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Posted by jonny ( on March 19, 2001 at 16:31:41:

Modern Marvels' illuminates history, beauty of lighthouses
Television review/by Joel Brown
Monday, March 19, 2001

``Modern Marvels: Lighthouses,'' History Channel, tonight at 10.

Boston and Cohasset shine big and bright tonight as the History Channel's ``Modern Marvels'' series takes a look at lighthouses.

Boston Light on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor and the Minot's Ledge Lighthouse off Cohasset are the focus of much of the hour, which examines both the enigmatic beauty of lighthouses and the engineering feats involved in building them.

There are also segments on the Cape Cod lightships and Edward Rowe Snow's well-known Santa flights to lighthouse keepers.

The show returns to 280 B.C. to examine early lighthouses, explains how they're built on seemingly waterlogged sites and details how current lighthouse lamps work. You'll learn lighthouse lingo such as ``illuminants'' and ``characteristic.''

But the show is most compelling when it describes how lighthouses' ``greatest achievement may be their haunting beauty.''

It asks you to consider that beam of light, that beacon, ``out there in a quiet area with the lap of the waves and the caw of the gulls,'' or standing strong (usually) against the awesome power of ocean storms. Footage alternately lovely and gale-force helps make the point.

``Their fundamental symbolism is so evocative it sometimes overshadows the structures themselves,'' the show says.

Boston Light is the last manned lighthouse of 800 still standing in the United States; the rest have been automated or closed. The show examines that legacy and then moves on to Cohasset, giving the history of lighthouse construction on Minot's Ledge and sharing the story of the light there now, with its 1-4-3 characteristic, widely believed to be flashing ``I love you.''

Corny, yes.

But it will fuel your sentiment for the section on lighthouse restoration and the challenge of moving the Hatteras Light from a spot endangered by erosion.

The great strength of ``Modern Marvels: Lighthouses'' is the way it connects the sentinel function of lighthouses, their inherent strength, to a past that could be lost if it's not properly illuminated.

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