Photos by Vincent DeLissio

Fort Miles by Lantern Light

Dare to venture inside an underground gun battery at night for one of the coolest experiences to be had.

You’ve probably been to Cape Henlopen State Park, maybe even visited Fort Miles, the former US Army World War II installation inside the park. But have you been inside an underground gun battery, at night, with only a lantern for a light? Once home to more than 2,000 soldiers and civilians, Fort Miles is now a showcase of coastal defense and daily life during the war. There are many fascinating events and programs there—including lantern tours.

The tour starts with a short orientation, then guides participants through the artillery park, past enormous “guns” that required up to seventeen men to operate. The shells for the largest gun (inside Battery 519) weighed 800-1,000 pounds and required a ceiling-mounted track (still there) to transport them inside the building. Next stop is an overlook, with views of the water and the lights of Cape May in the distance. It was here that spotters watched for enemy aircraft and U-boats (submarines). With the help of a large spotlight, observers (including some civilians) identified planes by their silhouettes and reported their positions. Dunes along the coast were ideal for burying gun batteries that hid the enormous weapons.

Inside Battery 519, the guides describe what life was like here during the war. They have everyone turn off their lanterns to experience a can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face blackout. It is a good reminder of what living with the threat of invasion was like. One wall features the Fort Miles Museum Wall of Honor, which recognizes veterans and civilians who served, and in some cases sacrificed their lives, for their country.

Lantern tours ($7) start at 8:30 p.m. on specific nights and are recommended for ages 10+. To learn more about these and other programs, go to  

Nancy Sakaduski is a local  award-winning writer and editor who finds inspiration in the natural world. 

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