Lookout!

Did you ever pass something on the road and think to yourself,”Hey, that looks cool. I should check it out.” And drive right past. And then drive by it again and say,”Hmm. Oh, right! I meant to check that place out! Looks cool!” And then drive right past again. And do it again… and again… and again? Well, I’m as guilty of that as anyone else. A month ago, I finally toured the USS Olympia and the USS Becuna at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia after years of seeing them from the highway. Today, I ventured to a really cool, little-known location in Cape May, New Jersey that I have lost track of the number of times I have driven by: the WWII Lookout Tower.

Friday after work, I yet again headed down to the southern Jersey shore, taking Route 55 to Route 47. Once I was away from the Philadelphia rush hour, the traffic was surprisingly light- I barely touched the brake pedal, which is saying something for a Friday evening. Saturday morning I went for an early run on the beach. During the off-season, the Jersey Shore is inhabited only by locals, as all the tourists stay far away. Running on the beach in the summer involve dodging people like you are an NFL wide receiver trying to evade tacklers. During the off-season, you will more likely than not have the entire beach to yourself, as I did this morning. For all 3 miles of my run, I did not see another soul.

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Leaving the Philadelphia metropolitan region on a Friday involves traffic. Lots of traffic.
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You know it’s the off-season when your morning run involves seeing more seagulls (8) than humans (0).
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At low tide I stopped by Sunset Beach to check out the remains of the SS Atlantus, the concrete ship. Part of the bow was visible, in addition to the hulk of the midsection.

Around noon, I headed to Cape May Point, an independent municipality on the most southwestern tip of the Cape May peninsula. Here sits the WWII Lookout Tower, which is operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, an organization that also runs the Cape May Lighthouse and the Emlen Physick Estate. Formally known as Fire Control Tower Number 23, the building was built to help aim the coastal defense artillery that was placed along both the New Jersey and Delaware beaches during the Second World War. Designed to protect shipping from German attacks as vessels entered and exited the Delaware Bay, the tower operated from 1942 until 1945.

Visits cost $6 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-12, and $3 for active service personnel and veterans, and the tour is self-guided. You climb a steel staircase to the top (there is no provision for an elevator). The steel staircase is a nod to modern convenience- the original path to the top was a ladder. At the top, Dave, a retired WWII veteran who is now a guide for the tower, gave me a detailed explanation of the site’s design and function. He answered all of my questions, and even showed me a few neat things that most visitors tend to overlook.

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Parking nearby, the tower in the distance.
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Approaching the tower. A handicapped accessible ramp carries you over the sand dunes.
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After purchasing my ticket, I was confronted with climbing an metal staircase all the way to the top. Did I mention I have a fear of heights? Gulp.
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About 3/4 of the way up the tower is the Dayroom, which would have been used by personnel for breaks during their shifts.
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Going higher and higher. If  you squint, you can see DH in the parking lot across the street.
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On another landing is a display of pictures of current Cape May residents who are WWII veterans.
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View from the top. If you look at the water, you can see the SS Atlantus right off the beach.
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The tower was originally equipped with two azimuths, telescope-like devices which helped triangulate artillery fire. The docent told me that many visitors overlook it, and he encouraged me to give it a try. I managed to snap a photo through it with my phone. I have it sighted on the SS Atlantus wreck.
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In the US, we think of WWII as something that happened far away… Europe, Asia… even the attack on Pearl Harbor was distant from the mainland. This map, though, shows German submarine attacks on US shipping during WWII. There was good reason for towers such as this one to be built.
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Heading down… you can see ALL the way down. Why do I do this to myself? Why? Well… for you, dear readers.

After the visit, I drove over to Cape May Point State Park, the location of the Cape May lighthouse. Nearby on the beach sits a large, concrete bunker. There are no signs on the beach to explain the structure, but with the help of Dave from the Lookout Tower, I learned quite a bit about it. It was actually a gun emplacement, built during the Second World War to rain fire upon any advancing enemy ships. Equipped with two 6″ guns (since removed), the large bunker was for ammunition storage. Too large to easily demolish (the walls are 7 feet thick), and too unstable to allow visitors, the building sits unused, an interesting location to visit.

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The WWII Artillery Bunker. Two 6″ gun turrets sat on either side of the main bunker, trained out to sea.
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I’m a fairly adventurous person, but the “DANGER KEEP OFF” signs all over the structure made me think twice about becoming an explorer. I kept my distance.
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The Cape May Lighthouse is nearby. I’m in decent shape physically, but after running on the beach this morning, climbing to the top of the lookout tower, and then hiking across sand dunes to get to the bunker… by the time I took this shot, I just wanted a nap.

Before heading home, I made one last stop: the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, which is detailed in this post. The ticket I purchased today at the WWII Lookout Tower also included a visit to the museum (a special for today only, apparently). The exhibits change at the aviation museum every few months, so I stopped by to quickly check it out.

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Such a cool place to visit. This is my fourth time visiting this museum. The exhibits change periodically, which keeps things interesting.
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It’s no longer in service, but I still hero-worship the F-14 Tomcat.
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An F-16B Falcon. This picture reminds me of something from a Michael Bay movie.
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A Soviet MiG-15. Amidst all the American air power, this is the lone foreign jet.
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Workhorse of the Vietnam War, and seen in almost every single Vietnam movie: The Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. Most people know it as the “Huey.”
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Something new: an Enigma machine. This coding/decoding machine was designed to keep communication secret between Nazi Germany and its submarines. US and UK cryptologists who broke the Enigma code, allowing the Allies to read German communications, are credited with helping to win the war.
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A German V2 rocket. The first long-range ballistic missile, these were used as terror weapons, fired at cities such as London and Antwerp. Later, the design became the basis of the Soviet “Scud” missile, which was so prominent in Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 war between the US and Iraq.
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DH, chilling out while I check out the museum.
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The aggressive looks of the car fit right in with the fighter jets inside the museum. And my radio and climate controls have as many buttons as a fighter jet, too.
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70,471 miles! DH just keeps rolling, trouble-free.

On this Veterans’ Day weekend, I hope you enjoyed this tour of several historical military sites at the Jersey Shore.I am constantly amazed by the amount of new locations you can find at the shore, a place I have been visiting since I was a child. Thanks for coming along on another journey, and I hope to have some more interesting spots to share in the coming months.

‘Til next time.

 

3 thoughts on “Lookout!

  1. You are hitting up some great historical sights! I enjoyed the pics from the top of the tower, except for the one looking directly downward in the staircase. YIKES! Haha. Also, it’s hard to believe the beach was so empty during your visit!

    Liked by 1 person

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