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Keeping the Flame Alight with the Last of the Lampists

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Jim Woodward is a lampist. A what, you ask? A lampist’s main job is to keep the enormous, delicate glass lenses of lighthouse lights in tip-top shape so that ships at sea stay safe. But over the years, glass lenses have fallen out of vogue. Now, most of the notable lighthouse lenses in the United States are beset with plastic LED lights. But Woodward, one of the country’s last lampists, soldiers on. We joined him at Point Reyes National Seashore, where one of the great glass lenses is still in place, lighting the way for sailors at sea.

Travel to California with Great Big Story to meet the last of the lampists. The lampist profession started around 1850. In 2014, Woodward was one of three U.S. Coast Guard lampists left.

Related reading: Fresnel lighthouse lenses. According to The Martha’s Vineyard Times in 2016, only nine ‘first order’ Fresnel lenses are still in use in the United States.

Related videos: Life as a lighthouse keeper – They Are The Last, Changing shifts at le Phare de KΓ©rΓ©on (an amazing video), and 1953: Preserving and operating a wimmenumermolen polder mill.

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