Lighthouse Tragedies: Isolation, Madness, Drownings


The film "The Lighthouse," is one of many portrayals of the life of lighthouse keepers, isolation, and tragedy.

I think we all need a little dive into madness that is lighthouses and the tragic lives of lighthouse keepers - 

"The lighthouse" (film) The story of an aging lighthouse keeper named Old who lives in early 20th-century Maine.

There is little more romantic and tragic as the life of a lighthouse keeper. It was a lonely isolated business that involved long hours with nothing more than the pounding of water on the rocks and cries of seagulls for company. In that very isolation, a sort of cabin fever syndrome could create some pretty tragic outcomes. Let's have a look at the life of a lighthouse keeper of the past. 


It was 1900 when a ship's captain was taking a new lighthouse keeper to the island. When he arrived, he hit the horn and no one came. 

The new lighthouse keeper rowed ashore and climbed the steep steps up to the lighthouse. He had a foreboding of concern about the lighthouse keepers.

When he arrived, he found the door unlocked. Two of the three oil skinned coats were missing. The clock on the wall had stopped. A dish of half-eaten food remained with an overturned chair. 

When the new lighthouse keeper got back to the ship, the captain ordered that they search the other islands in the area, but no one was found. 

The mystery grew deeper when they read the log of the 3 lighthouse keepers. 

LINK:  On the 12th December, Thomas Marshall, the second assistant, wrote of ‘severe winds the likes of which I have never seen before in twenty years’. He also noticed that James Ducat, the Principal Keeper, had been ‘very quiet’ and that the third assistant, William McArthur, had been crying.

What is strange about the final remark was that William McArthur was a seasoned mariner, and was known on the Scottish mainland as a tough brawler. Why would he be crying about a storm?

Log entries on the 13th December stated that the storm was still raging, and that all three men had been praying. But why would three experienced lighthouse keepers, safely situated on a brand new lighthouse that was 150 feet above sea level, be praying for a storm to stop? They should have been perfectly safe.

Even more peculiar is that there were no reported storms in the area on the 12th, 13th and 14th of December. In fact, the weather was calm, and the storms that were to batter the island didn’t hit until December 17th.


In 1887, the wife of the lighthouse keeper went missing. She was found not far from the house by her children, her throat slashed. Sadly, the lighthouse keeper and his daughter two years later, took to a boat that capsized and the daughter drowned. 

Years later, a child born at the lighthouse died at the age of 2 from burn injuries.

Then, in 1912, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper was abducted and the man with her was shot. Neither the daughter or her abductor were found. 

It appears that even in recent years, tragedy strikes those involved in this lighthouse.


Built in the 1700s off the coast of Wales, The Smalls Lighthouse was like a hut suspended up off the ground. 

The two men installed as lighthouse keepers did not get along. In fact, they often fought and confronted each other.

Then, one night one of the men died by unusual circumstances. The other man knew that he'd be blamed. 

He knew if he threw the body into the sea, he would be blamed right away. So, he kept the dead body in the lighthouse. 

Sick of the smell of his nemesis's body, he built a wooden coffin. He fastened it to the railing and sent up a distress signal. While he waited for others to come, he continued his heavy chores at the lighthouse.

To his dismay, the wood had broken away from the body but the corpse was now bound to the railing outside the window as if on display.

For 16 weeks he looked at the decaying body outside the window. Winds occasionally made the arm wave at him. 

Rescuers never came because of storms and when they did approach, the light was on, there were no ships on the rocks and the lighthouse keeper appeared to be up at the railing occasionally waving at them! 


New London Ledge Lighthouse in Connecticut was established in 1909 and designed to fit in with the homes on shore so residents wouldn't have to look out an out of place building offshore. The legends built around the active haunting in the building involved a man named Ernie who supposedly slit his throat at the top of the lighthouse and his body fell to the sea below, never to be found. To this day, Coast Guard staff have reported odd happenings in there, attributing it to Ernie. 


The Boston Light, Boston Harbor, Massachusetts was the first lighthouse in the New World. At first, in the 1600s, locals lit fire on the land there, but in 1715, a lighthouse was erected. 

LINK: George Worthylake was the first light-keeper. On November 3, 1718, Worthylake, his wife Ann, daughter Ruth, and three others, drowned while returning to the island after attending church in Boston. About one month later, an enterprising twelve-year old boy named Benjamin Franklin wrote a ballad called The Light House Tragedy.

"Oh! George, This wild November/ We must not pass with you/ For Ruth, our fragile daughter/ It's chilly gales will rue."

So, Worthylake was the first lighthouse keeper in America and the first to die there as well. 

Adding insult to injury - On November 14, 1718, less than two weeks after the Worthylakes had drowned, Robert Saunders, John Chamberlin, and a man named Bradduck were hired to maintain Boston Light until a replacement light-keeper could be appointed. They were summoned by a ship entering the harbor, in choppy seas, and Chamberlin and Bradduck both drowned on their return trip to the island.

AND, the next lighthouse keeper drowned within days of taking on the job. The lighthouse saw much damage during the Revolutionary War and rebuilding.


Built in 1876, the Bird Rock Lighthouse in the Bahamas was a gorgeous design for its time. In the late 1800s, two lighthouse keepers were assigned and they coincidentally were married to childhood best friends. The two couples embarked from England to the Bahamas to begin their stint. They found out that, because of the rocks around the island and its precarious situation, supplies could only be brought to them twice a year. 

