Editor’s Note: The last time a lighthouse was moved on the Vineyard it was the Cape Pogue Light. What follows is an account of that move, reprinted from the Vineyard Gazette, Jan. 16, 1987.

Another chapter in the long history of the Cape Pogue Light ended this week when the lighthouse was moved by helicopter 500 feet back from the precipitous edge of a ragged and eroding cliff. The lighthouse, which stands at the extreme northeastern tip of Chappaquiddick, is nearly a century old.

Dangling beneath a giant Army sky crane helicopter, guy wires flying like kite strings, for a brief moment the historic shingled lighthouse evoked memories of Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz as it sailed through the air. In the end all went without a hitch and the lighthouse was laid to rest on the center of its new foundation. Well, almost on center.

Historic shingled lighthouse sailed through the air and was laid to rest on new foundation. — Alison Shaw

It all began early Monday afternoon. After two and a half years of planning, and weeks of logistical problems and weather delays, the Coast Guard and the Army National Guard sky crane helicopter were ready to go. The Sikorsky sky crane flew up Monday morning from Muir Army Air Field outside of Harrisburg, Pa., carrying three pilots and two technicians. They were met by Coast Guardsmen, including a battery of engineers and members of the Aids to Navigational Team (ANT) out of Woods Hole. A handful of hardy onlookers, including several Chappaquiddick residents, the superintendent for the Trustees of Reservations, three schoolchildren and three members of the press, traveled in Jeeps and four-wheel-drive trucks — four miles across the windswept barrier beach — to watch and record history in the making.

It was quite a sight.

The day was windy and cold, with slate-gray clouds moving quickly across a glinting January sun. The military-green sky crane landed in the coarse beach grass and rosa rugosa, just south of the lighthouse.

The sky crane weighs 32,000 pounds and resembles a giant wasp. It is completely without a belly. Engines and a tangle of electrical devices are perched on top of the helicopter, which can be piloted from the front, middle, or rear. In the center of where the belly should be is a large metal hook. The hook is attached to 100 feet of cable inside the helicopter. The helicopter can lift a maximum weight of 20,000 pounds. Because it was close to the limit at 19,000 pounds, the Cape Pogue Light was moved in two parts.

First the lantern, which weighs 5,000 pounds, was removed from the top of the lighthouse. The helicopter picked the lantern off and laid it gently on the grass. Then it flew back to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport to refuel.

The helicopter carries 1,300 gallons of fuel, which it consumes in about two and a half hours of normal flight times, at a rate of almost nine gallons a minute. But lifting causes fuel consumption to rise dramatically.

At about 3 p.m. the sky crane returned to Cape Pogue and landed again. Pilots and chiefs consulted at length with Coast Guard officials, who worked busily on last minute preparations for the big lift.

Inside the lighthouse, which was stripped of all its interior plaster, a web of steel cable was held at the center by a large metal ring. Each cable was bolted to a sill of the lighthouse. Another piece of steel cable was attached to the ring and threaded out the opening at the top of the lighthouse. The cable hung down one side of the lighthouse, with another steel ring at its end, near the ground. This ring would be connected by hand to the hook on the sky crane.

Coast Guard engineers cut the bolts on the guy wires surrounding the lighthouse. The foundation bolts were also cut, although one proved stubborn, and the 14,000-pound tower was ready to move.

Lantern and base of the lighthouse were moved in shifts. — Alison Shaw

The one stubborn foundation bolt caused some problems, and for the first few moments after the cable was connected, the sky crane hovered and strained while the lighthouse shuddered and shook. But the sky crane was destined to be the winner in this contest of strength; the bolt would not give in, but the foundation block did. The lighthouse was slowly lifted off the ground, one pile of mortared bricks still attached to the underside.

The lighthouse swayed gently beneath the huge helicopter as it was carried to its new foundation. At one point the lighthouse swung in the direction of a small group of onlookers. Coast Guard ANT workers and engineers scurried about beneath the airborne lighthouse, grabbing the guy wires when they came within reach, helping to wrestle the old tower onto its new bed of cement footings and pressure-treated lumber. Two men on the ground directed the giant helicopter with rapid hand signals.

