The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge

Gery Deer with his original copy of The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

So what does a tiny, obsolete lighthouse at the foot of one of the largest bridges in New York City have to do with the Old Nerd in the Gym?

The 1942 children’s book, “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge,” by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward, was an inspiration in more ways than can be counted. First of all, I learned to read because of this book – and its accompanying record. My Mother had some gifted insight into how I learned so much by hearing and decided to pair it up with a visual method as well. Thus, the book and record set – which were a popular product from Scholastic in the early 1970s. But the story itself, one of determination, self-reliance, and perseverance was also something with which I seemed to identify.

“The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge,” is a simple story about a small, unassuming lighthouse on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City. As it is described in the children’s book, “It was round and fat and red. It was fat and red and jolly. And it was very, very proud.”

Although it now stands in North Washington Park, Manhattan, the lighthouse was originally built as the North Hook Beacon, in Sandy Hook, New Jersey to help minimize river accidents at Jeffrey’s Hook. In 1917, the lighthouse was shut down, but it wasn’t quite finished working yet. In 1921, it was moved to its current location and a battery-powered light and fog bell were installed, in an effort to improve navigational aides along the river. It was even tended by a part-time lighthouse keeper.

But, in 1927, work began on the George Washington Bridge, directly behind the lighthouse. By 1948 it was felt the bridge lighting far outshined any need for the small lighthouse on the river and its light was extinguished – seemingly forever. But an unprecedented public outcry to preserve the Little Red Lighthouse, thanks to the popularity of the children’s book, led the U.S. Coast Guard, which currently owned the lighthouse, to deed it to the New York Department of Parks and Recreation in July of 1951. Some 28 years later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and eventually designated a protected landmark of New York City.

Now, you might think that tying all this into “wellness” is a bit of a stretch, but not really. Think of it this way. We need inspiration. We need it to stay motivated, to feel relevant, to know which direction we should go when faced with a difficult decision.

We all suffer from issues of insecurity, not sure of our place in the world – as did the Little Red Lighthouse. It was so afraid that the massive structure beside it, with its loud warnings and bright lights, meant it was no longer needed, that it ignored its own importance. Just because we’re small, doesn’t mean we have no value.

When we feel like we no longer have relevance to our friends, family, employer, whatever, it can be devastating. Feelings like this can drive deep insecurity forcefully to the surface and sabotage even the most confident of people. And, outside the story, don’t forget the real-life efforts to save the lighthouse and keep it alive next to its “Big Brother” (something that also resonated with me when I was little – I have a big brother who was always very important to me).

Whatever the obstacle you may face, remember the courage of The Little Red Lighthouse, and do your best. Sometimes, it just takes that one spark of inspiration and effort to make all the difference.


gdeer Written by: