Or, the Legend that Never Dies…

The title film is well-known to most people working at the Cape. It’s a light-hearted look at relationship between rocket launches and the lighthouse, the oldest standing structure on the Cape. Most viewers enjoy the four-minute film for its entertainment value, but there is more to the story of how the film came into being.

Since the earliest rocket launches from the Cape, beginning in 1950, the public quickly developed an interest in watching the launches. It’s exciting, it’s noisy, and it’s fun. Nearby beaches and a moderate climate made watching the launches quite easy and comfortable. Launch parties became neighborhood and family events to the local populace. Then tourists began to flock to nearby Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach to join the locals with their rocket watching. This is where the premise for the film “The Lighthouse That Never Fails” begins to take shape.

Of course, the local residents were already quite familiar with the locations of the launch pads and what to look for prior to a launch. The locals knew where to look, but visitors to the area did not. This is where the some locals reportedly decided to have a little fun with the out-of-towners. As the story goes, while waiting on the beach for a launch, a visitor would approach a local resident to ask where to look to see the rocket. The local would point to the lighthouse (it looks very much like a rocket) and say “keep and eye on that black and white rocket out there.” Meanwhile, the actual rocket would leap from its launch pad from a completely different place on the Cape. The local would chortle over the joke and the visitor would be embarrassed by the situation.

Taking that premise as the lead-in, “The Lighthouse That Never Fails” goes one step further by actually launching the lighthouse with an unsuspecting Air Force Sergeant aboard.

About the Film

The film was made during a time when a number of large contractors handled the myriad support functions at the Cape. The primary contractor was Pan American World Airways. Other contractors included Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Technicolor Corporation, and others. Who actually produced the film has been lost to time and history. A more likely scenario was that the film producer had no desire to make his identity known. The film, after all, may possibly have been a slightly unauthorized production at the time. All these factors make it difficult to pinpoint when the film was made.

A few clues visual clues in the film narrow the time to about 1960-1961. The clues include the presence of the lighthouse keepers quarters, the routing of Central Control Road, and the presence or absence of certain launch pads 21, 22 and 36. The ‘special effects’ of launching the lighthouse was accomplished by superimposing a lighthouse graphic over an Atlas ICBM. The unique gooseneck umbilical for the Atlas appears at the pad.

There have been discussions among Cape ‘old timers’ about who produced the film and when it was produced, but no consensus has ever been reached. The Museum has had a 16mm print of the film in its archive since the early 1970s and even then it was a copy several generations deep.

And so the controversy continues. We suggest that viewers simply watch the film for its entertainment value now with an understanding of some of the stories and legends that caused it come into being.


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