Solving the Mystery of the “Lost Light”

In 2002, filmmaker and author, Kevin Duffus, solved the long-standing mystery of the missing, first-order Fresnel lens from the 1803 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, lost for 140 years. The French-manufactured lens, considered to be “a national treasure,” was one of the first commissioned for a U.S. lighthouse and was displayed at a world's fair in New York City in 1853. Seven years later, Confederate officials secretly removed the 6,000-pound, 12-foot tall, bronze and glass optic from the historic Cape Hatteras tower to prevent it from aiding the enemy. In its wake, the lens left a trail of destruction, defiance and recrimination—careers were lost, towns were threatened, and the steamboat that transported the apparatus was captured and sunk. “A good storehouse,” in Granville County, NC, was the last known location of the lens. According to Lighthouse Digest magazine, its fate remained “one of the great-unsolved mysteries of American lighthouse history.” Duffus discovered more than the storied Hatteras lens—he compiled a staggering volume of research that for the first time accurately portrays the fate of the South’s lighthouses during the Civil War. He tells an inspiring tale of perseverance, passion, imagination and luck and weaves a fascinating story that reaches back into his own family history when his great-great grandfather participated in the defense of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse against Confederate saboteurs. Duffus illustrates his story with copies of documents and research methods that helped to solve the mystery.

digital projector, screen