Haunted Lighthouse Gets a Face Lift

A Red Cloak Tour group explores Burnt Island Lighthouse and the surrounding buildings on a special excursion. (staff photo)
A Red Cloak Tour group explores Burnt Island Lighthouse and the surrounding buildings on a special excursion. To find out more about Red Cloak Tours, click here. (staff photo)

By Mysterious Destinations Magazine Staff

A historic lighthouse located on a Maine island, home to ghostly apparitions and cryptid sightings, is undergoing renovations, likely with approval of at least one of the resident spirits.

Benjamin Stockbridge, a former keeper of the Burnt Island Lighthouse, seems to have remained active in operation of the facility, even after his death in1955. In one instance, shortly after Stockbridge’s death, the new lighthouse keeper was awakened in the early morning darkness by the front door slamming open and a voice matching Stockbridge’s shouting, “The light is out, the light is out! You have a smoke-out!” The lighthouse keeper responded instinctively, glancing out a nearby window with a view of the light tower, and seeing nothing but darkness.

The keeper jumped from bed, clad only in his nightclothes, ran through a covered walkway and scrambled up the circular staircase to the light beacon. With some effort, he was able to rekindle the lamp, and restore the lifesaving beam of light. Breathless from the exertion, he stopped to wonder who could have made it out to the island and given the alarm. Remembering the first moments of the incident, he realized the visitor’s voice had a familiar tone, that of Benjamin Stockbridge.

Another incident may demonstrate Stockbridge’s continued interest, even in the afterlife, that his lighthouse continues to be well run.

A story from the early 1970s describes lighthouse keeper Paul Kelly and his wife being awakened in the early morning hours on a number of occasions by creaking noises, like someone walking across the floor. On one occasion, Kelly was disturbed by a loud voice bellowing out his last name, awakening him to notice a problem with the light. Was Benjamin Stockbridge still maintaining his lighthouse?

Woman in White

The lilac bush frequented by the Woman in White is seen in the left side of the photo. (staff photo)
The lilac bush frequented by the Woman in White is seen in the left side of the photo. (staff photo)

An ethereal woman in white has been observed within the keeper’s house and around a lilac bush out in front of the building. She is thought to be the paranormal manifestation of Martha McCobb, the wife of keeper James A. McCobb, who served at Burnt Island Light from 1868 to 1880. Martha passed away on the island on March 22, 1877, an event that Jacob duly reported in the keeper’s log:

“Wife died this morning about two o’clock of congestion of the lungs and cankers in the throat, stomach, and bowels. She had been in feeble health all winter but able to be about the house attending to her work until about two weeks before her death when a cold brought on congestion and then canker which caused her death as above stated…Her age was fifty three years and four months,” McCobb wrote. (“Canker” was likely a historic term for cancer.)

Cryptid Sea Creature

A taxidermist mounted oar fish that washed ashore dying in Las Barriles, Mexico. (staff photo)
A taxidermist mounted oar fish that washed ashore dying in Las Barriles, Mexico. (staff photo)

The mysteries of Burnt Island are not limited to ghostly manifestations. In 1831 a lighthouse keeper’s wife, Mrs. Chandler, recorded the visitation of large, serpentine sea creature to Burnt Island.

The creature was originally observed by Mrs. Chandler’s children while playing along the shoreline. They quickly ran up to the house, shouting, “Mother, Mother, there’s the biggest eel you’ve ever seen in your life got into the cove.” Mrs. Chandler walked to the cliffside location over the cove and observed an, “eel-like creature, about 30-feet in length, wiggling and snapping about the cove.” The woman noted with concern that there, “was no telling what it might do.” She duly recorded all of this in the keeper’s log, creating a federal record of the sighting.

Other witnesses in the area of Boothbay Harbor and Southport also reported seeing the animal, or others like it, in the near-shore waters, with some observers estimating the critters to be 100 feet long. The creatures were noticed to be feeding on the vast shoals of mackerel in the area.

Some modern day researchers have postulated that the mysterious serpentine cryptid was an oarfish, which is large, elongated fish with a dorsal fin running from head to tail, sporting a multi-plumed “crest” of fins from its forehead. The giant oarfish reaches lengths of 26 to 56 feet. They usually inhabit deep water, between 600 and 1000 feet, where they float, inverted and motionless, using the crest on their heads as a lure to tempt smaller fish toward their mouths, where they are snapped up for food. (See photo in this posting.)

Nearly every report of an oarfish on the ocean surface or shoreline describes the animal as sick or injured and then dying soon after the sighting. There have never been observations of the oarfish feeding on the surface, as there were with the Burnt Island cryptid. These observations, along with a report from the Maine Department of Marine Resources that states oarfish have never been observed or active in the area, leads to reasonable speculation that the critter or critters observed by Mrs. Chandler and others in 1831 were not oarfish. What kind of animal they actually were may never be known.

Present Day Restoration Efforts

Workers removing old mortar at Burnt Island Light as part of 2020 restoration efforts. (photo courtesy Keepers of Burnt Island Light)
Workers removing old mortar at Burnt Island Light as part of 2020 restoration efforts. (photo courtesy Keepers of Burnt Island Light)

The current restoration efforts on the lighthouse station are coordinated by Keepers of Burnt Island Light as part of their “Keep the Light Burning” campaign, which raised over $350,000 for the project. The nonprofit organization was formed in 2008 to assist the Department of Marine Resources in maintaining the historic site. The restoration project includes the light tower, the exterior of the keeper’s dwelling and the adjacent work-shed. The group aims to return the light station to its glory in time to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2021.

During construction over the summer of 2020, the Keepers of Burnt Island Light will not be conducting their usual educational tours. However, the island will remain open to kayakers and small boats that can make beach landings from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Larger vessels should schedule visits to the dock on the northwest side of the island for weekends, as the dock will be reserved Monday through Friday for the contractors’ boats.

The island work zone has been roped off for safety, and visitors are cautioned not to enter this area.

When the construction is finished, and presumably the COVID 19 situation has subsided, the Keepers of Burnt Island Light conduct a Living Lighthouse Program that is available only on Monday and Thursday afternoons, July through August. There is short boat ride to the island that embarks at 1:45 p.m. from Pier 8 in Boothbay Harbor at Balmy Days Cruises. Reservations are available at 207-633-2284. The island beaches and dock are also open to watercraft from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For more information, or to donate to the construction fund, please check these links: Keepers of Burnt Island Light and Living Lighthouse Program.

Updated January 17, 2021: The goal to preserve the strength, beauty, and legacy of the Burnt Island Light Station has been met, according to Elaine Jones of the Keepers of Burnt Island Light. “Boothbay Harbor’s beloved lighthouse will shine on for at least another 200 years, thanks to the hundreds of generous donors. The restoration project was an enormous undertaking that saved a maritime treasure for the state of Maine and for future generations,” Jones wrote in a media advisory. “As an educational and recreational facility, it will continue to positively impact the Boothbay region and those who venture ashore.”

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The Burnt Island Lighthouse on the cover of “Ghosts of the Boothbay Region.” To order the book, click here.