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Haunted Lighthouses

September 25, 2017

Considering the lonely locations and isolating lifestyle for the keepers, is it any wonder that there are many haunting tales about lighthouses? Some are based on fact, others simply legends that have grown over the years.  It is possible that gloomy conditions in the winter and the constant company of wind, fog and storms and, sometimes, tragedies set the stage for some of the tales.

Long Island

Fire Island Lighthouse, situated on a barrier island of the Fire Island National Seashore, sits across from Bayshore, New York.  There were two lighthouses built there, but it is the second one that is believed to be haunted. The first light was built from imported stonework, but proved to be too short to be a useful aid to mariners, so a second light was built in 1857.  New York’s tallest lighthouse, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. While employees at the lighthouse gift shop deny the rumors of any ghosts, they interestingly hold a ghost tour every October.
The pr
oject manager for the second light ran out of stones and decided to take the first light apart for the additional ones he needed.  He forced then Keeper Smith and his family to live in a drafty wooden shack until the work was completed.  However, Mr. Smith had a daughter with a breathing problem and was worried that dampness and cold weather would affect her lungs and worsen her condition.  He begged the project manager to be allowed to remain in the warm stone structure until the work was completed, but his request was denied.  His daughter became ill and died.  It was a snowy night and Smith immediately sent for a doctor.  The doctor arrived three days later, but his patient was already gone.  Sometime after this Keeper Smith hanged himself in the original lighthouse.
Only a circ
ular rubble of bricks and stone along the boardwalk remains from the first Fire Island Lighthouse.  However, it is in the newer light that there have been reports of supernatural occurrences.  Heavy doors are said to open and close by themselves, strange laughing and banging comes from inside and many experience “eerie” feelings.
Later keepers found the climb of 157 steps and two ladders necessary to reach the light too intimidating to try in the dark. It is thought that a shadowy figure can be seen looking out from the second story window of the keeper’s house. The voice of a moaning man, footsteps on the stairs and falling plaster make one wonder if Keeper Smith isn’t still climbing the stairs to watch for the doctor who didn’t come in time.

Long Island Sound
    Penfield Reef Light, in New Fairfield, CT, looks ghostly as it sits deteriorating on a pile of rocks. Recently, the lighthouse was awarded to the Beacon Preservation Group for use as a marine research center, with the possibility of being opened for limited public use in the future.

 In 1916, just three days before Christmas, Keeper Fred Jordan had to make a trip to the mainland and left his assistant keeper, Rudy Iten, in charge while he was gone. However, Jordan’s boat capsized in the icy waters about a mile from the light.  He managed to cling to his boat and signal for help.  Iten witnessed this and immediately took the lifeboat to try to rescue him, but Iten was unsuccessful and Jordan was lost.  Jordan’s body was found three months later. Iten was made head keeper and two weeks later saw Jordan’s ghost for the first time, gliding down the stairs and disappearing.  Iten then reported in the log that the light had been “behaving strangely”.  One night, in the midst of a very fierce storm, Iten awoke and saw a “phosphorescent” presence in the hallway outside his room.  He followed it down the stairs and found the log open to the day of Jordan’s death.  
    Many keepers have since seen Jordan’s spirit, especially just before a storm or a disaster, floating in the tower or on the rocks beside the lighthouse. Iten asked everyone who saw the ghost to sign an affidavit, not wanting to be accused of fabricating tales.

