Saturday, October 17, 2015

HGB Podcast Ep. 76 - St. Augustine Light Station

Moment in Oddity - Eilean Mor Lighthouse Mystery

In December of 1900, a ship was sailing to the Flannan Islands in the UK. It's mission was to bring supplies and a relief keeper to the Eilean Mor Lighthouse. The Island had been named for St. Flannen who had been an Irish Bishop because he built a chapel on the remote island. Other than the lighthouse keepers, the island was uninhabited. The ship arrived and docked and noticed something amiss right away. No one was at the dock to meet them. The relief lighthouse keeper, Joseph Moore, ascended the stairs that led up to the lighthouse and he had a feeling of foreboding. The fact that no one had responded to the blasting of the ship's horn was troubling. The door to the lighthouse was unlocked and the kitchen left evidence that the keepers had vacated quickly. There was half eaten food and a chair was tipped over. Two of the three oil skinned coats were missing. The kitchen clock had stopped. A search of the island was ordered, but no sign of the keepers was found. The head of the Northern Lighthouse Board Headquarters, Robert Muirhead, left for the island a few days later to investigate. The historic UK website describes what the investigation revealed:
"Muirhead immediately noticed that the last few days of entries were unusual. 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. The final log entry was made on the 15th December. It simply read ‘Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all’. What was meant by ‘God is over all’?"
A box of ropes was found strewn across the rocks near the water and it was surmised that the keepers were trying to rescue the rope from the sea and a wave washed them away. But then why had the clock stopped in the kitchen? Was it such an emergency that all three keepers had to speed off leaving a chair on the floor? And why wasn't the third oil skinned coat used? And what of those entries with the bizarre weather revelations? Had some weird weather event only taken place on the island? Whatever happened, this mystery certainly is odd!

This Day in History - The Battle of Neville's Cross

On this day, October 17th, in 1346, the Battle of Neville's Cross is fought. It was fought during the Second War of Scottish Independence. King David II led his band of Scottish troops into battle and they numbered between 10,000 to 15,000 men. King Edward III had violated the Treaty of Male, which had ended the Hundred Year War by bringing troops into Normandy. The French were beaten and so David II marshalled his troops. Unfortunately, he did not take advantage of the element of surprise he had and his troops took their time moving forward. They camped outside of the city on October 16th and the next morning a small scouting faction was sent out. They were met by the English forces and were nearly all killed. A couple were able to get away to warn David II. It was too late to reach a better position, The English had the upper hand. The battle was tough and two factions fighting with David II took heavy losses and finally took off, leaving him to battle with his troops alone. They had some success hitting the English flank, but eventually were beaten and David II was captured. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for eleven years. Lord Ralph Neville was one of the commanders of the English forces and he had a cross erected on the battlefield. That is where the battle got its name.

St. Augustine Light Station

The St. Augustine Lighthouse is actually a Light Station, meaning that the lighthouse is accompanied by several outbuildings. This is one of the tallest and oldest lighthouses in America. We visited with several History Goes Bump listeners to experience the Dark of the Moon Ghost Tour. While many families lived here without incident, there were a couple that suffered tragedy. And it is through those tragedies that spiritual energy seems to have continued on, even after all these years. We had what seemed to be an experience of our own. Come with us as we share that and the history and hauntings of the St. Augustine Light Station.

We have discussed the history of St. Augustine in a couple of other podcasts. Obviously, this is one of our favorite cities to visit. Here is a brief refresher on the origins of St. Augustine. The city was founded in 1565, making it one of the oldest cities in both North and South America. It is America’s oldest city.  The city took its name from the day upon which the city was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the Festival of San Augustín. The city was originally founded to protect the Spanish trade route and the Castillo de San Marco was built to help facilitate defense with a small city cropping up nearby. St. Augustine found itself being constantly under assault.

It was decided that a watchtower needed to be built, so that the people of the city would know when they were going to be attacked. They chose the spot where the modern day lighthouse now stands. The tower was built from wood in the 1500s. Several times it had to be rebuilt because wood was a bad choice for material. Later it was decided that what was really needed was a lighthouse. In May of 1824, the Coquina built lighthouse lit its light for the first time. It stood for several decades as the shoreline washed slowly away. Joseph Andreu and his wife Maria De Los Delores Mestre Andreu lived here before the Civil War. Joseph met tragedy one day when he decided to paint the outside of the tower and he fell to his death. Later on in the podcast, we will play one of the guides describing this horrific event. Maria took over as lighthouse keeper in 1860. She was the first female and the first of Hispanic descent to have that job. During the Civil War, a local harbor master named Paul Arnau and Maria removed the lens from the lighthouse to keep it from union soldiers and they buried it in the ground. Arnau was taken captive and under torture on a vessel, he revealed the location of the lens and the Union forces replaced it, so they could see the shipping lanes. Maria left after this and never returned. Or perhaps she did in the afterlife.

By 1870, the government realized that the lighthouse was in danger and they began construction on the present day lighthouse in 1871, making sure to build a firm foundation in coquina. Iron and brick were used for the tower. The lighthouse was completed in 1874. It is St. Augustine's first and oldest brick structure still standing. Paul J. Pelz was the architect who designed the lighthouse. He also designed the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The lighthouse rises to 165 feet above sea level and contains 219 steps to reach the top. We climbed those steps both in the dark on the ghost tour and the next day when we returned in the light. The lighthouse is capped with a red lantern shaped dome that contains the original first order Fresnal lens. The lens is hand blown, stands nine feet tall and came from Paris, France. The lens was damaged in the 1980s by a vandal taking a potshot with a rifle. Head Keeper William Russell was the one to first light the torch in the lighthouse in October 15, 1874. So we were here 141 years after that event. The old watchtower was still standing nearby, but by 1880 it had been toppled into the sea.

