Every once in a while, tourists stumble across a real find, hidden in the most unlikely of places.
There's such a gem in Atlantic City, a historic landmark that comes alive for visitors thanks to a unique and dedicated gentleman.
The city is known for the glitz and glamour of its casinos. But tucked away in the north end is the simple silhouette of the Absecon Lighthouse — the tallest in New Jersey. And every Friday, docent Buddy Grover climbs to the top, to greet visitors.
Grover climbs the 228 steps "at least once a week."
"And since I only live three blocks away, and if I'm not previously committed, and I use the term loosely, I'm available," says Grover who turns 85 in a few weeks.
Even the youngest and the fittest visitors tend to be huffing and puffing when they get to step 228."
Upon arrival at the top, Grover takes each group to a final set of steps, which is extremely narrow and off-limits to the public. He asks his guests to look up where they see the huge lens.
"Mr. Frenel's invention," in Grover's words, is lead glass, with a high lead content, that weighs 12,800 pounds.
Grover is a living, breathing encyclopedia of local history. Head out to the deck and its 360-degree view, and you can see the ocean off Brigantine, where dozens of ships met a watery end.
"The Brigantine shoal, which is the one that extends from the Brigantine jetty, there's a record of at least 60 shipwrecks there," Grover says. "One of the fishermen who was here less than a year ago said that some of the lumber is still on the bottom of the ocean. But it's very shallow, so anything of any value has long since disappeared."
A ghostly encounter
Along with the history, there's even a hint of the supernatural. As Grover puts it, "Doesn't every old edifice have a ghost?"
"According to one of our volunteers, she was sitting on the bench here, where we are, and saw at the top of the steps a hand with a lace ruffle around it," he says. "And she got up to greet the person, and there was no one there."
Grover volunteers all year at the lighthouse. In the winter, he dons a double-breasted uniform — with room for several sweaters to ward off the cold since there's no heat. He credits his stamina to years spent walking five miles a day as a mailman.
"Well, I think, just in general, that fresh air and exercise as a letter carrier boded well for me," he says. "I'm in remarkably good health for my age."
Even with Grover offering insightful tours as a volunteer, it's a challenge for the landmark to make ends meet.
"We really ... at the moment are struggling financially," says Jean Muchanic, executive director. "We had a very tough year last year. Hurricane Irene kind of wiped out the last weeks of summer business for all businesses at the Jersey Shore. So that was pretty tough."
There's a real love for this quiet and beautifully restored piece of Atlantic City's history. To keep the lighthouse in the black, Muchanic and others hold murder mysteries and haunted house tours as fundraisers. You can get married at Absecon Lighthouse. And, periodically, there's a full moon climb, which, Grover says, makes everything worth it.
"When you see the moon come up over the water," he says, "it is just ... breathtaking!"