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Civil War Rebels kept lighthouse dark for years

Last week we began marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s “Battle of Jupiter Lighthouse” in August 1861. Confederate loyalists wanted to darken the light, which was helping the Union enforce its blockade.

On Aug. 23, assistant lighthouse keeper August Lang, backed by other Confederate loyalists, and told him the mechanism needed to be taken down.

Papy, a grandson of immigrants from the Mediterranean island of Minorca, was loyal to his federal paycheck. He said no. Lang insisted. Papy relented.

It’s important to know that lighthouse lights weren’t then, and aren’t now, a simple matter of screwing in a bulb. They’re sophisticated mechanisms with parts that had to come a long way in an era before things were delivered overnight. Think months.

For Rebels, destroying the light mechanism was out of the question. So they hid it. It was recovered after the war and the lighthouse was reactivated June 28, 1866.

It had a brief failure during the great 1928 hurricane and some electrical problems in the late 1980s. Except for that, it’s sent its beam sweeping 18 miles across the dark seas ever since.

As for Lang, he eventually enlisted in the Confederate army in January 1862. But he deserted a year and a half later. In 1866, two settlers from what’s now Miami found him living in what’s today Palm Beach.

Lang moved around 1867 to the North Fork of the St. Lucie River, where he worked with plants and raised hogs and cows.

He later married the 15-year-old daughter of the only other family in the area. But two months before his only child was born, three men showed up, asking him to take them up the river to find their runaway horses. Once they rounded the bend, they shot Lang dead. His body never was found.

One of the killers was shot. The other two confessed to stuffing Lang’s corpse in an alligator crawl. The three had planned to use Lang’s cleared property for their cattle.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg August 18, 2011 at 10:39 am.

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Jupiter Lighthouse designed by general

In January, in the Post’s Accent section, we told you we were beginning a stretch of marking the 150th anniversaries of various Civil War events in Florida.

During the next two weeks, we’ll revisit the Battle of the Jupiter Lighthouse (pdf), which took place in August 1861.

OK, it wasn’t much of a battle, but it was the only thing approaching one anywhere in southeast Florida, then populated by dozens. Most of them lived around the lighthouse.

Construction had taken six years, mostly because of fear of attacks by Seminoles, But the lighthouse started up on July 10, 1860, shining 18 miles out to sea.

Its designer: Gen. George Meade, Later, he would gain fame by leading troops at a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.

The light’s mission: to guide mariners over treacherous shallows of Florida’s lower east coast.

Its complication: the Civil War.

Within six months, Florida had left the United States. Depending on where your politics lay, the 108-foot-tall tower either was surrounded by rebellious American citizens or stood on the soil of a separate and sovereign nation.

It was of interest to the blockade runners. They were Confederate mariners who ran commerce, supplies and arms from the Bahamas and points beyond.

The runners were familiar with the nuances of the coast, and the ever-changing Jupiter Inlet. They didn’t need the light, but they knew the Union blockaders did.

Enter Augustus Oswald Lang (pictured above). The Palm Beach Inlet, or Lake Worth Inlet, was first called Lang’s Inlet. He’d dug a trench toward the beach in the 1860s that lowered the lake to sea level.

We know the 30-year old German immigrant had moved from Fort Pierce, perhaps to avoid being drafted into the Confederate army. But he now considered himself a proud citizen of the Confederate States of America — and he was the assistant lighthouse keeper. On Aug. 23, 1861, Lang, backed by other Confederate loyalists, went to his boss, J.F. Papy, and said the mechanism needed to come down.

Next Week: Battle of Jupiter Lighthouse, Part II.

Seeking help: We’re looking for info about Camp Higgins and its location. It’s believed to have been at or near Peanut Island. Can you help?


The Jupiter Lighthouse, shown in 1879, began operating on July 10, 1861, 10 months before the start of the Civil War. Confederate loyalists wanted the light shut off to thwart Union blockaders. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg August 11, 2011 at 9:51 am.

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German immigrant may have been Palm Beach County’s first resident

Question: Who was the first resident of what’s now Palm Beach County?

Answer: The leading candidate is a mysterious hermit named Augustus Oswald Lang. We know the German immigrant was here as early as the 1860s, having moved from Fort Pierce, perhaps to avoid being drafted into the Confederate army.

Palm Beach Inlet, also called Lake Worth Inlet, was originally named Lang’s Inlet. He’d dug a narrow trench through the beach ridge in the early 1860s that lowered the lake to sea level.

Lang then got a job as assistant keeper of the Jupiter Lighthouse.

