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Lighthouse flub? 
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PITA Bred
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Post Lighthouse flub?
I do believe I've caught Ol' Man Heinlein out on a flub.

If I'm remembering correctly, he said more than once that he never described a city or location on earth that he had not personally visited. He said it in the 1980 Heinlein Day speech, for example.

I am headed out next week on a short vacation cruise that will call at the three Mexican Riviera ports, including Mazatlan. Now, the first thing that popped into my head when I found that out was Heinlein's descriptions of El Faro, the great Mazatlan lighthouse, "tallest in the world," in Job. (I am, among other things, a lighthouse freak; I came >thisssss< close to being the keeper and museum director of a major California light a number of years ago.)

So I eagerly looked up the Mazatlan light.

Um.

Heinlein says in Job that it's 515 feet tall, just 40 feet shorter than the Washington monument. He later talks about washing "lighthouse stacks" of dishes equivalent to that height. A bit later, he describes the earthquake causing the towering lighthouse to crack and crumble to the ground (twice, yet).

Um.

Image

The great Mazatlan lighthouse is about twenty feet high. It stands, like many (see: Point Reyes, Trinidad Head, etc.) on a great promontory above the bay. The plane of the light is 510 feet (close enough) and is the highest above sea level in the Pacific... but not the world. (There are four higher lights in the Atlantic.) But the lighthouse is an utterly undistinguished squatty little structure that is neither magnificent nor towering nor much capable of crumbling.

I don't think Heinlein's recollections were very clear. :roll:

(And before someone pulls the "but it's an alternate world!" fandango, consider why the Mexicans would build a 500 foot tower when a perfectly good 500 foot promontory was right there. What, the macrogeology of the area was different in that continuum?)

ADDENDUM: Heinlein should have known that 500 feet was a ridiculous height for a tower lighthouse. The Cape Hatteras light is the tallest lighthouse in the world at 207 feet; few of the classic lighthouses are much over 150 feet. The Yokohama Marine Tower, built in 1961 and sometimes called the tallest lighthouse in the world (as a multifunction structure, the title is arguable) is just over 300 feet. A 500 foot tower? In a third-world country? Huh.

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 10:46 am
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Post Re: Lighthouse flub?
Fun research, even without the alternate worlds!

You may enjoy reading my grandmother's short piece, "Born in a Lighthouse: Escanaba, Michigan 1888", and my father's addition, "Lightning Strikes the Lighthouse" -- both are indexed under Memoirs at Troynovant.

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Tue Jun 23, 2009 1:37 am
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Post Re: Lighthouse flub?
That Heinlein guy was such a goofball... :mrgreen:

Nice catch. I recently re-read Job twice and didn't even notice he mentioned the height of the lighthouse.

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Tue Jun 23, 2009 6:51 am
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PITA Bred
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Post Re: Lighthouse flub?
Just to confirm after visiting Mazatlan last week... pretty lighthouse on a hill. Still not 500 feet tall, though. :mrgreen:


Tue Jul 07, 2009 11:09 am
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Post Re: Lighthouse flub?
Was it a flub when Alex looks up in the sky and sees a weird "aeroplane" when he is used to zeppelins?

Not only is Alex not from the same dimension as the 515 foot tall lighthouse, his own home dimension is not the same as ours, if I remember correctly.

plus, I think the proof is in this paragraph:

Margrethe had pointed out to me a confirming factor: This Mazatlan was not the town she had visited before. This one was much smaller and was not a tourist town; indeed the long dock where the Konge Knut should have tied up did not exist in this world. I think that this convinced her quite as much as the flying machines in proving to her that my 'paranoia' was in fact the least hypothesis. She had been here before; that dock was big and solid; it was gone. It shook her.

In other words, this is NOT the Mazatlan of "one-small-step" Earth.


Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:40 pm
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Post Re: Lighthouse flub?
Right, Alex, but I already addressed the "alternate world" argument in passing.

Mazatlan has a pointy hill-peninsula exactly where a lighthouse should go. It's hard to imagine that such a feature would be missing, for any reason, in a close analogue of our world. So unnless the Mazatlanos of that world are complete idiots, there would be no reason to build an absurdly impractical tower for a lighthouse when the Glaroon had already provided a natural one that would obscure a separate light over a significant arc. (If you want to persist along this line, you'll have to find a case where the world-changing involved major geographical features. I don't believe there is one; remember they were temporary, localized changes, not real "alternate worlds.")

The only reason the Mazatlan light is one of the highest in the world is because it sits on a 500-foot hill. I suggest that as no one in our world has ever built a lighthouse tower taller than 250 feet - and that for the special case of Cape Hatteras, where extremely long range was necessary - it seems unlikely that a primitive version of Mexico would build one twice that height for a relatively safe harborage.

No... I am convinced that Heinlein flubbed up here, perhaps misreading a descriptive paragraph about the "515-foot tallest [misprint for 'highest'] lighthouse" and moving along too quickly and without verifying the point. Very rare for him; let us enjoy the moment.


Thu Jul 23, 2009 7:55 am
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Post Re: Lighthouse flub?
ok, James, granted. the math seems to work out that Heinlein added in the height of the hill to the height of the tower. He wasn't one to slow down for much editing.

BUT--- because it exists in an alternate world (which is not necessarily a logical one since the huge dock has disappeared), I think Heinlein could, with a twinkle in his eye, deny fault here. :)


Thu Jul 23, 2009 10:05 am
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Post Re: Lighthouse flub?
My first thought when this subject came up was that perhaps Heinlein was thinking of this from a sailor's viewpoint, i.e. above sea level and the greater distance that such a lighthouse would be seen from.

Granted however, that argument doesn't go very well if we think of it totally from Alex's viewpoint.
:mrgreen:


Sat Jul 25, 2009 3:59 pm
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