historic structure.”
Clyde Farrow was Ocracoke’s last lighthouse keeper from 1946-1954, after the Lighthouse Service was merged with the U.S. Coast Guard.
To read more about the Ocracoke lighthouse, see Howard’s blog here.