An enchanting array of more than 1000 colorful lanterns transformed the Crooked River Lighthouse Park into a magical venue last weekend.


The old maritime landmark celebrates its 1895 birthday at this event, with a lantern for every year of its age. The aerial view from the top of the tower was well worth the climb.

Activities started off with three craft experts, presenting skills that would be very valuable to know if one was ever lost in the Florida wilderness. Ken Horne of Tallahassee displayed amazingly strong ropes and nets, patiently hand- twisted from bear grass, palm fibers, as well as animal skins and sinew. Sopchoppy thatcher Nelson Martin demonstrated the process of creating a woven palm roof for a shelter. Mary Bower of Satsuma wove wisteria into useful gathering baskets, as well as intricate vessels made from coiled pine needles.

Two very talented musicians, Ralph "Master Chief" Peltier and Rick Ott set a happy tone for strolling around the park. Artistic fish- shaped lanterns that were created at the workshop on Friday were hung from the trees, and Two Al's Restaurant served some tasty gumbo, jerked chicken and the best local burger around.

The entertainment drew a good crowd of around 300 folks. The talented Tallahassee Community College Dance Company, which has fallen in love with Carrabelle, gave their second annual performance designed specifically to cause everyone watching to say: "Wow!" Dressed totally in black and using brilliant spheres, rods and glowing gloves they created dancing arcs of vivid color with precision movement and fantastic music. Can't wait to see what they'll add to it next year!

In keeping with the "survivors" theme, the original one-act play "Last of the Lost" was written by local actor Don Denig. This is his second play written for the lighthouse's Wooden Ship Stage, an actual 70-foot long playground ship that adapts beautifully for play performances.

Denig gave a convincing and compelling portrayal of the final survivor of a shipwreck. The poor bloke slowly goes mad, has conversations with a rat, and is taunted by two illuminated ghosts played by Melanie Humble and Richard MacLean. Other talented community actors in the play were Will Morris and Jim Smith. As the final scene of the play, the audience entered the dark and foreboding bilge of the ship, where a transparent spirit, caught in a spiral of the last moments of his life, reached out for help. Spooky... and a very clever illusion.

The lighthouse staff and volunteers will continue to utilize our wonderful ship for future hauntings in the spirit of Halloween, but Lantern Fest will always maintain an air of delight and enchantment in recognition of the first lighting of the tower over a century ago.

The Carrabelle Lighthouse Association has been gradually acquiring equipment to enhance live performances and is seeking experienced writers, actors and directors to create nautical-themed productions. Themes about local maritime history are preferred, and children's plays are also welcomed. Please call the lighthouse office at 697-2732 if you are interested in developing a show. And don't miss next year's Lantern Fest!

Check our website or like us on Facebook for a schedule of future programs and events. We will be showing more vintage maritime movies in the park again soon. We need volunteers for all our fun activities.

Joan Matey is the curator/program director of the Crooked River Lighthouse museum, gift shop and park.