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Love at the Lighthouse

It was a spectacular day in July 2007 when Debbie Goulden and Craig Scardaville tied the knot.

The Cape May Lighthouse has become a favored destination for many engagements and weddings. The weddings are held early in the morning before the Lighthouse officially opens to visitors. Only 15 guests are allowed because that’s all the room there is at the top. It’s wise to avoid wearing a long flowing gown when negotiating 199 steps. And weather could be a big problem.


The bride and groom are fascinated with lighthouses and intrigued by the lighthouse keeper lifestyle. Debbie, a nursing instructor in Baltimore, fashions her vacations around trips to lighthouses all around the U.S. and abroad. She tries to visit ten in a year and has toured 65. She collects lighthouse miniatures, books, pictures, and memorabilia. Her favorite lighthouse? Cape May, of course.

The couple met twelve years ago and fell in love, but life propelled them in different directions. Earlier this year their paths crossed again and said Craig, a teacher, “It was just the same as before – we were meant for each other.” He proposed to Debbie, down on his knee, at the top of the Cape May Lighthouse in April, presenting her with her favorite gem, an emerald.


“It was just by luck that we were able to arrange our wedding at the top of the Cape May Light on July 7, 2007,” said Debbie. “I am really not superstitious about it being a lucky day, but as luck would have it – the weather was lovely, the ceremony performed by West Cape May Mayor Pam Kaithern was just beautiful and we are a very lucky couple.” (The only bad luck of the day: They had dinner at the 2 Mile Inn Crab House Restaurant – part of which fell into the water that night. Luckily, they were on the safe side.)

In autumn of that year, the newlyweds were off to Michigan to visit the Great Lakes lighthouses. Next on the agenda was a trip to lighthouses in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.

Why the fascination with lighthouses? “I love the sea,” said Debbie, “and all the metaphors that go with lighthouses. Guiding light, port in the storm, and from the top, looking out at the sea, the realization of eternity, infinity.

“Sitting in gridlock on I-95 outside Baltimore,” she said, “I fantasize I am a lighthouse keeper. How sweet the isolation.” She mused: Time to read by firelight, fish the empty beaches, listen to the weather, write poetry, words reflecting sounds of the waves, shorebirds, the winds.

Not everyone climbs the 199 steps to heaven. On August 3, 2007, Nikolay Zhelyazkov wanted to find the perfect place to ask Macy Andrews to marry him. Flashback to two weeks before when the couple was planning their usual Sunday beach date.

Macy and Nikolay Zhelyazkova

“Niky,” recalls Macy, “Said, ‘Why don’t have a picnic at the Lighthouse?’” He organized everything from the champagne to the chocolate-covered cherries, plus the usual picnic goodies.

“He picked the perfect spot. It was just at sunset. We were facing the beach with the lighthouse behind us. No one was on the beach. He was acting very nervous and kept asking me if the seagulls would bother us. There were no seagulls. It was a perfect sunset and after we finished eating he pulled out a Tiffany’s ring box and handed it to me. I unwrapped it and saw a white gold ring with an aquamarine stone –later he told me he chose it because it matched my eyes.”

But he never really got around to the words. Instead, he asked, “You know what I mean, don’t you?” And Macy said, “Yes.” But then, she thought about it and said, “Well, what do you mean?”

“Will you marry me?” And that, as they say, was that. The couple sealed their wedding vows on May 18, 2008.

Cheers and good luck to the pharologists! That’s the word that describes people interested in lighthouses. The basis of the word is the famous Pharos of Alexandria, Eygpt, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is the first lighthouse recorded in history, built about 280 BC, and the tallest at 450 feet, equivalent to a 45- story skyscraper. An open fire on the top was used as the light source to guide ships.


In high season, the Cape May Lighthouse receives almost 1,000 visitors a day are drawn to the lighthouse to experience history, the daily steps of the keepers, the weather and the most spectacular views at the tip of New Jersey. Keeper David Yeager, whose granddaughter Jennifer Keeler recently became engaged to Keith Snyder (pictured right) at the top of the lighthouse, has been telling visitors stories and answering questions since 1989. Here’s a sampling.

Q: How long will it take me to climb to the top?
A: Maybe 7 minutes. There are six landings, five with windows which face a different compass point, along with historical information and pictures on what you are seeing.


Q: How many steps?
A: There are 217 steps from the ground to the top.199 steps make up the tower’s cast iron spiral staircase joined to form a vertebral column. The steps are called leaves, because they are shaped like leaves.

Q: What is that concrete thing on the beach?
A: Oh, that was a gun bunker erected in 1942 as part of the Army’s coastal defense system needed during World War Two due to German submarine activity offshore.


Q: Does the lighthouse still work?
A: Yes, it is a working lighthouse. The Coast Guard maintains the light and it is still used by fishermen and recreational sailors though large vessels now have technical equipment that pinpoints their locations preventing them from crashing on shore.

Q: How far does the light shine at night?
A: It can be seen for 24 miles out to sea, and flashes every 15 seconds. Its flash pattern is called its characteristic. Every lighthouse has its own light characteristic and paint scheme (called a daymark) so that ship captains can tell them apart.

Q: How many bricks in the lighthouse?
A: Rough estimate, about 400,000. The bricks are actually curved to create the tapering cylinder. The walls were designed to survive winds several times greater than hurricane force.


Q: Is this all original?
A: Yes, everything, but the light. The lantern was once fueled by whale oil and had a 30- second interval, but has been electric since 1933. Once automated, the flash pattern, or characteristic, is every 15 seconds as it is today. The Coast Guard operates the light as an active aid to navigation. An aerobeam light has replaced the Fresnel lens that was housed in the lantern.

Q: What is a Watch Room?
A: At the top, just below the lantern, is the room where the keepers stood their watches, four hours each shift. Their job to make sure the light burned bright, and never missed its flash. Keepers busied themselves trimming the wick, maintaining the oil level in the lamp, rewinding the clock.

Q: If this is the lighthouse, asks a child, where is the darkhouse?
A: Well, during World War II, the lighthouse and everything else lighted on the coast was blacked out so the enemy could not see targets or the coastline. You could call that a darkhouse.

If you are planning an engagement or wedding ceremony at the lighthouse, visit this page for more information.