Friday, March 6, 2015

HGB Podcast 32 - Seguin Island Lighthouse

Moment in Oddity -  Self Mummification

The term self-mummification probably inspires some weird images, thoughts and questions. How does someone self-mummify and why? Monks in the countries of India, China and Japan have practiced self-mummification as far back as the 12th century. The process is arduous and takes a long time, around 3,000 days. The monk will eat a diet of nuts, bark, roots and seeds and exercise strenuously all in an attempt to basically starve himself. The monk's desire is to rid his body of fat and moisture. When the desired effect was obtained, the monk would drink a poisonous tea that would help him vomit up bodily fluids that would help prevent maggots and bacteria. He would enter a tomb and assume the lotus position. A tube would be run into the tomb to provide air and a bell would be installed for the monk to ring every day that he was still alive. When the bell rang no more, the tube would be removed and the tomb sealed. Once 1,000 days had passed, the tomb would be opened again and if the monk was found in a perfect state of mummification, it would be declared that he was only in a trance and he would be placed in a temple for worship until he re-awakened. Self-mummification recently made the news when a 1,000 year old Buddha was given a CT scan. The scan revealed something extraordinary. Inside the statue was the mummified body of a Chinese monk from 1100 AD. Inside his body were scraps of paper with Chinese writing instead of organs. We imagine more Buddha statues will be facing scans. Self-mummification is not only a horrible way to die, but quite odd. 

This Day in History - Remember the Alamo

"Remember the Alamo." Those three words summon visions of heroism and call people to stand up against insurmountable odds. On this day, March 6th, in 1836, the final assault on the Alamo was conducted. The Battle at the Alamo lasted thirteen days. It began on February 23, 1836 when Mexican dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his troops arrived in San Antonio. Santa Anna's force numbered 1500 men. The Alamo had only a little over 100 men to defend it lead by co-commanders William B. Travis and James Bowie. Travis sent out letters pleading for help, but no extra reinforcements were sent. For several days, the Alamo withstood cannonade from artillery batteries. On March 3rd, Travis sends out one final appeal for more men and declares in the letter, “I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and may my bones reproach my country for her neglect.” In the early morning hours on March 6th, Santa Anna orders his troops to attack the Alamo and a 90 minute bloody battle follows with the Alamo falling in the end just before sunrise. Santa Anna ordered the bodies of those killed to be burned. Between 182 and 257 defenders were killed including folk hero Davy Crockett. The cruelty of Santa Anna's attack outraged Texans and drove many of them to join the fight in the Texas Revolution. Today, the Alamo is now the most popular tourist site in Texas.

Seguin Island Lighthouse

Seguin Island is an island off of Maine, which can only be reached by boat, and is home to Maine's tallest and second oldest lighthouse, Seguin Island Lighthouse. This lighthouse is known by its more common name, Seguin Light, and not only dates back to the birth of America, but it carries a rich history that includes a gruesome tale. What has happened at this lighthouse seems to live on, not only through stories, but through spirits as well. The light is always on at this lighthouse. Come with us as we climb the spiral staircase of legend into the afterlife.

Seguin Island sits ten miles from Boothbay Harbor at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine. The first English colony was established a few miles further down the Kennebec River in Popham in 1607. The colonists left after only a year because of hardships and returned to Europe. There is much debate as to how Seguin actually obtained its name. Most historians believe it is derived from both French and Native American, much like the name of Chicago. The Native American term was sutquin, meaning "where the sea vomits" because the ocean roils and pounds in this area. Originally, Seguin Island was part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and it was the Commonwealth that gave the United States ten acres of the island that later grew to include the entire island after Seguin Light was commissioned.

President George Washington commissioned Seguin Light in 1795. The original structure that served as the lighthouse no longer exists. It was constructed from wood and rose to 50 feet. Oil lamps and crude reflectors served as the first lights. Obviously, wood was a bad idea and a new structure was built in 1819 out of stone. It too deteriorated. The current lighthouse was built in 1857. The tower was made from granite blocks that were painted white and the height of the tower makes Seguin Light the tallest lighthouse in Maine at 53 feet. The keeper's house was built of brick.

The 1st Order Fresnal Lens was installed at that same time. This type of lens is extremely rare. Fresnal lenses are beautiful masterpieces that were developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnal. The lenses have large apertures and short focal lengths enabling them to capture more light from a light source and send it across a greater distance, up to 20 miles away. The lens has 282 individual glass prisms. Seguin Light has the only 1st Order Fresnal Lens still in use in the state.

The lighthouse is currently lit by a 1,000 watt electric bulb that is powered by a 17,000 foot underwater cable, but originally a kerosene powered incandescent oil vapor lamp lit the lens. Lighthouse keepers were needed to not only keep the lenses maintained, but to keep the oil lamps burning. The lamps burned through two gallons of oil an hour. The first keeper was Major John Polerecsky and he established gardening on the island. He was described as genial and "Frenchy." He was replaced by Jonathan Delano in 1804, who was a less then stellar keeper. The Delano family traded thirty-six dozen wicks for tin ware and so he was relieved of his position in 1825 and replaced by John Salter. Many keepers and assistant keepers would follow including three women.

In 1895, a tramway was installed to make the half mile steep climb up to the lighthouse easier. The railway was 1006 feet long. The cart on the tramway was used to bring up coal, supplies, people and furniture. It is believed that originally oxen or mules were used to pull the cart upward. Later the entire tramway was rebuilt and a mechanical engine powered the tram. Passengers were no longer carried on the line after an accident in which the cable that pulled the tram snapped and a keeper's wife was severely injured in 1949.

