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 Moloka`i (Kalaupapa), HI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.A hike of some distance required.
Description: The long northern shore of Moloka`i is lined by sea cliffs that rise 1,700 feet above the ocean, making them the highest in the world. Extending out from roughly the center of the northern shore is the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Kalaupapa means 'flat leaf' and is an accurate description of the peninsula that was formed by a low volcano, which broke the surface of the water long after the rest of Moloka`i was formed. The peninsula is an isolated place, surrounded by the ocean on three sides and the sheer cliffs on the south.

Leprosy was first diagnosed in the Hawaiian Islands in 1835, and, like many diseases, was introduced by foreigners. In 1865, King Kamehameha V signed into law an act to prevent the spread of leprosy. The law banished all people who had contracted the disease to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. The first shipment of patients, consisting of nine men and three women, was made in January of 1866. Some captains transporting patients to the settlement were so afraid of the disease that they simply dumped the afflicted into the bay, forcing them to swim to the peninsula. Father Damien (Joseph de Veuster) arrived at the settlement in 1873 and dedicated the remainder of his life to the exiled people. He built a church and housing for the settlement, improved the water supply, bandaged oozing sores, and buried the dead. In 1885, Father Damien was officially diagnosed with leprosy and died at the settlement on April 15, 1889, at the age of 49. Over the years, roughly 8,000 people were relocated to the peninsula to die.

Moloka`i Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
In 1902, a report presented to Congress emphasized the need for a primary seacoast light on the northern shore of Moloka`i.

The great bulk of the Pacific coast commerce passes through the channel between the islands of Oahu and Molokai. Many hundred vessels now pass annually through this channel, and the number is rapidly increasing, and there are, with the single exception of the light-house at Diamond Head, no light-houses whatever on the exposed points of either of these islands.
The northern tip of the Kalaupapa Peninsula was considered the ideal spot for the lighthouse, but lawmakers were reluctant to place the light near the leprosy settlement.

After repeated denials for the funding of a major light on the peninsula, the Lighthouse Board opted to construct an inexpensive temporary light at the point. A fixed, red lens-lantern, placed atop a 34-foot mast, went into service on March 1, 1906. The temporary light functioned for one year before Congressional funds were secured for a permanent lighthouse.

A year after the temporary beacon commenced operation, Congress finally appropriated $60,000 for a permanent lighthouse on the peninsula. Construction on the new light station began in June of 1908 and lasted one year. As the Board of Health controlled access to the peninsula, all personnel working on the lighthouse were required to obtain permits to enter or leave the area, just like any other visitor to the settlement. The 132-foot octagonal tower, Hawai`i's tallest, was constructed of concrete. The stairs leading up to and including the fourth landing were also of concrete, while the remainder of the staircase up to the lantern room was of cast iron. As the tower neared completion, one worker fell from its top and was killed.

A second-order Fresnel lens was manufactured by Chance Brothers and Company in England and delivered to Honolulu in November of 1908. The lens was originally intended for the Makapu`u Light, but then a larger lens was ordered for Makapu`u and the second-order lens was sent to Moloka`i. The clamshell lens, which weighed over three tons, floated in a vat of mercury. The lens was revolved via clockwork powered by a suspended weight and produced a flash every twenty seconds. James Keanu, the keeper of the temporary light, ascended the 189 stairs in the new lighthouse on the evening of September 1, 1909 and lit the oil vapor lamp for the first time.

Keeper's dwelling and Moloka`i Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
Three one-and-a-half story keepers' dwellings, each with a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms, were built near the tower. One of the original dwellings was built using dark volcanic rock found on the site, while the other two were built of concrete. Once the station was fully staffed, two separate, isolated colonies existed on the peninsula. Visitors and the keepers and their families all required special passes to enter and leave the station.

Earthquakes occasionally shook the station, including one that occurred while Ed Marques was on duty on January 22, 1938. Marques later recalled the affect of the earthquake on the tower.

The mercury sloshed out all over and soon there was not enough mercury in the vat to support the weight of the lens and it stopped revolving. A supply of mercury was stored in cylinders on the floor below, and we carried two, hundred pound containers up the stairs and emptied them into the vat until the lens could revolve again. The next day, when we could see, we gathered the spilled mercury by sweeping it, a little at a time, into dustpans, then we poured it through cheesecloth into containers. When it settled out clean and still it looked like polished silver and we could see the refection of our faces in it.
Thanks to the quick reaction of Marques and the other keepers after the spill, the light was only out for fifteen minutes.

In 1934, the Moloka`i Light Station received its own electrical generating plant, which consisted of three two-kilowatt generators, and by the following year the lighthouse and dwellings had been wired for electricity.

By the first of August 1966, the Moloka`i Lighthouse no longer required nightly attention, and the last keepers departed. During an inspection of the tower made in January of 1985, mercury was found to be leaking from the vat beneath the lens. With the now common knowledge of the dangers of working with mercury, it was decided to replace the entire illuminating apparatus with a rotating beacon. Accordingly, the twenty-six sections of the second-order lens were removed, one by one. Each 264-pound section of the lens was then wrapped in two old mattresses and attached to a cable. The other end of the cable was attached to an old truck, which would slowly back up towards the tower, thus lowering the protected lens section to the ground.

