Locked up by Wobbleshanks
On the Doomsday List of lighthouses, Waugoshance stands guard on a reef at the very top of Lake Michigan where it enters the Straits of Mackinac. Built in 1851, it replaced a lightship that had moored nearby for nineteen years. It eventually was shut down in 1912, allegedly because it was declared obsolete by White Shoals Light, but some wondered if it was an inability to keep a lightkeeper because no one wanted to live with the ghost nicknamed "Wobbleshanks."
John Herman, who had served at Waugoshance as everything from Second Assistant Keeper to Head Keeper, managed to while away the loneliness with "spirits" (the alcoholic kind). This propensity to drink also led him to play practical jokes on his assistants. One time, he locked an assistant in the lantern room and left him. While the assistant yelled and pounded to be let out, no one ever came. John Herman was gone. It was assumed he staggered and fell off the pier and drowned. The year was 1900. From then on, strange things happened at the lighthouse. Doors would open and shut at random (perhaps replaying the last joke of Herman's career?) and between the loneliness and the legends, keepers came and went with amazing speed.
During World War II, Waugoshance was used as a strafing target by navy pilots, yet it survived the bombing runs, although one of the heat seeking missiles caught the keeper's house on fire and burned it to the ground. The interior of the tower was also damaged. Since then vandals have taken the spiral staircase, and the weather has done further damage. The photo shows the metal it was wrapped in at one point peeling away from the tower.
A few years ago, a gentleman named Jack Edwards and his friend Mark went out to Waugoshance to hunt for John Herman. The two took out a cooler, a fifth of scotch and three glasses, hoping to entice the spirit with spirits. Pouring three glasses, they toasted Wobbleshanks, and set his glass down. He never showed. The rain started, coming down in torrents, and the two ghost hunters huddled under tarps, waiting and watching the doors and windows until they fell asleep. When they woke the next morning, the tightly capped bottle of scotch was still there, and the levels had not changed in the glasses. Disappointed, they went home. Until two weeks later. From the Waugoshance Preservation Society page:
One evening I (John) got a telephone call from Mark. After our in-search-of ghosts adventure, we had left the cooler on the back porch and the partially empty bottle of scotch on the table inside his cottage. When Mark returned a week later, the first thing his nose told him was that something was very fishy. The cooler proved to be the culprit. Inside was a partly decomposed whitefish that had been baking for a week in the July sun. The bottle of Scotch was still inside where we had left it. The level was still the same. However, it contained water instead of Scotch whiskey!
Who was responsible? Whiskey transformed into water sounds like an old teenage trick, but there weren't any teenagers around, My first suspicion was that our lame-joking, well-wishing friends dropped by and set us up. If so, neither of them has been willing to take credit. Could it be - and I realize this is a far stretch for those who are skeptical of ghosts - that the ghost of John Herman had visited us that dark stormy night at Waugoshance? Could a ghost drink almost a fifth of Scotch and replace it with Lake Michigan water? Could a ghost leave a fish in our cooler? We had been convinced that our little excursion was a failure. We hadn't bothered to uncap the bottle and smell the scotch. We had no reason to be suspicious. I don't recall that we even opened the cooler. Could it be that Mark and I had become the latest target of the practical jokes of lightkeeper John Herman's ghost?
An Unsolved Murder
Gibraltar Point is arguably the first lighthouse built in Canada, in 1808, and this tale is of the murder of the first lighthouse keeper, John Paul Rademuller, who was allegedly murdered, although no body was ever found. Maybe. John, who was alleged to be running a sideline job of smuggling liquor, was killed by two soldiers he’d refused to serve. The body was never found, but a quote from the paper at the time, the York Gazette, states:
“Died on the evening of the 2nd of January, J.P. Rademuller, keeper of the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point. From circumstances there is moral proof of his having been murdered. If the horrid crime admits of aggravation when the inoffensive and benevolent character of the unfortunate sufferer are considered, his murder will be pronounced most barbarous and inhuman.”
In 1893, the fourth keeper of the light, a George Durnan, claimed he’d dug up a coffin and some bones from a jaw near the keeper’s house. The rest of the skull nor any other bones were ever found, so to this day it remains a mystery. The site was known to have been a burial ground for aborigines, although the presence of a coffin would preclude them.
Does Rademuller still haunt the lighthouse where he was murdered? Keepers have reported seeing a ghostly figure on the stairs, especially on stormy nights. Later keepers and visitors have reported an “eerie mist” of swirling light and orbs around the tower. Photographs have been taken of them, also. The sounds of footsteps climbing the stairs, or of someone dragging something up to the lantern room have also been reported, along with strange thumps and groans when no one is inside the light.