Finally, it was put down. The sky crane flew off once more for refueling, and then returned in the gathering dusk to pick up the lantern and gently, gingerly, place it atop the lighthouse.

And then it was over. The sky crane left and Coast Guardsmen worked around the foundation to secure new guy wires. Others worked to reconnect the batteries for the light. By nightfall the Cape Pogue Light flashed its warning beacon to mariners as it has for the last 94 years.

“I was scared,” said Bill Yadisernia, a civil engineer for the Coast Guard First District in Boston. Mr. Yadisernia was project engineer for the Cape Pogue Light project. It was his idea to move the lighthouse by helicopter, a job never done before this week. “We’ve moved lantern houses, but this was the first lighthouse to be moved by helicopter,” Mr. Yadisernia said.

Checking the foundation, Mr. Yadisernia expressed some dismay that the lighthouse is not perfectly centered. He said there is no danger in this; the foundation was built to allow for some error. But it was clear that the engineer in Mr. Yadisernia wanted the lighthouse to be perfectly on center. “It’s all right,” he said, checking the space once more with his hands.

“Moving it by air made the most sense. We considered moving it by land; that is how it was done the last time. But there is no level ground out here any more. We would have torn the land up a lot if we had moved it that way, and would have had to widen the road a lot. It was an environmental problem.”

On the day of the move, the Cape Pogue Light stood just 13 feet from the edge of a steep, ragged bluff overlooking Nantucket Sound.

It is one of only three wooden lighthouses in New England — Brant Point on Nantucket and the Plymouth Light are the other two. The Cape Pogue Light has flashed its warning beacon to mariners since 1893 — always from the same tower, though not always from the same spot. The tip of Cape Pogue is constantly assaulted by sea, which eats away large chunks of the high bluff each year.

In 1960 the tower was moved back 150 feet.

In the spring of 1984 a heavy gale tore away 10 feet of the bluff in front of the lighthouse. Robert Fountain, superintendent for the Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts conservancy which owns some 489 acres of Cape Pogue, measured 24 feet between the edge of the cliff and the first anchor for the lighthouse. That year the Coast Guard began plans to move the light.

But there were problems.

When the lighthouse was moved in 1960 the United States Government owned four acres of land around the lighthouse. As the Coast Guard prepared to move the lighthouse in 1984, it found that erosion had claimed most of its land.

Arrangements were made to lease land from the Trustees. The next two years were spent preparing surveys and arranging logistics for the move, which involved the Coast Guard, the Army and a subcontractor to make a new foundation.

The Cape Pogue Light has a rich history, dating back to the early 19th century. Congress authorized $2,000 to build the first lighthouse and a dwelling at Cape Pogue on January 30, 1801. It was the Vineyard’s second lighthouse, built about two years after the Gay Head Light had begun to operate.

The first keeper was Matthew Mayhew. He made $200 a year. In 1825 the government authorized the moving of the lighthouse after Keeper Mayhew wrote to the state superintendent of lighthouses, expressing fear that his dwelling was in danger of falling down the cliff.

The ocean continued to claim Cape Pogue. In 1879 the government recorded the fact that four acres it had purchased in 1801, and four more bought in 1825, had all washed away. By 1893 a new tower was authorized. It was called a temporary tower, and was built 40 feet inland from the old one. This is the tower which stands today at Cape Pogue.

Today the Cape Pogue Light has no keeper, and the light, which was first lit with sperm oil and later kerosene, has been automated since 1943.

The Coast Guard plans to refurbish the lighthouse completely this spring. Don Fillman, petty officer with the Aids to Navigation Team in Woods Hole, said: “Essentially it will be rebuilt. We will strip the singles off, cover it with new plywood and new cedar shakes. It will be painted, and all rotted wood will be replaced.”

Senior Chief Terry Cramer for the District Aids to Navigation Team in Boston, said the Coast Guard will publish the new position for the lighthouse. “We have already posted a notice to mariners,” he said. “Now we must send out the survey team. Once the site is surveyed, the new position of the light will be posted; notice will be sent to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and it will be put on all the charts.”

Standing at Cape Pogue late Monday afternoon, Senior Chief Cramer looked up at the old wooden lighthouse and said: “We’re very glad that it’s done.”