Symbol of survival: the Biloxi lighthouse -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Symbol of survival: the Biloxi lighthouse

The Framing Frenzy site for the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project 2008 is situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Biloxi lighthouse that has become a symbol of resilience for people on Mississippi’s coast.

Surrounded by traffic on Beach Boulevard (U.S. 90), the 48-foot lighthouse between the east-west lanes is almost lost.

But this symbol of resilience and survival on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and beyond is a beloved anchor for the people who survive here because “you do what you have to do.” They tend to “do” with a lot of humor and a whole lot of grace.

That’s why the Framing Frenzy site for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project is in a parking lot between the lighthouse and the Gulf of Mexico. Volunteers, primarily from Home Depot and its suppliers, will build 48 frames for future houses, a symbol of the thousands more houses still needed along the Gulf Coast from Mobile to Houston and millions more needed around the world.

Picking this location for the framing, with the enduring lighthouse, white sand and blue gulf in the background, is meant to specifically honor the courage and determination of the folks from Mississippi. The lighthouse is a beacon of hope and so too is Habitat, building homes and hope for families on the Gulf Coast.

The lighthouse, with a sunrise burst of colors behind it, is now on 2.1 million Mississippi license plates.

That was the idea of state revenue commissioner Joe Blount.

"This tag design is intended to be a reminder to us of all those who lost so much from Katrina," Blount told the Biloxi Sun Herald, "(and) to serve as a symbol of our citizens' commitment to recovery as well as a symbol of our gratitude to all Americans for their prayers and generous support."

After the most powerful quadrant of Hurricane Katrina sent a near 30-foot wall of water that flooded and flattened South Mississippi, the lighthouse was still standing. Leaning slightly more to the northeast, 10 rows of bricks washed out by pounding wave action, but in the sea of horror and tinder which included the remains of 60 historic buildings destroyed in Biloxi alone, the lighthouse was still standing.

"The Coast lost so many landmarks in Katrina,” said a local architect. “If it weren't for the Biloxi Lighthouse, a few other surviving structures and Beauvoir, people wouldn't recognize where they are on the beach road."

Colonial history here starts long before Jamestown with the Spanish and then the French. The pre-Civil War lighthouse has survived 18 hurricanes since it was erected in 1848 after its cast-iron plates and a cast-iron spiral staircase arrived from Baltimore by ship.

Now when you drive down Beach Boulevard from Biloxi to Gulfport, you see rebuilt casinos and construction along sandy beaches. Gnarled old oak trees, both alive and dead, look as though they still miss the old houses which once sheltered under them.

It’s a strange scene of neon and loss. But the Biloxi Lighthouse, now decked with an American flag, is still standing.

Archives of the Sun Herald of Biloxi were used to research this story. Susan Stevenson is editorial manager for Habitat for Humanity International.