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New London County is proud of its rich seafaring history, which extends to the six local lighthouses that dot the vistas of New London Harbor, guiding ships safely into the Thames River. This summer, the Custom House Maritime Museum will offer lighthouse-loving landlubbers the unique chance to experience the iconic function of a lighthouse - its flashing light signal - from the water and at night.
"It's a whole different world to be out on the water (at night) and looking at the lighthouses when they're sending their signal," said Susan Tamulevich, executive director of the Custom House, which is offering lighthouse tours this summer.
Each lighthouse casts a unique light pattern, said Tamulevich. The tour will take visitors for closer views of the New London Harbor lighthouses, including Ledge Light, Avery Point Light, New London Harbor Light, and will offer more distant views of Race Rock Light, Little Gull Island Light and North Dumpling Island Light
From the water, visitors will be able to see New London Harbor Light's signal, which is one six-second flash of white light, as well as Ledge Light's sequence of one three-second flash of red light followed by three one-second flashes of white light. The lights from the other nearby lighthouses will also be visible, and can be see from as far as 18 miles away, said Tamulevich.
The nighttime tours will run the last two Saturdays in July and each Saturday in August, leaving New London at 9 p.m. for a 55-minute tour. On August 9 and 10, the night tours will be made even more luminous by the full moon, said Tamulevich. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for children ages 6-12 and can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com by searching for Custom House Maritime Museum.
In addition, the Custom House will be offering daytime boat tours. They will be held on Saturdays and Sundays, leaving from New London City Pier every hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Another summer tour will be trips to visit Ledge Light. Visitors can go inside the restored lighthouse, which now has a gallery, showcasing the construction of the lighthouse in 1909 and what it was like for lighthouse keepers to live there. One room features a video about life at Ledge Light, which was made by National Geographic filmmaker Todd Gipstein. Visitors can also walk around the outside of the building and climb up to the lantern.
One room in the gallery also will be dedicated to the fabled Ledge Light ghost known as "Ernie." Legend has it that Ernie was a former keeper of the lighthouse in the 1930s who, when he found out his wife ran away with a ferry captain, jumped from lighthouse to his death and has haunted the place ever since.
"(He) is a part of the cultural history of the place," said Tamulevich, who added that Race Rock is also rumored to be haunted.
Another eerie tour the Custom House is offering is a trip to Plum Island, the government-owned island that is home to a USDA animal disease testing facility. The tour was offered last summer and sold out almost immediately said Tamlevich, so three tours will be offered this summer. Those interested are encouraged to purchase tickets as soon as possible because a full federal background check for each visitor must be completed at least 30 days before the tour, the first of which is on Friday, July 25. Visitors will not be allowed to bring cell phones or cameras. Plum Island tours will leave from Old Saybrook.
In addition to admission to the tours, ticket purchasers will also be able to enjoy free admission to the Custom House Maritime Museum and discounts at participating downtown hotels and restaurants.
"We want to give people reasons to come down and stay in New London for more than just a boat trip," said Tamulevich.
More information is available at www.nlmaritimesociety.org or by calling (860) 447-2501.