Labor of love, storm-smashed mini lighthouse rises again
The miniature lighthouse Marcia and Mickey Baltz commissioned for their daughter on the Great South Bay in East Massapequa 39 years ago marked the way home for boaters after a long day of fishing or a visit to Fire Island.
Superstorm Sandy smashed it to pieces, and the revolving amber light was gone.
"The fact that it looked like a war zone was one thing, but the fact that I couldn't see the lighthouse broke my heart," Marcia Baltz said.
A replica went up in its place last week. The girl who used to play inside is now a woman, Stacey Baltz-Walker, 44. And she flies a flag from its roof in honor of her dad, who died in 2006.
The new version was built by carpentry students at W. Tresper Clarke High School in Westbury and Ray Malley, a builder who rehabbed the lighthouse after previous storms.
Building trades teacher Scott Stacey, 54, who helped construct the original lighthouse as a class project when he was a student at Clarke in 1973, when Mickey Baltz taught history there, supervised this time around.
The rebuild was a sign that "finally something's coming back to the community," he said. "Anybody that's on the water on the South Shore" knew the lighthouse.
The new one is 16 feet tall and octagonal, built of pressure-treated lumber with broad red and white horizontal stripes painted on its base, and a widow's walk on top. When it finally stood, there was relief.
Rob Walker, 46, Baltz-Walker's husband, recalled the demise of the original. "I . . . [saw] it get washed away," he said. "The waves took it and threw it off the dock. The floors were surging underneath me. I'm thinking, 'What am I going to tell my wife?' "
Ron Yarkin, 45, a dock builder and childhood friend of Baltz-Walker's who lent his barge and crane to move the new lighthouse into place, said: "We did a midnight tow. We were literally dragging. Everything's filled in now. There's iron chairs and tables in the canal."
The job was an easy sell with Stacey's students. Jonathan Hess, 18, said he enjoyed building anyway; seeing what the storm had "done to families and people," he said, gave the work purpose.
A couple of neighbors stopped by last week while Walker was tinkering with the lighthouse's revolving light. The lighthouse, which does not appear on nautical charts, was a landmark nonetheless, they said.
"We used to call at the beach for them to turn it on so we could find the way home," Christopher Duley, 51, said.
"You could see them heading for this, all the boats heading for the cut," his mother, Elaine Duley, 90, said.
But there was no triumphant cheer when Walker turned on the lighthouse light, because few neighbors were left.
Most of the homes next to Marcia Baltz's house are still empty. Yarkin's home, not far away, was badly damaged, as was Stacey's; and the home Baltz-Walker shared with her husband is slated for demolition.
"We don't have neighbors. We lost our neighborhood," Baltz-Walker said, and climbed up to sit on the widow's walk.