Tahoe searchlight, the rest of the story | RecordCourier.com

Tahoe searchlight, the rest of the story

Linda Hiller

If you were interested in The Record-Courier’s Feb. 5 story about the restoration of the searchlight from the majestic steamboat “Tahoe”, here is “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey might say.

It turns out the searchlight had its anti-fans among summer resort visitors who frequented the beaches of beautiful Lake Tahoe in the years between 1896 and 1936, particularly evening revelers.

Minden author Ray Smith, who has published seven books about Nevada and Nevada history, brought this information to our attention after seeing the original restoration story.

Smith writes in his latest book, “Untold Tales of Nevada” to be published by next Christmas, that the Tahoe was considered “a fine new craft, much admired by all and provided a much desired service not previously available.”

“But it got into trouble almost immediately,” he writes, “and soon became very much disliked by some summer resorts occupants. It was all because of its powerful searchlight.”

Smith says the searchlight had more than 2,500 candlepower and could practically turn night into day. Couples spooning on the beaches at the Lake were often surprised by the bright light that caught them in its beam.

“One night when the steamer was entering Emerald Bay quite late,” he writes, “everyone went down to see its docking, usually a rather dramatic affair. As the boat reached the dock, that light was suddenly turned on. What did it reveal?”

He says that there, on the beach were observers in their pajamas and nightclothes, a fact that in itself wouldn’t have been significant. When, however, the searchlight illuminated the scene, things changed.

“A howl of laughter went up from those on the deck of the boat whereupon the people on the shore disappeared into their cottages like chipmunks into their holes.”

Similar incidents happened at the Tallac House on the south part of the Lake and Tahoe City to the north.

Eventually, summer resort visitors took it upon themselves to suggest that some sort of regulation might be in order for this ambushing spotlight.

Smith writes that it was decided the boat should “toot its whistle at least one minute before turning on the light. If this was not agreeable, they said, they would seek some act of legislation to require it.”