~ article ~
By Erik Neely
In choosing a symbol to illuminate the new millennium, Charleston picked an icon from deep into the past one.
The Morris Island Lighthouse, built in 1876, began to be built in miniature Saturday.
The model will be taken from James Island to Francis Marion Square for First Night celebration on New Year's Eve.
"I think it's fitting that lighting the new millennium should go back into our past," said Richard Beck, the President of Save The Light Inc.
The scale-model lighthouse will stand about one-tenth the height of the 160-foot Morris Island structure. Its two stories were built and covered with chicken wire Saturday.
The James Island Fire Department will top it with a flashing, rotating light, and art classes form Fort Johnson Middle School will cover it with paper-mache and paint it.
"For my students it's really a chance to be part of the larger community," art teacher Kit Loney said.
She said her class needed donations of hundreds of brown paper bags to complete the paper-mache.
Organizers are suggesting that people write wishes for the new millennium on the bags they donate.
The bags will be included in the lighthouse, though the writting will be painted over by the students.
The Morris Island Lighthouse used to mark the entrance to Charleston Harbor, which is now about two miles away.
The original lighthouse on the island was 102 feet tall and was built in 1767.
Union troops stole its lantern and lens and it was demolished during the Civil war.
When the current lighthouse was built during the Victorian Age, some of the original bricks were used in construction.
In 1962, the Morris Island Lighthouse was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Devotees say it hasn't lost any of its shine.
"It's the most visible sign of our maritime history," said Save the Light's Rob Turkewitz.
Loney said most of her students are familiar with the lighthouse, and even know about its recent rescue from eventual destruction.
Steady erosion of Morris Island combated unsuccessfully for about 50 years, put the lighthouse in danger.
In April, Save the Light purchased the Morris Island Lighthouse for $75,000.
The state pledged $500,000 of an estimated $3 million to salvage the structure.
To Beck, the symbol of First Night is appropriate.
"We hope the millennium will mean a new light for the lighthouse as well as for the world," he said.