Having travelled up to Massachusetts via the edges of New York City and Connecticut, we decided – for several reasons – to change up our route back. Thus, on Day 4 of our three-generational vacation, we headed to New London, Connecticut, to catch the ferry to Long Island. This was actually replicating the same journey Mr Pict and I had made almost exactly thirteen years earlier as we concluded our road trip with a meander back to JFK airport. Having been ushered onto an earlier ferry than the one we had booked for, we arrived on Long Island in early afternoon. Our chosen destination for the afternoon was Montauk Point. It was chosen by my boys and me. Mr Pict and my parents just went along with it. The boys wanted to go there because they are fans of the Percy Jackson series of novels by Rick Riordan and Montauk Point is the setting for a pivotal moment in establishing the central concept of the series. Slight spoiler alert here but said scene also features a minotaur. My kids love minotaurs. So that is why Montauk was on their “must see” list. As for me, I love American lighthouses. I actually recognised a good few years ago that I could easily become obsessed with lighthouses, visiting, collecting, photographing them, and add that to my long list of nerdy passions. However, I am successfully resisting the temptation of becoming a lighthouse geek and instead maintain a normal relationship with them. However, when my kids suggested Montauk, I was in full agreement with them because of the presence of the lighthouse. All things in moderation.
As I have confided before, in advance of any vacation, I construct a spreadsheet that outlines the pertinent details for all of the places we might possibly visit as part of our travels. For one holiday, in Rome, I even constructed a colour coordinated map and key. I had, therefore, undertaken quite a lot of research for this trip. Montauk Lighthouse, however, was my first ever failing as a travel researcher. Apparently I had misunderstood the rules regarding access to the site: I had thought that the lighthouse could be accessed for free and that there was a fee only for entering the museum and ascending the tower; the reality was, however, that we had to pay the entry fee to even get to the base of the lighthouse building. Sigh. Fee paid, we entered the site.
Though perhaps not the most picturesque American lighthouse I have ever seen, Montauk Point Light is nevertheless one of the most historically significant. Set as it is at the easternmost point in the state, it was New York’s first lighthouse and one of the oldest active lighthouses in the country. Construction of the lighthouse was authorised by George Washington in 1792, when America was still in its infancy. It was also the first ever public works project in America. Of course, it now little resembles the original lighthouse since height has been added to the tower and other additions and modifications made. It also ceased to be manned by civilian keepers when the Second World War led to it coming under the responsibility first of the Navy and then of the Coastguard.
We began our visit with the ascent up the 137 iron stairs to see the actual light. For someone who has vertigo and a moderate case of claustrophobia, this ascent presented quite the challenge. As per instructions, whenever we encountered someone descending, we had to step to the right and let them pass. As you will know, the right hand side of a spiral staircase is the thin end of the wedge. Thus, we had to balance our weight on our tip toes and pads of our feet. I don’t know about anyone else but I also had my fingers locked onto the tread of the steps and my right arm wrapped around the central stair column. I am not entirely sure why I pushed myself to do it since it was a foggy day which precluded me obtaining any decent photographic views from the top. Once inside the platform area, we were instructed to climb another short flight of steps in order to view the actual lamp. Once upon a time, this had been a lamp burning whale oil but it had gone through several evolutions since then and the boys were amazed to learn just how small the lightbulb is that generates the light nowadays.
Views not seen, we rapidly descended and were back on solid ground. My parents and I decided to have a quick look in the museum while Mr Pict supervised the boys playing outdoors. The museum was like travelling through a time warp. One end had probably not been updated since my childhood, with labels generated by an old ribbon typewriter and a mannequin representing one of the lighthouse keepers. However, the rooms in the other section of the museum were completely contemporary and well-designed. As well as displays outlining the history of the lighthouse and its various keepers, there were also displays about the local tribes, the Montaukett and the Naragansetts. There was also information about the slave ship ‘Amistad’, an episode in history that was symbolic to the Abolitionist movement. The ‘Amistad’ connection was because the fugitive slaves who had taken control of the ship made landfall at Montauk, having been deceived into thinking they had reached the African shore. There, they were discovered by a US Revenue and Customs ship and were taken into custody. This then precipitated the celebrated trial which concluded with the deliberation that the slaves should be set free and returned to their homeland. Since I am never one to not mention a Family History connection even in passing, I shall add the detail that John Quincy Adams represented the slaves when their case came before the Supreme Court. Both the Adams Presidents and Mr Pict and our sons are all descended from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of ‘The Mayflower’ which makes them distant cousins.
The boys needed some time to wander, roam and be generally feral so we headed down to the shore beneath the lighthouse. There they scrambled around among the rocks, searching in rock pools for sea-dwelling beasties, held crabs and studied interesting rocks. My oldest, who is Minecraft obsessed, set himself the challenge of finding rocks that resembled all of the different rocks that feature in the Minecraft universe.
Long Island is a difficult place to find dinner on a budget. As we traveled from Montauk Point towards our hotel, we stopped off several times in search of some nosh. There were dining options galore but nothing that represented good value, even among the ones we could enter with four grubby kids. Eventually we plumped for a diner which appeared like manna in the wilderness on the roadside and devoured the food we ordered as if we were wolves after a lean winter. Finally replete, it was just a short journey to our hotel. Our beds for the evening were in a Ramada. We had adjoining rooms with a door between them which was ideal for the kids who could wander between grandparents and parents until bedtime. The mattress was much too firm for my liking but at least there was no fire alarm to contend with.