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Nov 18, 2008 6:39 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Montauk Lighthouse being decorated for holidays

Nov 18, 2008 6:39 AM

As the sunset blazed crimson and lavender in the west on Monday afternoon, Miguel Cerano crawled carefully along a narrow iron catwalk, a string of decorative Christmas lights in one hand, a clutch of zip-ties, to hold them in place, in the other, and a heavy safety cord clasped around his waist.

Nearly 200 feet below his precarious perch, thundering ocean swells crashed into the jagged rocks that protect the bluff at the foot of the Montauk Lighthouse. Mr. Cerano was unfazed by the height as he peered over the edge of the catwalk to where his boss, Chris Lane of Looks Great Services, was holding the other end of the string of lights, pointing to where it should be fastened.

For the first time in its 215-year history, Long Island’s most recognizable landmark will be illuminated this holiday season by something other than the single light that marks its navigation signature. The two-million candle-power light that once guided ships has been replaced by a much smaller, dimmer bulb as modern electronics have rendered it unimportant for navigation. But this holiday season, the measly strobe will be joined by even smaller lights—3,000 of them, in fact—outlining the tower and the neighboring Montauk Historical Society museum, once the lighthouse keeper’s residence.

“The excitement of thinking about how terrific this is going to look is wonderful,” Eleanor Ehrhardt, a member of the historical society’s decoration planning team, said this week. “There won’t be too much garland,” she joked.

The decorative lights on the lighthouse will be lit for the first time on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 29. The ceremony, from 4 to 7 p.m., will be one part of a celebration to be thrown by the historical society, which owns the lighthouse. It will include music, snacks and hot cider and a “surprise” visit from Santa Claus. Admission is free and parking at the lighthouse parking lot will be free for the event. The historical society has asked Montauk School fourth-graders to compete in an essay contest to determine who will get to push the button to light the lights.

Looks Great Services, a Huntington-based tree trimming company for most of the year that specializes decorative lighting displays during the holidays, had its crew on Monday wrapping strings of lights around the 18-foot-tall iron light chamber at the top of the lighthouse. Mr. Lane’s crew crafted a special harness of cables and light strings to fit over the chamber.

“It’s not an easy task,” said Kenneth Bliss, the project manager for Looks Great Services. “The museum building is easy, that’s just like a house, but when it comes to the tower, that’s going to be a little more interesting because we can’t screw or anchor anything into the structure itself.”

To secure the lights, the company is running cables around the cap of the light chamber and the catwalk that surrounds it and anchoring them to the ground, 110 feet below. When installed, the lights will follow the vertical lines of the lighthouse tower’s octagonal shape and the horizontal stripe, known as the daymark, that belts the tower’s midsection. All the lights are energy efficient LED bulbs, Mr. Bliss said.

The lighthouse is 110 feet tall. By comparison, the tree erected in Manhattan’s famed Rockefeller Center this year is 72 feet tall. Ms. Ehrhardt declined to say what the cost of the decoration project is.

“We don’t want it to appear in any way that we’re looking for money for this,” she said. “This is our Christmas gift to the community.”

Mr. Bliss said his company has decorated some enormous private houses that required more lights than this project but the lighthouse tower is by far the tallest structure they have tackled.

“Luckily, we’ve got some brave guys who are willing to climb around at the very top,” he said. “This is a good challenge for our guys, something a little different. We’re just hoping the people from the Empire State Building don’t call us next year.”

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By www.JoannCorretti.com, Mattituck on Nov 21, 09 11:42 AM