Lighthouse has dozens of willing keepers

Staten Island landmark draws interest of lovers, veterans, executives

April 15, 2001|By Edward Wong | Edward Wong,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Everybody wants a lighthouse these days.

At least that's the way it seemed to Joseph N. Esposito. Fifteen strangers had called him in the week after he said he no longer wanted to be responsible for the upkeep of the automated Staten Island Lighthouse.

Some spoke coyly. Others pleaded outright. But the question was always the same: How can I get the key to the Staten Island Lighthouse?

For the last decade Esposito, 62, of Staten Island, has volunteered to mow its lawn, change its bulb and wipe its glass lens. His love of lighthouses was not dimming, he said, just his heart. It gave him problems. The lantern room was 231 feet above sea level, and climbing the 113 steps to the light was for younger folk.

"But you have to have a background," he said. "You can't just walk in there and take over a lighthouse."

Coast Guard dilemma

The U.S. Coast Guard, which owns the building, has also fielded dozens of calls, from all over the metropolitan area. They were from former Coast Guard servicemen, corporate executives, and lovers who thought the lighthouse was the best thing since scented roses.

"The senior chief said there are so many people wanting to volunteer, we might get ourselves in trouble," said Jim McGranachan, a Coast Guard spokesman. "How are we going to pick somebody?"

Krista Crommett knew. She thought that the key should go to someone who had dreamed of lighthouses in his youth. Maybe he liked solitude. Maybe he was a songwriter. Maybe he was from Ireland and named Declan Collins and happened to be engaged to Crommett.

`A great birthday gift'

"I thought this would be a great birthday gift," said Crommett, 28, of Queens. "I thought, how crazy to give him a card where he could open it and then the key from the lighthouse falls out."

Paul Pierro said he called because the lighthouse reminded him of his childhood on Staten Island. He saw it every day from his school bus. His Boy Scout troop hiked nearby. His father had a 20-foot pleasure boat from which the young Pierro fished the harbor and learned port from starboard.

Now it takes Pierro, an investment consultant for Citibank, all of 35 minutes to drive to the lighthouse from his home in Middletown, N.J. But don't hold that against him.

"I think I can handle it, yeah, sure," Pierro, 30, said. "Like anything in life, if you have a passion for it, you'll learn to do it. I have basic mechanical skills. I put an engine in my car."

In the end, though, the Coast Guard decided that its own officers should take care of the lighthouse from now on, as they had before Esposito came along.

But Esposito still has his key. He wants to hand it over in person. It is the only memento he has of those years when he stood on the widow's walk at the lighthouse and stared out at lightning storms and fishing trawlers and sunsets.

"Nobody was forcing you to take care of it," he said. "You were doing it out of love."

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