Family life at the lighthouse was difficult. The lighthouse was hard to reach and supply and self-sufficiency was a must. Children were schooled by a tutor who would come for about two weeks every three months. Boredom was hard to endure and would lead to a disastrous outcome for one family at the lighthouse that we will share in a bit. Wives were expected to keep the quarters spotless in case of surprise inspections. The 1950s would finally bring changes in the form of electric generators, radio and television. In 1963, families were no longer a part of Seguin Light and the lighthouse went "stag."

Sequin Light was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The station was automated in 1985 and decommissioned and the Friends of Seguin Island was formed to ensure the preservation of the site. The lighthouse is open in the summer and features a museum and tours. The lighthouse may not be open for business in the winter, but that does not mean that no activity is taking place at the location. Lighthouses around the world are famously haunted and Sequin Light is no exception.

Seguin Island was a treacherous place before the lighthouse was installed. The island is hard to see not only because of rough seas, but the fog that blankets the area on a regular basis is quite thick. Stories of shipwrecks near the island abound. There was the wreck of the Gondola in 1890. The Gondola was a Canadian schooner. A gale had trapped the ship and crashed it up against the rocky ledges. The crew left the ship in a small boat and despite their best efforts to reach the island, they were swept out to sea. Fortunately they were found and saved by another vessel. The Captain had stayed with the ship and witnesses watched helplessly as he clung to the hull of his destroyed ship. The Captain's body was never found. Could the Captain still be hanging around the island looking for his lost wrecked ship?

The most famous haunting at the lighthouse revolves around one of the keeper's and his wife, although no one is sure which keeper. As we mentioned earlier, life at the lighthouse could be quite boring. The keeper decided to buy his wife a piano to give her something to do. When the piano arrived, it came with only one sheet of music. The wife worked hard to learn how to play the piano and she practiced for hours with this one sheet of music. And then she practiced some more. And even more. The same melody droning on and on for hours and hours. Nothing, but that same endless melody. All Winter long. No supplies came that could have possibly included more sheets of music for different melodies. The constant banging of that music was driving the keeper insane. He couldn't take it anymore and he embraced his inner Jack from "The Shining" and took an axe to the piano, chopping it into bits. He then turned on his wife nearly decapitating her. His madness continued as he ran and threw himself off the lighthouse. The haunting tinkling of a piano has been heard over the decades. Former keepers have documented the occurrences in journals and people who visit claim to hear piano music. The keeper's apparition has been seen many times as though he were continuing to fulfill his duties as keeper at the lighthouse.

One such experience about the piano is reported at the Haunted Lights website:
"I wanted to mention to you that when I went out to Seguin Island, ME with the USCG a few summers ago, after going to two other lights, I did have an uncanny experience at Seguin Light. I should say first that I had heard nothing about any sort of ghosts, nor had I read anything at all about ghosts, and merely went along on this beautiful, sunny day with USCG while they did their repairs to the ATON. Just a few days before, a couple had moved in to be the keepers at Seguin for the season - they were from California as I recall. I was standing outside the tower at its base and casually speaking with the woman, and, as she was speaking, I heard a piano playing - a rather quick, Scott Joplin style tune - I thought perhaps it might be an unseen radio, although it did have an ethereal quality to it - almost more like a memory on the wind than music. Since she was speaking to me at the time, I did not think to question her about it, or say anything to her. We had just done a walk through the structures which are impeccably restored. When we returned to the USCG office, the Ex-O asked if his staff had told me about the ghost at Seguin which plays the piano!!....My heart literally stopped when I heard that question...There is no doubt that I had heard it. It is a true story and unforgettable - all the more so in a way, since it was a sunny, almost timeless day, so quiet yet with high winds on the top of that cliff, with the music like a memory more than a song."
Though not talked about much, it is believed that their were several suicides at the lighthouse. One of those was a keeper's daughter whose silhouette is seen walking near the cliffs on occasion. She was buried in the island near the lighthouse grounds. The spirit is seen inside the lighthouse as well. The girl has been reported by keeper's after they see her running up and down the stairs and her giggling is heard as well.

The Coast Guard has reported their own stories as well. Members have claimed that they heard and saw furniture move and that clothes would be moved as well. Ghostly sounds were heard also. When the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1985, they went in to pack items up. After they had the boxes packed, they turned in for the night, but not for long. The Warrant Officer claims that he was awakened in the night by a male apparition that was shaking his bed violently. When the ghost saw that he was awake, he demanded that the men leave his home alone and leave the furniture. The Warrant Officer must have thought that he had only been dreaming or he decided not to listen to the demands of a dead man because the next morning the furniture was packed onto a boat and sent to the mainland. Only the boat never arrived. It sank before it could reach its destination. Did the angry ghost get his revenge?

Connie Small was the wife of a Head Keeper at the lighthouse from 1926 to 1930. In an interview she said that they had been warned that there were several ghosts at the lighthouse. She said that she knew a woman who had lived at the lighthouse and needed to be put in an asylum after her stay. A retired lighthouse keeper was convinced that there was a presence in the engine room. He would feel it many times whenever he entered that room. And then there was the first lighthouse keeper at Seguin Light, Major John Polerecsky. He had a hard time on the island with little food and his boat had been destroyed and so he could not get back to the mainland. He was older and he died on the island. People who pass the lighthouse claim to see an older man on the island when no one is suppose to be there. The figure sometimes climbs the stairs as if he is going up to maintain the light, which is now automated and so it does not need the daily care of a keeper.

Seguin Island is abandoned most days of the least by the living. Are the keepers from years past still carrying on their duties? Can the haunting melody of a piano still be heard to this day? Is Seguin light haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show notes
*For further information and a more extensive history please see:

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