The light was said to act “weirdly” after any tragedy or shipwreck.
    In 1942 two boys were fishing near the light when their boat capsized.  According to them, a pale-faced man pulled them to the rocks.  The boys went to thank the keeper, but realized he wasn’t the one who had rescued them.  They later saw a photo of Jordan and recognized him as their savior. More recently a couple in their boat lost in the fog near the lighthouse was guided to safety by a man in a dory, who then disappeared.
    Is Keeper Jordan still standing guard over the safety of those mariners who come too close to the reef and guiding them to safety?
New London Ledge Lighthouse, built in 1909, had a keeper in the 1930s named John Randolph.  Although the life of a keeper can be lonely, it can sometime
s be worse for the keeper’s family.  Keeper Randolph had a wife who thought so and tried to alleviate her boredom by flirting with local fishermen and sailors with whom she came into contact.
    One day in 1936 Randolph had to go ashore for supplies and when he returned, found his wife had run off with the captain of the Block Island ferry. She was never seen again.  John Randolph, in great despair, took his own life by throwing himself from the 65-foot lighthouse tower.
    When strange things began to occur, his replacement began to wonder if he had company.  Doors opened and closed by themselves, items in locked drawers were found rearranged, there was a fishy smell, cold drafts and the feeling that “someone was there”. Only women and children saw Ernie’s ghost, but everyone was aware of his presence.
    When the Coast Guard took over the lighthouse, they named the ghost Ernie.   Tools would disappear and reappear, the floors were washed, windows cleaned and more.  Before automation Coast Guard crews spending the night there reported knocks on their bedroom doors in the middle of the night, doors opening and closing, tv’s turned on and off and the covers pulled from their beds.
    In 1981 Randolph revealed his name to a psychic visiting the lighthouse.  He promised to leave, but didn’t keep his word and was back in full force for the next keeper.  Legend is that one day two fisherman stopped by the light for coffee with the keeper.  In the course of their conversation, the fishermen revealed that they did not believe in the ghost.  When they went to leave, they found their boat adrift and perhaps changed their minds about Ernie.
Execution Rocks has a name ready to inspire tales of horror.  The lighthouse has sat in the west end of Long Island Sound since 1851, when America was a British colony with a growing revolutionary spirit.  Folklore is that The British avoided public executions to avoid inflaming this spirit.
    Instead they chose to carry out punishments by carrying the condemned to the reefs at low tide, where the prisoner

was chained to the rings in the rocks to await death by drowning with the next high tide.  Supposedly the skeletons of those who had already faced the same fate were left to further torture the poor souls awaiting theirs.
    Perhaps the ghosts had their revenge.  British ships were sent to pursue George Washington when Washington was retreating from Manhattan to White Plains during the Revolutionary War.  The British ships foundered on the rocks and all perished.
    Keepers assigned at Execution Rocks sign a unique contract to avoid feeling “chained” to the reef.  They are not given a set length of service.  They are free to stay as long as they desire and granted instant transfers when asked for.
    There have been specters seen on the rocks over the years.  There have been two fires at the light.  The first was in 1918 when the keeper went to investigate the fact that the light had slowed.  He opened the door to the engine room and was met with a wall of flames.  The second was in 1921, started by an overheated exhaust pipe that caused to roof to catch fire.  Were the fires caused by revenge of the supposed souls who perished there?
    The last keeper, who retired in 1970, said he had never seen an apparition, but there have been several claims of ghosts, footsteps, voices and strange sounds reported by people passing the lighthouse, including US Coast Guard personnel who took night shifts in the lighthouse until its automation was completed in December, 1979.

Block Island
    Southeast Light, on Block Island, is the tallest lighthouse in New England.  It sits 200 feet above sea level on Mohegan Bluffs. It was activated o
n February 2, 1875, deactivated in 1994 and replaced by a steel tower.  The light is still an active aid to navigation and in 1997 was placed on the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places.
    In the early 1900s, the keeper at Southeast Light so hated his wife that one day, after a fierce argument, he pushed her off the round staircase in the tower and she plummeted to her death.  The husband claimed that she had committed suicide, but he was tried for and convicted of her murder. Many think that she, however, is getting the last laugh.
“Mad Maggie”, as the wife is called, haunts the lighthouse and delights in tormenting male visitors and keepers of the light. She doesn’t seem to bother any women.  She chases the men and locks them in their rooms or in the lighthouse.  When she is really angry, she throws knives or other sharp objects at them, sometimes food if they wander into her kitchen.  Beds are reported being lifted and shaken.  She has been seen by children banging pots and pans together in the kitchen and rushing up and down the stairs.
Keepers say that the furniture is always being rearranged along with objects in closets and cupboards.  Once a small flame left unattended in the kitchen was several times higher when the keeper returned.
    In 1993 the lighthouse was moved back 250 feet due to years of erosion.  Ghosts usually leave when the residence of their haunting is moved, but the “Mad Maggie” apparently get that message and decided to stay. 

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