Tag Archives: puzzle

Lighthouse Found

Photo by Maurice Ramirez

Photo by Maurice Ramirez

There is a tradition of public mischief and random acts of art in the Bay Area. From The Cacophony Society, to The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Billboard Liberation Front all the way back to Coyle & Sharpe, the people of San Francisco have delighted themselves by poking at authority with a wink and a smile. As Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane famously said, “San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.

It was in this spirit that a group of “guerrilla artists” carefully installed beautifully-crafted replicas of famous lighthouses around Alameda Island where I live. There was no explanation, no release party, just a curious mention in the local paper of a Lighthouse Model Assemblers Organization (LMAO) written by a Honorable Admiral Banyan Azimuth, (Retired) Most shrugged it off as an April Fool’s prank but upon further investigation, after spotting another lighthouse on the other end of the Island, further layers of the onion peeled away and it was very, very real.

We take our performance art seriously here. If Chicken John runs for mayor, he is not only doing it to have some fun but also to make a statement. My journey to uncover the four lighthouses of Alameda took me to the nether corners of the Island all along the coastline into hidden corners and pocket parks that I didn’t know existed. I discovered that Alameda was a major destination for steamships bringing fruit to North America where they were packaged by Del Monte before being loaded on to the trans-continental railway. The puzzle forced me to reach out to others to try and connect the dots.

Art exercises the mind, public art exercises society.

My progress was tracked until finally a totem was left on my front doorstep. Later, I received a text message asking for my presence at an awards ceremony where I, along with Eddie Cruz, another local Alameda resident, were presented with secret elixers and a ceremonial chalice while we were inducted into the Alameda Lighthouse Appreciation Society (ALAS). There is a group of elves in Alameda, at play with the world around us. If you want to join them, leave a note below and they will find you.

Flummoxed by Alameda Lighthouse Mystery

Lighthouses of Alameda

About a month back I read with interest a strange article in our local paper. The byline was from a Hon. Admiral Banyan Azimuth, Retired and it described a mysterious society, acronyms, a puzzle, and hidden treasure. All good material for a quest.

The Alameda Lighthouse Appreciation Society (ALAS) has collaborated with the North American Lighthouse Regents (NALR) in Fort Digby, Manitoba, as well as the Nordic and Icelandic Lighthouse Guild (NILG) in Reykjavik, Iceland and the El Faro la Luz de la Admiracion Surtido in Yelapa, Mexico to bring a variety of mini-masterpieces to the fair Island City. Four scaled-down lighthouses (one for each point of the compass) ranging from four- to six-feet tall will be calling various obscure locations in Alameda home for the month of April.

[snip]

No more information will be related on this rare and iconic installation, so Alamedans will be left to their own devices, ingenuity and cunning to locate these glowing treasures, and to break their ancient code. All April Foolishness aside, residents who decode the lighthouse mystery could win a prize.

Despite the fact that the article mentions that the lighthouses were made by a groups called the Lighthouse Model Assemblers Organization which spells LMAO, and that the article was published on April 1st, I set out to see if I could find any of the mentioned lighthouses. To my surprise, I did spot one fairly quickly, over near the bike bridge that takes you from Alameda Island over to Harbor Bay. After several more afternoons of exploring the Alameda coastline, I have discovered two more of the four model lighthouses mentioned above.

See flickr photo gallery

Each lighthouse, they stand about 4 feet tall, has what looks like Latin phrasing on the side. They read:

maria _ _ vitas _ _ et _ _ inimicum _ _ non _ _ est _

_ aspera _ replete _ macilentum _ _ portus _ desset _ _ casus _

_ _ iter _ _ est _ temporibus _ sed _ copia _.

It looks like phrases from a poem of some sort. Using Google Translate, I put in the English translations below each phrase:

maria _ _ vitas _ _ et _ _ inimicum _ _ non _ _ est _
Maria _ _ lives _ _ and _ _ enemy _ _ not _ _ is _

_ aspera _ replete _ macilentum _ _ portus _ desset _ _ casus _
_ rough _ fill _ lean _ _ port _ benefit _ _ case _

_ _ iter _ _ est _ temporibus _ sed _ copia _.
_ _ journey _ _ east _ the times _ but _ store _.

The cities and organization names listed in the article are curious too:

  • Alameda Lighthouse Appreciation Society (ALAS) in Alameda, California
  • North American Lighthouse Regents (NALR) in Fort Digby, Manitoba
  • Nordic and Icelandic Lighthouse Guild (NILG) in Reykjavik, Iceland
  • El Faro la Luz de la Admiracion Surtido in Yelapa, Mexico

I mapped each location as best as I could (as far as I could tell, there is no Fort Digby in Manitoba) but that didn’t help.

Lighthouse Map

And here I am stumped. Can anyone push this forward?

UPDATE: There was a suggestion from Nancy (see comments below) that the style of lighthouse might and its location might provide a clue. Here’s where I found the three that I have located. Could these perhaps be replicas of actual lighthouses that exist in real locations?

Lighthouse Southeast

Lighthouse Southeast

Lighthouse Northwest

Lighthouse Northwest

Lighthouse Southwest

Lighthouse Southwest

UPDATE: FFFound!

Acting on a tip from a sharp-eyed reader (thanks Mike Schmitz) I found the last lighthouse on the corner of Moreland and Fernside. What threw me is that it wasn’t even on the water, casting its glow into the passing traffic.

Lighthouse #1, El Faro

Lighthouse #1, El Faro

Lighthouse #1, El Faro

Lighthouse #1, El Faro

The text beside it reads:

May the staff of Orin & the Eye of Isis light your way

To find my 3 brothers, search for a Bridge, a Port, & a Southern Shore

Good Luck!

The Bridge was the one next to the blue bicycle bridge to Harbor Bay (Southeast), the Port was across from the Port of Oakland (Northwest), and the Southern Shore was by the Encinal boat ramp (Southwest).

Mystery solved, I printed out this blog post and put it into an envelope and dropped it off addressed to the Hon. Admiral Banyan Azimuth and the kind person who answered the door promised to deliver it tomorrow.

Thank you everyone who pitched in to solve this mystery. It was truly a group effort.

UPDATE: Special Delivery!