Terrible Tilly, as she was called, was originally meant to be placed at the summit of Tillamook Head, Washington. Fortunately, someone realized in time that placing her at the top would mean the fog would cover her lights, so she was moved lower, to Tillamook Rock, a piece of land jutting up one hundred feet from the sea. One member of the party surveying it slipped off the rock and fell to his death below, but the Lighthouse Board continued on with plans. It had to be blasted level, and the first construction crew was stranded by fierce waves and terrible winds, where no boat could approach. They were attacked by sea lions, and nearly froze to death. But they continued on, finishing the station in 1881. The only access to this light was by derrick, where visitors and keepers had to be lifted up 75 feet over the roiling waters below to the summit of the rock.
A former keeper tells of working up to their necks in water that splashed into the tower to keep the light going, and of a Native American legend that told of an underwater tunnel that ran from the mainland to the rock, where spirits resided. Numerous lightkeepers would tell of hearing ghostly cries from far below as they climbed the stairs to the tower, and mainlanders still claim to see a ghostly glow from the tower, even though it has been discontinued since 1957.
Two other ghosts are said to reside at the Rock, one a former keeper who loved it so much he wanted to be buried there. Of course, he wasn't, but his spirit is said to have returned to Tilly to spend eternity. Then there's the tale of another keeper who threatened to kill the next one who took his job. When his replacement showed up, he tried to make good on his promise and chased his replacement up the stairs. When they reached the top, the new guy pushed the slightly insane old keeper down the chairs, and he was eventually taken away in a strait jacket.
But far more interesting of a tale is of the phantom ship that escaped the rocks, witnessed by the four lightkeepers residing on the rock one stormy day. From the book Tillamook light by Jim Gibbs, one of the keepers:
Leaping out of bed and into my pants, I was outside in a flash and "Swede" was waiting for me, all wrought up as if his blood was boiling in his veins. He pointed to the dim outline of a vessel parting the strands of mist less than a quarter of a mile away - its dull gray silhouette blending with the sky and sea and hinting of mystery.
Through the glasses one could tell that she was an old steamer that boasted a chronicle of long and hectic years - her seams had opened and the oakum had baked out through a series of summers. Badly hogged, her decks had grown sodden from rain and sea water, and the rigging hung limp from her fore and main masts, like a broken spider web, against the dismal sky. The dingy paint was peeling from her sides, and streaks of rust from iron fittings had left tell tale marks. The davits swung empty, the pilot house was partly stove in, and the cabin portholes creaked open and shut with the pulse of the ocean.
It was clear she was headed toward the rocks, and the crew radioed for a Coast Guard cutter to respond. But it was soon obvious that one wouldn't make it there in time to save this old ship. As the seemingly lifeless ship drifted closer to the rocks, she suddenly became motionless even as a rip tide cut through her hull, and as if there was a skilled navigator at the helm, spun around, sparing herself from disaster. The wooden rudder did strike the rocks during this maneuver, and broke free as the derelict ship continued on her way, disappearing into the mist.
An air and sea search was conducted by the Coast Guard, but they could find no trace of the ship or the wreckage. Until a few weeks later, during a bad storm, when the waves crashing against the rock deposited a load of flotsam and jetsam at the base. The lost wooden rudder was there. The crew desperately wanted it as proof, so Gibbs allowed hiself to be lowered down on a lifeline to retrieve it. Just before he reached it, a huge whitewater wave came crashing, inundating him and all in its wake. As the water receded from over him, he watched helplessly as the rudder was swept back out to sea, never to be seen again.
The Skulls Left Behind
Execution Rocks, sitting at the west end of Long Island Sound in New York since 1851, lends itself to grisly tales just due to its name. According to folklore, the British avoided public executions in Colonial times because they would inflame the revolutionary spirit of the American people. Instead, they would carry the condemned to these reefs at low tide, chain them to rings embedded in the rock, and wait for high tide to carry out the death sentence. Some say the skeletons were left to torture the minds of the newly condemned as they faced certain death. But the ghosts of the condemned had their revenge. A shipload of British soldiers, sent to pursue Washington on his retreat from Manhattan to White Plains, foundered at the reef. No redcoats survived.
The legend of the executions had such hold, that when lightkeepers were assigned to Execution Rocks, they were under a unique contract. No lightkeeper was to ever feel chained to the reef. Instead of stating a set length of duty, their contract read that their length of service was for as long as they were willing. If for any reason, they requested a transfer, it was instantly granted.
Specters have been seen on the rocks near the lighthouse, but the last Coast Guard keeper denied ever having seen anyone that could be construed as a ghost. But with its history, it’s hard to say if maybe he just wasn’t sensitive enough to see them. The lighthouse has also been the scene of fires two times, once in 1918 and once in 1921, both in the engine room. The first time, the fog signal, running for five hours, slowed, and the keeper went to investigate. When he opened the door to the room, he was greeted by flames. The second time, an overheated exhaust pipe caused the roof to catch fire. Perhaps the spirits of those executed and left on the rocks were taking their revenge.