Still active to this day, the second oldest lighthouse in Maine still shines it’s light across the Saco bay in the southern part of Maine. While its 200 year history includes tragedies and triumphs, some say the lighthouse is active in more than one way; with spirits still haunting the grounds and buildings. Today, we’re learning about the Wood Island Lighthouse in Bangor, Maine and the events that transpired to give it a grisly reputation. Daring rescues, murder and suicide dot the history books of the lighthouse and make it one of the most haunted lighthouses on the east coast.
The lighthouse itself was first established by an order from Thomas Jefferson in 1808. The first structure on the island was a wooden octagonal tower, open and exposed to the elements that would eventually cause the building and the keeper house next to it to rot away. It would be replaced in 1839 with a stone structure that is still preserved to this day. Listed on the National Historic Register, those dedicated to preserving its history celebrate all of the events of the 200 year old lighthouse and offer tours and history events on the property.
Today, the lighthouse is automated and run by the U.S. Coast Guard, but in its heyday, dozens of keepers were tasked with keeping the incoming ships safe from the rough waters near the Saco River. In 1865, a keeper on the island was responsible for saving an entire British ship while working the lighthouse. The keppert, Eben Emerson, took swift action when the boat capsized, saving the crew from drowning. For his efforts, he would be rewarded by the Canadian government with a pair of binoculars and a strong commendation for his brave actions. More keepers would take up the mantle after Emerson, but one man would experience the most tragic events to happen on the island.
While Thomas Henry Orcutt served as keeper in the 1890s, an altercation broke out between a local squatter and lobster fisherman known as Howard Hobbs and a local part-time sheriff, Frederick Milliken. Milliken asked Hobbs to come to his house on the southern edge of the island to discuss the matter of overdue rent on a chicken coop that Hobbs had been habitating in for some time. Hobbs showed up to the meeting with a rifle in hand. When the sheriff asked him to give him the gun, Hobbs insisted that it wasn’t loaded and began waving the rifle around. When Milliken tried to take the firearm, a shot rang out and a bullet pierced the sheriff’s chest, killing him instantly in front of his wife. Hobbs went to the keeper, Orcutt, to turn himself in, seeing the man as the highest authority on the island. When Orcutt turned Hobbs away, he returned to his meager chicken coop home and committed suicide with a single bullet to the head.
A final keeper would experience another harrowing event, this time in the 1960s. Keeper Laurier Burnham lived on the island and worked the light with his wife and two children. Unfortunately, one of his daughters took ill and needed to go to the mainland for treatment at the closest hospital. One day with the waves particularly choppy, the keeper and a few other men loaded into a 30 ft fishing boat to take the 2-year-old girl to the shore. The keeper handed his daughter to two seamen on the boat who would complete the journey to the shore on a smaller skip boat. The waves became too much for the small vessel and all of the occupants were thrown into the ice cold water. One of the seamen was able to keep a hold of the young girl, despite being pushed to the ocean floor several times by the unyielding waves. Eventually, the man was able to get his head above water and held the young girl up for rescuers to get her into another boat. The 2-year-old was taken to the nearby hospital and recovered completely from the ordeal. For their act of heroism, the men would be honored by the Coast Guard 30 years later.
The haunted reputation of the lighthouse and keeper quarters began early in the life of the structure, owing to local legends about the island itself and the spirits that resided there. The first reported ghost sighting was made by a construction worker helping to build the lighthouse’s new stone tower. After putting away tools for the night, the man reported seeing an indigenous man standing on the edge of the island, looking out towards the waves. When the worker looked back a second time, the man had disappeared. Fearing that he’d jumped off the cliff into the waves below, he reported the sighting to local authorities, but a body was never found.
After the harrowing murder-suicide on the island, many people reported seeing the slain sheriff wandering the grounds and sometimes appearing within the lighthouse itself. Moans have been reported coming from the site of the chicken coop that the perpetrator called home, sometimes accompanied by the sighting of a man peeking around corners nearby. Both men are said to haunt the lighthouse to this day, with modern investigations turning up EVPs, mysterious photographs, and more evidence of the alleged haunting. One chilling story tells of the next lighthouse keeper in 1905 being so plagued by the ghosts of the island, he decided to stay at a boarding house on the mainland. Legend says that he jumped to his death from the 3rd floor window the next morning.
The stories of the ghosts of the island are famous throughout the Bangor area, with some saying the lighthouse stands as one of the most haunted locations in New England. Former keepers, unfortunate souls, and the murdered are said to still make their presence known to tour goers and employees at the site, often appearing as shadowy figures in the dimly lit rooms or as full-bodied apparitions within the spiraling staircase to the top. Some have even reported seeing shadows of a man at the top of the lighthouse, blocking out some of the beacon’s light, only for it to be revealed that no one was in the lighthouse at the time. While the spirits are as restless as the sea at the Wood Island Lighthouse, it still stands as a reminder of the history of the area and over 200 years of maritime activity under its belt. Tours are offered and the lighthouse is still functional to this day. If you visit the island, would you see the spirits of those long gone in the historic lighthouse? You might want to bring your own flashlight to look for shadowy figures against the stone walls.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.