On Aug. 15, 1861, the 30-year old, backed by other Confederate loyalists, ordered his boss, J.F. Papy, to surrender the lighting mechanism to the house, built in 1860 on what was then Confederate soil.

The idea was to stymie Union ships pursuing blockade runners, who already knew the coast.

Papy, loyal to his federal paycheck and his mission to keep boaters safe, said no, but was finally pressured into relinquishing the light mechanism.

Because it was so valuable, Lang and his cohorts didn’t destroy it; they just hid it. On June 28, 1866, the lighthouse was relighted, and except for hurricanes and a brief electrical problem in the late 1980s, it didn’t go dark again until a 1999 renovation.

Lang eventually enlisted in the Confederate army in January 1862 but deserted a year and a half later. In 1866, two settlers from what’s now Miami found him living in what’s today Palm Beach.

Lang moved around 1867 to the North Fork of the St. Lucie River, where he worked with plants and raised hogs and cows.

He later married the 15-year-old daughter of the only other family in the area. But two months before his only child was born, three men showed up, asking him to take them up the river to find their runaway horses. Once they rounded the bend, they shot Lang dead. His body never was found.

One of the killers later was shot. The other two confessed to stuffing his corpse in an alligator crawl. He said the three had planned to use Lang’s cleared property for their cattle.

Update: Our Aug. 12 column on Pearl City prompted West Palm Beach real estate broker Linda Cullen to plan a visit. But she couldn’t find the roads on a map. Boca Raton Historical Society archivist Sue Gillis to the rescue: Sapphire is Northeast 10th Street. Ruby is Northeast 11th Street. Pearl is Northeast 12th Street east of Dixie Highway and west of Federal Highway. Thanks, Sue. Linda reports the streets show both names.

Sources: Palm Beach Post archives and James D. Snyder’s “A Light in the Wilderness.”

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Augustus Oswald Lang (Image courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Jupiter Lighthouse circa 1879. Lang, worked at the lighthouse during the Civil War. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg August 26, 2010 at 8:49 am.

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This week in history: Jupiter Lighthouse relighted

The Jupiter Lighthouse was deactivated during the Civil War to allow Confederate blockade runners to slip though the inlet undetected by Union patrols. On June 28, 1866, the lighthouse was relighted, and save for hurricanes and a brief electrical problem in the late 1980s, it didn’t go dark again until the 1999 renovation.

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Steamer passing in front of the Jupiter Lighthouse in 1894. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Flashback blog June 28, 2010 at 6:00 am.

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Butterfly Ballot Doesn’t Crack Area’s Top 10

This is our 500th column since Post Time began Jan. 19, 2000.

Special thanks go to recently retired Managing Editor Bill Rose, who had the idea, and Neighborhood Post editor Tom Peeling, who’s shepherded all 500 columns, along with all the copy editors who caught my mistakes.

But we couldn’t do it without your interest. Keep the questions coming! To honor the moment, we’re running an updated version of a list we compiled in 1999 of the 25 top events. Several state and local historians volunteered to rank them. The list was revised with help from Bill McGoun, retired Post editorial writer and author of Southeast Florida Pioneers.

Here’s 25 through 11:

25. Dairy industry bought out, 1980s-1990s.

24. Scandals send three county commissioners and two West Palm Beach commissioners and alleged accomplices to prison.

23. Proposed U.S. Sugar deal would restore sugar fields to Everglades (2009).

22. Downtown revitalized, 1980s-2000s.

21. 1980s spark increased growth.

20. Interstate 95 missing link completed through region, 1987.

19. Florida Atlantic University founded, 1964.

18. Civil War, 1861-65; Jupiter Lighthouse darkened to help blockade runners.

17. Battles of Okeechobee, Jupiter help push Seminoles into Everglades, 1837-38.

16. Region struggles through integration woes, late 1960s-early ’70s.

15. Refugees from Latin America and Caribbean change region’s demographics, 1960s-90s.

14. Jonathan Dickinson chronicles Indian groups now extinct, 1696.

13. Anthrax attack starts in Boca Raton; local aspects of Sept. 11.

12. IBM, Pratt & Whitney and others bring high-tech industry to Florida, 1950s-’60s.

11. 2000 election and Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot change presidential election.

Palm Beach Post file photo: Visitors examine some of the super engines built by Pratt & Whitney in northern Palm Beach County during an open house in 1978. Pratt and IBM, which was in southern Palm Beach County, brought the high-tech industry to Florida in the 1950s-’60s and provided thousands of jobs.”

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg August 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm.

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