The lens was transported to Maui where it was reassembled for display by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Roman and Arabic numerals are stamped on the sections of the lens, and the lens was easily put back together by connecting A to A, 1 to 1, etc. Originally, the disassembling of the lens was going to be captured on video to aid the reassembling, but when the inscribed aids were discovered, this was found to be unnecessary.

The remaining members of the leprosy settlement were saddened to see the lens leave the peninsula. They were fond of walking to the tip of the peninsula and watching the revolving beams of light. One of the simple joys of their lives had been taken away. Richard Marks summed up the feelings of the Kalaupapa residents in an interview with the Maui News.

They talk about the Statue of Liberty, well, this light was the first thing that hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Hawaii saw when they came here. Everyone of our people…can remember this light looking over us. ... Nobody gives a damn about the people here. … Maui is going to set up a building and put money into it. How willing are they going to be to give it back? … Times change. People change. Maybe the next guy won't want to give it up. … That light has been very special to the people here. … It has been here longer than any living person has. You could always look out and see it sweeping across the cliff. … It is the Kalaupapa Light.

In response to the united cry of the people of Kalaupapa, the lens was dismantled and shipped back to the peninsula. The National Park Service currently has the lens in storage and plans to place it in a future museum, which will interpret the Kalaupapa settlement.

The Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement National Landmark District, which includes the Moloka`i Lighthouse, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January of 1976. In 1980, President Carter signed Public Law 96-565, establishing Kalaupapa National Historic Park. The lighthouse received its own entry on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the Moloka`i Lighthouse was made available for free to eligible government entities and non-profit organizations, and was officially awarded to the National Park Service.

Head Keepers: James M. Keanu (1909 – 1926), Manuel Ferreira (1927 – 1929), James M. Keanu (1929 – 1932), Fredrick E. Nihoa (1932 – 1936), James M. Keanu (1937 – 1939), Fred E. Robins, Sr. (1940 – 1953).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4

References

  1. The Lighthouses of Hawai`i, Love Dean, 1986.
  2. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
  3. Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii, Friary, 2000.

Location: Located adjacent to the airport at the tip of the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the northern shore of Molokai.
Latitude: 21.20961
Longitude: -156.96969

For a larger map of Moloka`i (Kalaupapa) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: The Kalaupapa Peninsula can be reached via foot, mule or airplane. Mule rides are available from Molokai Mule Ride. Air service to the peninsula can be arranged through Molokai Outdoor Activities. No matter how you reach the peninsula, you must by law be signed up for a tour of Kalaupapa National Historic Park that are offered Monday through Saturday. If you take the mule ride adventure, a tour with Damien Tours is part of the package. Otherwise, you can arrange for a tour by calling Damien Tours directly at (808) 567-6171. The best public view of the Moloka`i Lighthouse is from the airport, but unless you arrive by plane your tour might not include the airport.

The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service and is part of Kalaupapa National Historic Park. Grounds closed, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Moloka`i (Kalaupapa) Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
We decided to fly to the Kalaupapa Peninsula since the airport is adjacent to the lighthouse, and we would be guaranteed a view of the lighthouse. Before we were scheduled to meet Damien Tours, we had been given permission to walk up to the lighthouse, which was undergoing restoration at the time. Our tour with Richard Marks, who has leprosy and is the third generation of his family to call Kalaupapa home, was a memorable experience. We made stops to see the settlement's band of wild pigs, a makeshift museum adjacent to the Catholic Church, a memorial to Father Damien, two intertwined trees, and a small bookstore, before stopping for lunch at Kalawao, site of the first leprosy settlement. The coast at Kalawao is striking, and we were told it was included in the filming of Jurassic Park III. Following lunch, we visited St. Philomena Church, better known as Father Damien's Church, where we were treated to an oral history of the life of Father Damien. Damien's gravesite is adjacent to the church, though his body was exhumed and returned to Belgium in 1936. For a history of the settlement you can rent the video, "Molokai: The Story of Father Damien," which includes a cameo appearance by Richard Marks.

Spending time on the peninsula is a moving experience, and one can't help but feel sympathy for the many patients who lived out their lives in non-ideal circumstances. Robert Louis Stevenson poignantly described the residents of the settlement: "They were strangers to each other, collected by common calamity, disfigured, mortally sick, banished without sin from home and friends."

Marilyn writes:
In order to visit the light a tour of the leper colony is required. It is an interesting history and the island has a wonderful wildness to it with so much unspoiled beauty. Just make sure to take extra drinks and snacks in addition to lunch. Our airport experience at the settlement left us wondering if we would be spending the night in the leper colony with the delay in the return flight to pick us up. One of the highlights was breaking open a coconut while waiting for our plane. Tough task, but very fun to experience and to eat!

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.