Mile Rocks Light – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

Mile Rocks Light

A modest reminder of treacherous waters at the Golden Gate. 


Beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, an orange and white striped caisson is perched on a rock just above the water. The caisson is what remains of the Mile Rock Light, built in 1904 by James A. McMahon and his crew after the horrific crash of the ship City of Rio De Janeiro in 1901. The Rio De Janeiro hit Mile Rock and sank in just eight minutes, killing approximately 130 of the 210 people on board, including her captain, William Ward.

The lighthouse was built to warn ship captains of the group of rocks that lies barely visible above the water at high tide, as the fog horn from Fort Point could not be heard at the rocks and the bell buoy was often dragged underwater by the violent currents of the Golden Gate.

The lighthouse was manned by a crew of four, delivered to Mile Rock by boat and climbing a rope ladder the 20 feet from the bow of the boat to a catwalk leading to the lighthouse. The isolation was brutal. Due to tight quarters, families were not allowed on the lighthouse and keepers came up with inventive ways to keep in contact with their girlfriends and wives. One keeper is reported to have used flashlights to communicate with his wife who would walk their dog at night at Land’s End.

In the 1960s, despite great protest from the public, the lighthouse was dismantled and replaced with a heli-pad. Today, air-horns serve as fog horns and all the lighthouses of the bay have either been decommissioned or dismantled.

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