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The Gay Head Light, Martha's Vineyard by Ella Derbyshire

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About This Gigapan

Taken by
Ella Derbyshire Ella Derbyshire
Explore score
Print Pricing
$7.00 to $940.00
0.13 Gigapixels
Date added
May 28, 2011
Date taken
May 14, 2011

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

architectural, environmental, geology, landscape

The Gay Head Light, which is also called the Aquinnah Light, has been guarding Vineyard Sound and the southern route to Boston Harbor for over 200 years.

The original 47-foot octagonal wooden tower and light sat atop these cliffs from 1799 to 1856, when this 51-foot conical brick tower was built to house a new first-order Fresnel lens. In 1952 the Fresnel lens was replaced with an electric light, a Carslisle & Finch DCB-224 aero beacon, which flashes red and white, alternating every fifteen seconds. Boats at sea can spot this beacon from 20 nautical miles away.

A navigational light was placed here because there is an underwater ledge, called Devil’s Bridge, extending out to sea from the Aquinnah Cliffs. The shoal is treacherous and has been responsible for many shipwrecks, including the destruction of the side-paddle steamer City of Columbus which sank here in 1884 while it was on its way from Boston to Savannah. With over 100 lives lost, the wreck of the City of Columbus is one of New England’s worst maritime disasters.

The name Gay Head originated from the gaily colored clay cliffs that are seen rising up hundreds of feet above the sea when approaching Martha’s Vineyard from the west. The land around the light, including the cliffs and the beach below, belongs to the Wampanoag Tribe, and the cliffs play an important part in Wampanoag tradition. In 1998, the nearby town of Gay Head was renamed Aquinnah to reflect the heritage of the Wampanoag people. With the renaming of the town, the light is now also known as the Aquinnah Light.

These colorful cliffs are fragile. No one is allowed to climb them or to touch the clay. The waves pounding the shore have eroded the cliffs, and during rough seas the nearby ocean turns red. You can see signs of erosion on the cliffs and on the beach below.

Martha’s Vineyard Museum maintains the Gay Head Light. This lighthouse is open to the public with tours available during specified times from mid-June to mid-September. You can see the original Gay Head Fresnel lens and its clockwork mechanism displayed year round at Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Edgartown.

The 16 images of this panorama were photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and stitched with Autopano Giga.

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