Jackson County

Round Island Lighthouse to be Pascagoula's icon

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDA setting sun turns the clouds different colors behind the Round Island Lighthouse in Pascagoula, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDA setting sun turns the clouds different colors behind the Round Island Lighthouse in Pascagoula, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. SUN HERALD

PASCAGOULA -- At 4:49 p.m. Friday, Pascagoula turned on the lantern at the top of the Round Island Lighthouse, the city's new icon.

It's part of the city's identity. People are expected to come from all around the U.S. to see it.

The Coast Convention and Visitor's Bureau is creating a virtual tour of it.

It will be open for the public to tour on Fridays and Saturdays.

But more than that, it represents a much needed tie between Pascagoula's past and its future.

"Children and grandchildren need to be reminded of and grounded in the past," Judge Robert Krebs said. "The lighthouse is a sense of who we are."

Carmann McGee, 7, stood first in line to walk up in it when the speeches were done and the line had formed.

"I just love lighthouses," she said. "I hope they let me go all the way to the light."

Donna Reiter, 82, was not far behind her in line.

"I want to see the view from up there," Reiter said. "I bet I can see forever."

The 157-year-old structure took $1.49 million in state, federal, city, county and private contributions to rebuild. The base was brought from storage to the foot of the U.S. 90 high-rise bridge in 2010, where it stands now. In 2005, Katrina had toppled it for the last time on Round Island.

During the speeches and ribbon cutting, it was called "a place of refuge" and nostalgia for so many.

Local historian Chris Wiggins said, "They did a great job."

Everyone in the audience of 150 had their own thoughts about the structure. Some had personal tales.

Jerry Lennep, now in his 70s, climbed the lighthouse when he was 16. It was on the island, but had no steps in the interior or ladder to the lantern house on top.

But he did it. He held onto the center pole that ran from the bottom to the top inside and by putting his feet in the brackets on the wall that used to hold the steps, he was able to walk up the interior wall in a spiral pattern.

He made it the 50 feet to the top, and a rope to the lantern room where the ladder used to be. He used that to pull himself into the lantern room.

To show he did it, he hung a cloth diaper from the top, like a flag. That was 1959.

He never told his father, Lennep said, because soon after he made the climb, his dad came home from a trip on the water and remarked about what some crazy person had done -- hung a diaper from the top of the Round Island Lighthouse.

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