100 Mile Museum: Marconi Wireless Station
By: Joanne Briana-Gartner, May 21, 2012
JOANNE BRIANA-GARTNER - A shelter overlooking the Atlantic is all that remains of the Marconi Wireless Station, but it was once an important site for telegraph communications between the United States and Europe, as well as ships traveling across the Atlantic.
Today, the stretch of cliffs where the first public two-way wireless communications between Europe and America took place isn't much to look at.
The Marconi Wireless Station site off Route 6 in South Wellfleet is just another expanse of sand overlooking the Atlantic. You can't even go down to the beach from the site: for that you have to park two miles south at Marconi Beach.
It ain't Disney Land, but the Marconi site has what National Seashore historian Bill Burke deems, "the power of place."
"It's a place where something happened," said Burke at a wreath-laying ceremony at the site commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic this past April.
Radio transmissions between the Marconi site and the RMS Carpathia led to Carpathia's wireless operator contacting the Titanic and learning that the ship was floundering. Hours later the Carpathia, having changed its course, picked up the 700+ survivors of the disaster.
The power of place, Burke explained, "is better than a movie theater, better than a website."
Inspirational places like the Marconi site, where history was made, "give us the power and strength to more forward," he said.
The station was built, along with stations in Nova Scotia and England, in 1902 by wireless pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.
Four wooden towers, each 210 feet tall, once stood at the site. Using spark gap transmitters, broadcasts were best sent and received between 10 PM and 2 AM. The noise from the sparks could be heard up to four miles from the station.
Imagine all the angry letters to the editor that noise must have generated.
Interpretive signs and a diorama offer information about the station, which was closed in 1917. Its towers dismantled, concrete from the buildings can still be seen at the site for those who wish to walk about a bit. Caution signs warn visitors to stay within fenced areas, as the cliffs are unstable.
The Marconi site is a reflective spot. There's a sense of history on that windy sand-strewn cliff, which still seems far removed from civilization more than 100 years after the fact. It's interesting to think that from a place so remote a revolution in communication technology once took place.
Marvel at that while you snap a photo with your Smartphone and instantly send it out to your Facebook friends.
Don't forget the cedar swamp
As an added bonus the parking lot for the Marconi site doubles as the parking area for the White Cedar Swamp Trail, a spot you may have visited during your 5th grade class trip to the National Seashore but have long since forgotten where it was located.
Be sure to leave time for this breathtakingly beautiful 1.2-mile walk, a good portion of which is on a boardwalk above the swamp.