BUXTON, N.C. -- The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that has guided ships off the treacherous coast since the 1800s has gone dark.
The original mechanical works that turned the beacon so that it would flash 25 miles or more over the sea quit working likely during the first snowstorm in January.
The old parts are no longer available and must be machined by a company in Cincinnati, Ohio, said Coast Guard spokesman Nathan Cox.
"It's almost like replacing a part on one of the most rare cars in the world," he said. "They're not available off the shelf."
The Coast Guard maintains the light, the prism-like lens and the machinery that keeps the beacon turning, while the lighthouse itself belongs to the National Park Service.
The light still works but will not turn, said Boone Vandzura, chief ranger for Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a part of the park service. The Coast Guard turned it off until the repairs could be made soon. In all, the light will have been out for about a month, he said.
It is one of the longest periods the light has been out in its history, Vandzura said. The brick structure was moved in June 1999 away from an encroaching ocean to its present location over a three-week period, according to an account by the Park Service. The online history says it began operating again in November 1999, a five-month outage, according to the account.
While ships these days use GPS systems, the light still serves as a landmark for the Cape Hatteras coast known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
The lighthouse stands more than 200 feet tall and attracts about 100,000 visitors from around the world who climb it each year. The current tower was built in 1870 with the prism-like Fresnel lens fueled by kerosene.
In the 1930s, the light became powered by electricity. It shines about 25 miles out to sea and flashes every 7.5 seconds, an identifying sequence unique to the lighthouse. The black and white stripes also serve as a landmark on land and offshore.
While the light is out, the Coast Guard is sending a radio message two times a day to alert mariners that it is off, Cox said.
"That lighthouse is very unique," he said.
This article is written by Jeff Hampton from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.