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True age of El Morro lighthouse revealed

Jan 1, 2003

I found your recent articles on Cuba interesting and a little heartbreaking, given the appalling conditions you found in Havana ("Cuba by Sea," "Cuba by Land," Issue No. 94, December 1998).

I wish to point out what I believe is an error in the date of completion of the El Morro Castle lighthouse. You state that the lighthouse was completed in 1884. However, the correct date of its construction is 1844, during the tenure of Spanish Captain General (Governor) Leopoldo O'Donnell. I have an engraving by one J. Bachman (New York, 1851) that shows an aerial view of Havana as it appeared in the 1850s. The print plainly shows the lighthouse already in place on El Morro.

It is possible that your date of 1884 may refer to the year certain modifications were made? I also have a photo taken in the 1910s or '20s showing the name "O Donnell 1844" spelled out in bronze letters embedded in the masonry tower just below the lantern, visible to approaching vessels. Let's hope the letters are still there and haven't been ripped off by the Castro bunch, who have ruined so many landmarks and plaques associated with the past.

I must confess that the name O'Donnell struck me as odd while I was sailing into Havana aboard Seatrain New York years ago. "What was an Irish name doing on a lighthouse and fort built by Spaniards?"


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