The Double Keeper’s Quarters is part of the Ocracoke Light Station complex, all of which will be celebrated at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 18. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Patty Huston-Holm

The Ocracoke Light Station will have an added tone – or tune – when marking its 200th anniversary May 18. 

Singer-songwriter Bett Padgett will debut her song about the Ocracoke Lighthouse at 1 p.m. on May 18.

More precisely, the lighthouse itself will have its own song revealed and performed by the author, Bett Padgett, who also is president of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society.

Among the speeches and birthday cake from 1 to 2 p.m. that day, and in view of the 75-foot historic light house, Padgett’s composition titled “Two Hundred Years of Light” will be heard. 

Padgett, who hails from Raleigh, counts her new Ocracoke song among 20 lighthouse tunes within the few hundred songs she has written and performed over the years.

She recently discussed lighthouses and creativity on What’s Happening on Ocracoke, the news/cultural show on WOVV, Ocracoke’s community radio station.

Her musical inspiration in subjects ranges from “keeping dogs off the bed” to “seeing a mother with Alzheimer’s.”

Her most notable is “If a Lighthouse Could Speak,” written in 1998 about the Hatteras lighthouse.

With guitar accompaniment and occasional foghorn sirens, she weaves the story of this 1869 structure that guides sailors “through the squall” along the North Carolina shore.

In 1979, Padgett first saw the Ocracoke Light Station situated on its two acres overlooking Silver Lake Harbor. 

It was this impression and others she gathered over the last four decades that informed her melody (to be unveiled on May 18) and words of the island’s 1823 monument.

A sneak peek of some content, used by permission, is shared here:
“…It’s more than a light, more than a beacon,
It was tended by keepers we’ll always remember.
Harker and Farrow, Austin and Burrus – more than I can name,
Kept it safe through war times, through floods and plunder,
Ocracoke lighthouse survived again and again…”

The four lighthouse keepers referenced in the song are Anson Harker (1824-1846), Leon Wesley Austin (1912-1929), Joseph Merritt Burrus (1929-1946) and Clyde Farrow (1946-1954). 

These are among a dozen men responsible for tending and caring for Ocracoke’s light and lens in the days when oil lamps and clockwork mechanisms were used. 

For the first 20 of its 200 years, there was both light and sound. Now, there is only light.

Ocracoke Lighthouse. Photo: P. Vankevich

Padgett, a teacher and artist, sees lighthouses not only for their purpose of guiding ships to shore but for their expansive history and the people and things surrounding them in the past and present.

“Not only do lighthouses have stories to tell but the people around them have stories,” she said.

The tales are many for the two-century-old Ocracoke Light, which is the oldest, continuously working lighthouse in North Carolina and the second oldest of 800 lighthouses in the nation.

The Boston, Mass., Little Brewster Island lighthouse, which started in 1716, is the oldest in the United States.

Padgett, who came to Ocracoke for a few days in late April with the group she chairs, said she is honored to return and be part of the anniversary celebration on the lighthouse grounds.

Visitors can view the bottom inside of the lighthouse but cannot climb the aging spiral staircase. 

“I remember the days when some would climb the lighthouse and go out a hatch if you didn’t get stuck,” Padgett said.

A free express tram from the stop at the ferry dock will run to and from the lighthouse from 11:45 am until 3 p.m.

For those unable to attend the event, it will be livestreamed on Facebook by Outer Banks Forever, the Seashore’s official philanthropic partner.

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