Gun shot aftermath
The tower on the inside is illuminated by nine windows and there are eight flights of cast iron spiral stairs that end in platforms, so that people can rest. This would have been needed by the keepers who had to hoist a can full of fuel weighing 30 pounds, up those stairs every two hours. This is no longer necessary today because the lighthouse is fully automated with a 1,000 watt bulb lighting the original beacon of the Fresnal lens. But before automation, lighthouse keepers were needed. The brick lighthouse keeper house that still stands today, was built in 1876. It was triplex that held two families and a single lighthouse keeper assistant. The first family to live in the house was the Harn Family.

William A. Harn was originally from Philadelphia. He had served during the Civil War as Captain of the 3rd New York Independent Battery and fought in the battles at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. His military service is what probably led him to be the first keeper to wear a uniform. He arrived in St. Augustine with his wife Kate and six daughters. For twenty years, Harn served as Head Keeper at the lighthouse. In 1886, Harn documented an earthquake that rocked the lighthouse in August of that year. He thought the tower was going to fall over. During his tenure, fuel was switched from lard to kerosene.

Lens Mechanism
Fresnal lenses
The family had to deal with little amenities. Bathrooms were not inside the Keeper's house until 1907. Electricity was not installed until 1925. During World War II, the Coast Guard used the light station as a lookout and they built a garage where they could work on vehicles. Today, that building is used to help restore recovered nautical items and things damaged by water. By the 1960s, families no longer stayed at the station. The house was rented out and in 1970, it was nearly gutted by fire. Then it stood vacant for a while and was in danger of being bulldozed. In 1980, the Junior Service League of St. Augustine signed a lease and restoration efforts began. The Fresnal lens was first to be fixed. The rest followed and today the St. Augustine Light Station is a museum that hosts thousands of visitors.

The building that visitors enter through today was built to be a cottage for a keeper. The keeper who had it built was unwilling to live in the keeper's house because of all the unexplained activity going on in the house. It would seem that some of the keepers and some of their family members have decided to stay on at the light station in the afterlife. History Goes Bump, along with five of our listeners went on the Dark of the Moon Tour at the St. Augustine Light Station. Not only was the tour fun, but it was informative about the history of the location and had a couple of unique things about it. One was that we got to climb the lighthouse at night and view the city. The other was that we got to explore on our own for an hour or so. We've never been on a ghost tour that allowed that. The tour guides work for the lighthouse and so you know they care about the place and the funds go to keeping this wonderful piece of history alive. We had Dave and Ann Student with us, Julie Brammer, Jaran and Belle.

We're going to play several sound bites that we recorded that night, featuring some of the haunting stories. Before we started the tour, we were informed of a little issue with the women's bathroom. Apparently, it is haunted. One of the more famous stories about the lighthouse goes back to its initial construction. The construction supervisor was Hezekiah Pittee and he had his children at the site with him. A railcar had been rigged to serve as a way to move supplies. The children found it to be quite handy for play and they would ride the car along the rail to where it stopped near the ocean. One day the car did not stop like it normally did and it went flying into the ocean, trapping three young girls. Only one of them was rescued. She was a neighbor girl. The other two girls were Hezekiah's children. Later, men laying bricks along the scaffold would hear children laughing. They would scamper down to warn the kids not to play with the railcar and they would find no children anywhere. In the 1960s, a man had rented the keeper's House and invited friends to stay with him. They woke up that night and found a girl in an old fashioned dress staring at them from beside the bed. The girl smiled at them and disappeared. We hiked through a nearby woody area and tried to figure out where the railcar line would have been. A guide showed us a picture taken in the woods of a white figure.

Spiral staircase
The children are seen inside the lighthouse as well. Sometimes standing near the stairwell, wearing what people describe as old fashioned clothes. The guide showed us a picture of a shadow figure taken as it looked down over a railing. It was a very compelling picture.We wonder if perhaps the girls played a trick on us. We were mysteriously locked in the lighthouse while on free time. Denise left to go outside for a minute and when she came back, she couldn't open the door. Jaran and I tried opening the door from the other side, but it was locked tight. We thought the lock was broken and had automatically locked. A guide came with a key and informed us that the lock on the inside is not functional. It can only be locked from the outside with a key. How did that door lock itself? One of the guides also told us about muddy footprints that were left inside the Keeper's House. There were no barefoot children on the tour and the footprints would not wash away. They finally disappeared one day on their own. We saw the pictures of these as well.

As we mentioned earlier, a keeper named Joseph died while trying to paint the lighthouse. He is here and his wife Maria has returned here as well. The guides told us some personal stories in regards to this and also more details on the way that Joseph died. It was not pretty. He hit many things on the way down and someone in his family more than likely witnessed the whole thing. Their ghosts many hang out on the first floor. We went down into the basement and were told about another Keeper named Pete. Pete liked to smoke down here and occassionally the sweet smell of his tobacco can be detected. He likes to put pressure on men's chests and to touch ladies on the legs. We heard stories from both our guide and later, Julie and Diane spoke with another guide who told us some pretty strange occurences that have happened with Pete. He seems to be able to control EMF Meters.

Are the spirits of those who once watched over the lighthouse still here, continuing their watch in the afterlife? Are the ghosts of children playing in the woods and in the lighthouse? Were we locked inside the lighthouse by some weird happening with the lock? Is the St. Augustine Light Station haunted? That is for you to decide!
Our group before the tour

Here we all are on top of the lighthouse!

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