COBWEB CORNERS: How illuminating was light from peak?
By Mel McFarland
In looking at some of the old post cards I have collected of Pikes Peak, one set always raises a question. I did find out what year it happened, and I was curious about reactions to it. “It” is a search light mounted on a stand right by the Summit House. Even as a child, I remember the Surplus City search light aiming at the peak, but this light was up there looking this way!
I found a story in 1913 about such an event. An electric lamp, rated at a million candle power, was to shine from the summit onto Colorado Springs. The city, to test the power of the light, would turn off the street lighting at 9 p.m., and the beam from the top of the mountain would illuminate the downtown like sunlight. The cog road owners came up with the idea. They contacted city officials for their cooperation. The top of the peak is about fourteen miles to downtown. The only competition was the moon, and it was felt the search light would be much brighter.
First, in reading this I think of how often the top of the peak is hidden in clouds, just when you want to pull off a stunt like this. Years ago a group of us chartered a special train to the top to see a sunset at the time of a full moon. Sure enough, it was wiped out in a big cloud. Then there are the AdAmAn fireworks displays on New Year's Eve, sometimes hidden in the clouds.
I have not found anything about how well the big lamp on the mountain worked. I can only guess, not very well. Many of you may remember in the 1970s when a number of flood lights was aimed at the summit, and many complained how bright it was. I would imagine that a much bigger single light would have caused equal complaints, but I have yet to find even one!
Working on the cog, I am often asked about the light on the summit we still see. The average customer is usually disappointed to learn that it's just an ordinary light bulb. They expect to see, maybe, a search light like the one from 1913! If you know where to look, you can still find the scars left by the 1970s floodlights, but the big search light is long gone.