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BATH — A lighthouse lens that first guided ships past Cape Elizabeth and into Portland Harbor in the late 19th century will have a new home next year at the Maine Maritime Museum.
The 243 Washington St. museum broke ground Monday on an expansion that will house the 600-square-foot exhibit, Marketing and Communications Manager Katie Meyers said.
Since 2013, the dismantled lens has been stored in crates in the museum’s climate-controlled collections storage area, where it will stay until it can be installed next spring, Meyers said.
The exhibit, called “Into the Lantern: A Lighthouse Experience,” is due to open June 17, 2017. A capital campaign by the Museum to raise the $980,000 required for design, construction, and installation of the space is nearly 80 percent complete.
The Fresnel lens was made around 1874 in Paris, France, and operated in the east Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse tower at Two Lights until 1991.
The showcase “will be the first exhibit of its kind to include a 180-degree media projection system with time-lapse videography of the active panorama of the Gulf of Maine, simulating the experience of standing in the lantern (the room at the top of a lighthouse tower) by showcasing changing views of Casco Bay as seen from the tower,” the museum said in a Dec. 8 press release.
Since the exhibit will be on one level, people physically unable to climb the steps of a real tower will still experience the feeling of going up into a lighthouse, seeing views from the top, and the sounds and breezes of the sea.
“Imagine standing at the top of the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse and watching the view changing over 24 hours – from sunrise to sunset with boat traffic going by, the wind blowing, and the seagulls calling,” museum Executive Director Amy Lent said in the press release. “We want to replicate that experience for all the people who know and love this famous lighthouse, but will never otherwise be able to appreciate it in that way.”
Before arriving at the museum, the lens was displayed in the Cape Elizabeth Town Hall lobby for 18 years. It was due three years ago to be returned to the U.S. Coast Guard, and sent to a U.S. government warehouse in Boston after Cape Elizabeth decided it could no longer afford to keep it.
Soon after the town council voted in April 2013 to return the lens, Coast Guard Curator Arlyn Danielson – who had recently helped the Bath museum install its Coast Guard exhibit – asked the Bath institution if it might adopt the lens.
“We were very interested,” Senior Curator Nathan Lipfert said at the time.
“Maine has more lighthouses than any other coastal state. Pieces of these lights, like the Cape Elizabeth lens, are important technological artifacts, which are difficult and (expensive) to preserve,” Lipfert continued. “They are crucial to helping us understand the technology and economics of maritime trade in earlier centuries. They have become cultural artifacts as well, and many people are interested in them.”
An 1870s Fresnel lighthouse lens, which operated in a Two Lights tower in Cape Elizabeth until 1999, will be featured in a new exhibit area at Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.