Nearly four years ago, some friends out walking their dogs on Lighthouse Beach came across an outhouse that had been tossed up into the dunes during a storm. They righted it, propped a section of picket fence they found nearby against it, took some photos and went on their way.
Over time they started to add more beach debris, eventually hauling some tools to the beach to make it more sturdy.
“It started to look like something,” said one of the men. “Gradually other people started walking by and adding to it. We thought that was great, that other people were contributing.”
Today that original two-seater outhouse – reportedly swept off North Beach – forms the core of a rambling collection of beach debris, random objects, signs and other detritus that has become a beach landmark, the setting for evening meditations, selfies and even a couple of engagements. About a third of a mile south of the stairs at Lighthouse Beach, the structure can even be seen on Google Earth. Sturdy and resilient, when it was begun it was 150 feet from the shore; now it's just a few feet from the water's edge after surviving four nor'easters last winter.
“It's amazing that it survived that whole volley of storms that we had last winter,” said Park and Recreation Director Dan Tobin. “It's an interesting sight to see as you walk down the beach.”
The Lighthouse Beach shack, or just the beach shack, even has its own Facebook page. When the town and the National Seashore were bickering about jurisdiction over South Beach, the three founders dubbed it “Occupy South Beach” as a way to highlight the debate and provide a social media platform for folks to post photos of the shack. The founder we spoke to asked to remain anonymous in keeping with the Occupy tradition.
Beyond calling attention to the issue of control over the beach property, there's no agenda, he said, other than to facilitate people's enjoyment of the beach shack. As it's evolved – and it's constantly evolving – it's been the subject of numerous photos, including exquisite time-lapse nighttime shots; at one point a small solar panel powered a string of Christmas lights that made the shack a beacon in the dark. Signs have been added. “Abide,” one says, a tribute to “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski.” Another reads, “Sharks, Coyotes, Mooncussers Served Here.” A “Stay off the sand” sign has since disappeared. There's Monopoly money stuck to nails, and a variety of flags flying from the ersatz flagpole. It has its own (empty) mailbox. Last week a mini-beer pong game sat in the sand, flanked by empty beer cans. Every once and a while the founders clear away the trash that's left, though most people seem to respect the shack.
“So many people think it's cool,” said the founder. “It's a living beach sculpture that anybody can contribute to.”
It's not the first one, either. Tobin noted that for years, people piled debris that washed up on Lighthouse Beach into a sort of makeshift, teepee-shaped sculpture. Periodically town staff would haul it off the beach. the current structure is more substantive, and there has been concern in conservation circles about damage to the beach grass surrounding it or fire, but for the time being, there's no plan to remove it.
“It really doesn't seem to be hurting anything,” Tobin said, “and it's kind of amusing to see the way it's decorated.” Lighthouse Beach staff drive by on their ATVs regularly to keep an eye on it, he added; another reason it's left alone is that it can't be certain if it's on town land or private property, due to the way the beach has shifted so much in recent months. “That's an interesting legal question,” Tobin said.
It's clear that the shack has a big following. We asked readers to post comments about it on Facebook. Here are a few:
“I like to stop there for a little siesta in the sand when I return from a long walk or after yoga. Maybe fantasize that I am lost on a beautiful island and that’s my home. Hope it remains as is.”
“My now-husband proposed to me there in the snow in February of 2016! It’s a special place!”
“It's a good destination for the curious, gives me a reason to walk the beach to see the additions.”
“My family loves it! We visit every July and have to visit the shack at least once.”
These types of beach structures are more common on the west coast, the founder said. Recently he ran across one near Nauset Inlet, but it was later taken down by the National Seashore.
Until it's taken by the ocean, they'll continue to maintain the Lighthouse Beach shack.
“It's just for the person walking down the beach to have something they don't usually see,” he said. “We're glad people enjoy it. We expected it to be gone by now, but it's still there.”