The excited couples arrived, finding a woman in a wheelchair, the widow of the lighthouse keeper who was struck by lightning, and a man hobbling about, a lighthousekeeper who had rheumatism. The third person that was there was a woman who was exhausted, having to take care of the other two nonstop for months and months on end. 

At first, they lived in contentment, fishing, killing birds for food and the women attempted gardening and fixed up their lighthouse home. Over time, however, it became very monotonous. At one point, on exploring the store rooms, they found a coffin with weights. It had a message that if someone should die while on the island, to put them in the weighted coffin and drop them to sea.

At the six-month point, supplies came with magazines and fresh foods and everyone perked up again.

Then, one wife became sick and, even with medicines and instructions, her husband could not save her. They had to lower her coffin to the sea. The widower became quiet and stoic and, over time, the other couple worried about him. 

At one point, the only woman left decided to toss the flowers from the flower box into the sea where her friend had been lowered. The widower went into hysterics because the woman had a premonition dream when they found the coffin that one of the women would be in it. She had caused it - he threatened!

The couple had to hide away the firearms and stay ever vigilant as the widower now had a knife he constantly sharpened. 

At night, the widower pounded on the couple's door, ranted and raved. At times, the husband considered shooting the widower just so they could have peace and safety. 

One day, after a few days of quiet, the husband saw the widower sitting on a rock out on the island where they had lowered the man's wife to the sea. He decided to take a chance and light the beacon. He had his wife lock the door after he left the room and raced up the tower. 

Not too long after the husband left, the wife became anxious. She grabbed up a gun and started up the spiral staircase for her husband. 

Unfortunately, as she reached the top, the widower had been lying in wait and had pounced on her husband, a struggle ensuing. Pregnant and awkward, she raced to try and help, pointing the gun, but the men were wrestling and they went over the railing to the dark sea below.

The wife fainted to the floor. When she came-to and realized what had happened, she looked over the railing, considering jumping and joining them, but she could hear her husband's voice in her mind telling her to live for their child.

She spent lonely and depressed days after that, alone on the island. 

As the wife went into labor all alone, unable to light the light for the ships, a ship crashed. One man managed to pull himself out to the rocks below. 

He scrambled through the lighthouse, thinking he was alone until he found the wife and baby in bed, the wife's face pale, and she was unresponsive. He shook her awake and she said she didn't want to live, but he told her she had a child to live for. The man had lost his wife in childbirth and memories flooded him. 

The wife and baby strengthened as the man took care of them and a relief ship came, taking them back to England and the couple married.

This is a wonderfully romantic tale that was published in a small publication long ago


This lovely historic lighthouse featured on an infamous episode of "Ghost Hunters" has its own tragedies. 

In 1873, during construction, the construction foreman's kids were playing in a supply cart and it tipped over, trapping them in the water. The two youngest children were saved, but the two eldest died. 

A lighthouse keeper was painting it when the scaffolding broke and he fell 60 feet and died. 

Movies with lighthouses -

Half Light

Rachel Carlson (Demi Moore), a successful novelist moves to a small Scottish village to move on with her life after the death of her son. Strange things start to happen when she is haunted by ghosts and real life terror.

The Fog

Legend says that Antonio Bay was built in 1880 with blood money obtained from shipwrecked lepers but no one believes it. On the eve of the town's centennial many plan to attend the celebrations, including the murdered lepers.

The Phantom Light

A lighthouse keeper has been murdered in mysterious circumstances and, during the ensuing investigation a Phantom Light keeps appearing at the scene of his death.

The Lighthouse Keepers

The Lighthouse Keepers is a silent, black and white short, shot as a 1920s style horror melodrama. It tells the dramatic story of a pair of lighthouse keepers, a father and son, who meet a sorry fate in isolation, while carrying out their duty. The Lighthouse Keepers was filmed on location in an historic lighthouse on a dramatically placed Northern Irish island. Using silent film techniques the story unfolds with minimal dialogue and makes use of expression, music, and inter titles to tell the story. The high drama of the situation lends itself well to this means of filming and the melodrama leaves space for innovative use of the live music and sound effects accompaniment that is central to live screenings of the film.

The Ring

A journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone in a week of viewing it.

Shutter Island

A U.S Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.

The Light at the Edge of the World

Pirates take over a lighthouse on a rocky island. They then execute a devious plan to cause ships to run aground, pillaging their wrecks. A lone member of the lighthouse crew survives, and he desperately fights their plot. A shipwrecked maiden that avoids the pirates slaughter soon complicates the situation.


A prison ship on its way to a remote island prison runs aground on rocks and sinks. Mixed survivors of cons and prison guards struggle ashore, only to discover to their horror that another survivor has made it ashore before them. Murderous psychotic, Leo Rook, who not only had a hand in the ship's sinking but has decapitated all but one of the island's lighthouse crew. Stranded, with no means of escape or call for help, the survivors must face a night of terror as they know that since they've learned that Leo survived going down with the ship he can't let any of them live and is hellbent on adding their severed heads to his collection.

South Solitary

Set in 1928, Meredith is a 35 year-old unmarried woman who arrives at a remote lighthouse island with her uncle, the new head keeper.


The first in my three-book paranormal romance series, "Ghost of a Chance: A SEEK Team Investigation" has a chapter based on a lighthouse tragedy that left it possibly haunted. (a variety of Ebook versions can be found on Smashwords).

In my book "Vacationing With Ghosts" I write about a real-life lighthouse that I found to be haunted when I was a child.