- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

LITTLE BREWSTER ISLAND, Mass. (AP) — Joseph Cocking and Nicholus Johnston are repairmen working high above Boston Harbor, fixing the lens of the first lighthouse in North America.

Their workplace is a tiny space 89 feet up with dizzying prisms and heat that can reach over 100 degrees. “It’s not glorious or glamorous, but it’s necessary,” said Mr. Cocking, 53, of Orange Park, Fla.

Boston Light is the only remaining U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse in the country that employs a full-time staff. But this is the first time in nearly 150 years its lens is undergoing repair.

During the two weeks that Mr. Cocking and Mr. Johnston are spending inside the 12-foot-in-diameter lens room, the two are replacing decaying putty that holds 336 curved prisms in a bronze structure.

They first had to level the pedestal that supports the 1,500-pound lens, and then glue, file and polish chipped prisms. Many of the prisms have been damaged by years of keepers, who once had to carry buckets of kerosene oil or whale oil to ignite the lighthouse’s lamp. Today, the lamp is powered by 1,000-watt quartz light bulbs.

From inside the 7-by-6-foot lens, bright light shines through the prisms to create a brilliant, yet dizzying kaleidoscopic view of the Boston Harbor and neighboring islands. When magnified by the prisms, strong sunlight can become dangerously hot.

“I’m up there and I’m the ant,” joked Mr. Johnston, 44, of China Grove, N.C.

Built in 1716, Boston Light became the first lighthouse in North America. In 1859, a lantern room housing a 12-sided, revolving glass lens was installed at the top of the structure.

Mr. Cocking and Mr. Johnston, two of just a half-dozen lighthouse lens restoration specialists in the nation, met each other while working in the Coast Guard. They decided in 1990 to try their hand at fixing lighthouse lenses for the first time in St. Augustine, Fla., where a teenage boy shot a rifle at the lens four years earlier.

They spent more than four years researching lighthouse lenses and called countless glass manufacturers to find replacement prisms.

“You take your time and you learn how things come apart,” Mr. Cocking said.

Since that job, the two have retired from the Coast Guard and devoted the past 16 years to full-time lighthouse lens restoration, repairing more than 100 lenses.

Mr. Cocking and Mr. Johnston feel lucky to have found their dream job. The two say their calling requires extreme patience, mechanical ability and a passion for history.

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