Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lighthouses, Legends and Lore

When we think of lighthouses, all sorts of images come to mind. Perhaps you picture a man of the sea smoking his pipe while looking over the vast ocean, or perhaps you see treacherous storms, or a life of loneliness and solitude; mystery and intrigue. Oddly enough, a great majority of people envision a ghost, the spirit of a previous lighthouse keeper who could not leave his watch, and who remains at his former post indefinitely. Are lighthouses truly haunted? If so, why? Or is it our imaginations conjuring up romanticized visions of days gone by?

An Internet search reveals hundreds of haunted lighthouses from all over the world. In the United States they stretch from Maine, to Georgia, to Florida, to Oregon and to California, just to name a few. And then of course, there's New York, home to its own haunted lights.

Lighthouses in general are intriguing, so if you add a ghost or two, all the better. Most of us can't imagine the life of the lighthouse keeper. It was an extremely difficult lifestyle. It is because of this, that many believe that some of the keepers may have lost their minds, and that upon their passing, their spirit remains. Their energy trapped within the conical walls of the towering spire.

I've had the privilege of having private tours of several of Long Island's lighthouses because I've written about them throughout the years. Eaton's Neck Lighthouse, Montauk Point, Huntington, Fire Island, and my personal favorite, Execution Rocks Lighthouse. Although I'm not a fan of climbing endless flights of spiral staircases, especially while carrying heavy camera equipment, I definitely have a fondness for these wonderful, historic places. I'm someone who loves to be out on the water as well, so I've jumped at every chance to visit these fascinating pieces of history.

The Huntington Lighthouse, as well as the Eaton's Neck Lighthouse, I have visited and written about in my earlier books on Huntington, where the focus was on preserving history, not ghosts. Do I think they could be haunted? Sure, but I'd have to do a thorough investigation to really find out. The Fire Island Lighthouse and Execution Rocks, were places I wrote about for the "Ghost" books. Both are presumably haunted.

At Fire Island, tales of pirating, illegal rum-running and shipwrecks abound, as do tales of ghostly phenomenon. The lighthouse is a now a beautifully restored museum. The volunteers I spoke to during the time I did my research, didn't believe in ghosts, but they did say that the rumor began after a children's book came out in 1987, which was written about a little boy who lived with his family at the lighthouse during the late 1970's to early 1980's. According to the story, the boy was lonely so the lighthouse became his friend. The boy said he heard the lighthouse talk to him. Not long after, workers at the lighthouse made up the name George, and claimed he was the one who haunted the old building. However, other stories I came across told of a lonely keeper who hung himself from the tower. Some claim to have heard footsteps on the metal steps, and music and moaning coming from the tower. Could this be the spirit of a keeper making his way back to the tower?

When I visited Execution Rocks lighthouse, I had a very different experience. Talk about a spooky place! Paranormal investigator Joe Giaquinto and I, were taken out in a 25-foot Homeland Security Response Boat with the United States Coast Guard, to the abandoned lighthouse which sits in Long Island Sound. We had an entire tour of the boarded up 2 1/2 story, lighthouse keeper's house, and of the sixty-foot tower. It was an incredible adventure. Surrounded by treacherous rocks, I shuddered as I recalled the stories of the hideous acts that may have occurred there. As the legend has been told, during the Battle of Long Island in the Revolutionary War, British soldiers rounded up "American rebels" in order to put them to death. Because they did not want to "fuel revolutionary passions," they quietly took the Americans away for brutal torture and execution.

It has been said that the British secretly took them to this island of rocks and beat them, then drove spikes into the rock reef, and then chained them to the rocks at low tide. As the tide rose, the American prisoners drowned beneath the icy waters. Other tales reveal that many of the prisoners met their fate by hungry sharks that happened upon a free meal. As if this wasn’t enough, the newly captured were chained next to the skeletal remains of their former comrades…a way of torturing them mentally before they met their own watery demise.

There is a line in the Declaration of Independence which reads, “…the murders they commit on the inhabitants of these States…” According to my research, several historians believe that this line refers to accounts of the brutality that took place on Execution Rocks, and that the line was included in the Declaration as a memorial to those who died there.

It is said that the ghosts of the condemned prisoners remained. There is even one legend that suggests the ghosts sought revenge against the British. Not long after the hideous acts had taken place, a shipload of British soldiers were sent to pursue General Washington while he retreated from Manhattan to White Plains. The ship was wrecked at the reef, killing all the Redcoats aboard. Many people have claimed that the ghosts who haunted the reef caused the shipwreck.

Every lighthouse has its fascinating legends and lore. You can read more about these and other haunted locations in my books, Ghosts of Long Island; Stories of the Paranormal and Ghosts of Long Island II; More Stories of the Paranormal. Both books are available in local bookstores and on Amazon.com in hardcover and in e-format.