Flummoxed by Alameda Lighthouse Mystery

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.

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.

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 Northwest
Lighthouse Southwest


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

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!





13 responses to “Flummoxed by Alameda Lighthouse Mystery”

  1. Nancy Blaine Avatar
    Nancy Blaine

    Each phrase seems to make reference to the ancient purpose of lighthouses. I’m no Latin scholar, but what I got was something along the lines of: “A sailor’s life, when the sea is not your enemy;” “It takes more than fate to find the few harbors in this harsh place,” “The path is now, but take your time.” That’s what I could best put together. Meanwhile, I wonder if the locations of the societies refer to great sea-going explorers? Drake in SF; Cortes (?) in Mexico; Hudson in Manitoba; Eric the Red in Iceland?

  2. Nancy Blaine Avatar
    Nancy Blaine

    P.S. Banyan Azimuth! An azimuth is a directional measurement on a globe. Banyan is tree sacred to Hindus, growing downward from a symbiotic air-plant high in a tree canopy to drop roots that eventually find the ground and so grow upside down into their own forest: aka strangler fig. Whoever has put this together apparently loves topsy-turvy and navigational humor.

    1. Ian Kennedy Avatar

      Mystery solved! Read above for the latest!

  3. Jayson Vantuyl Avatar
    Jayson Vantuyl

    Once, long ago, I was a Latin scholar. A few notes:

    * In Latin, the ends of words change to indicate how they fit into a sentence. This can make looking them up a dictionary confusing. Especially considering that there five standard declensions and some fairly common words that are enti
    rely irregular. Ditto for verbs, with four conjugations and some notable irregulars. Also, sometimes different word uses have the same declension, making it extra confusing.
    * Latin also will just outright omit words. Called substantives, they’re fairly common and we do something similar in English (i.e. poor is an adjective, but we talk of “the poor”, meaning “the poor people”). This means it’s sometimes
    necessary to notice that an adjective is modifying a noun that’s not present.
    * Latin also can put things in a number of different orders, making it so that you have to move things around before they fit in a language that cares more about word order (like English).
    * Maria is probably actually the declension of the word Mare, meaning The Sea. It’s plural for sure, but could be either the nominative (acting as subject) or accusative (acting as a direct object).
    * Copia is a funny word. It vaguely means “resources” and can be used to refer to supplies, forces, troops, or wealth. I doubt it means “store” in this case.
    * Vitas could be a conjugation of the verb vito (meaning to avoid or shun) in the singular second person. It could also be the noun vita (meaning “life”, “way of life”, or “the living”) in the plural accusative (thus acting as direct object).
    * Aspera is the nominative (or ablative) feminine adjective meaning rough or severe. Generally translated “with hardship” or “rough”.
    * Macilentum would be the accusative singular of the adjective lean, thin, or meager.

    I’m having a hard time tearing apart the sentences. I’m thinking we need to string them together somehow. Maybe they are fragmented on purpose to cross sentence boundaries? That would make the double-dashes significant, perhaps.

    That’s all I have time for now. :/

    Best of luck!

    1. Ian Kennedy Avatar

      Jayson, thank you for taking a crack at the Latin. I barely passed the mandatory Latin I had to take in high school as was literally, “at sea.” Turns out a tip from a helpful neighbor located the last lighthouse for me – read the update above for the latest!

    1. Ian Kennedy Avatar

      Yup. Linked in the very first sentence.

  4. Kelly Avatar

    I think lighthouse ‘Southwest’ has been moved or stolen. We went looking for it today and it’s no longer there. Bummer! We wanted pics with all of them.

    1. Ian Kennedy Avatar

      Bummer indeed! I rode by there the other day and didn’t see it. For awhile the Southeast lighthouse was missing too (someone said the nearby Aeolian Yacht Club made off with it) but now hear it’s back in its place where I hope it remains.

    2. Agent Sorensen Avatar
      Agent Sorensen

      Fellow wayfarers, the southwest lighthouse is safe and sound. It now resides on a point of land just opposite the entry way to Ballena Isle. Has anyone noticed another acronym? HABAR…it’s Boston speak for, well, harbor.

  5. The Lighthouse Found Me | everwas Avatar

    […] delivering a print out of my previous post summarizing all my notes and theories (thank you everyone who chipped in their ideas) I found this […]

  6. Nancy Blaine Avatar
    Nancy Blaine

    Guess I was off in guessing the next location by laying a NW/SW/NE/NNE grid over it all, but oh well! I like the mythical nods: Odin’s staff connotes his identity as The Wanderer; the Eye of Isis is sometimes considered a searchlight of the cosmos itself. I’d still love to know about Banyan Azimuth and the folks behind his curtain! Thanks again.

  7. Irene Avatar

    Finally…an article about the fate of the lighthouses. Sis, husband and I searched 2 full days, walking all over shorelines, and finally gave up. We found the one opposite the entrance to the base right away, and the one near Crab Cove was seen by binocular from Ballena Bay. Then nothing. The one in the original photo was definitely NOT where it was photographed then. Husband found the one at the yacht club just the other day as he was driving across the bridge. We searched the entire area over there, but didn’t look UP! Thank you for your photo of the one on Moreland. We thoroughly enjoyed looking though and
    finally seeing a reference to your blog and the answers to ourl questions.

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