Friday, October 23, 2009

Keeping His Post

Magnet # 72: St. Simons Island Lighthouse

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Me

There are actually two reportedly haunted lighthouses within a day's drive from Savannah. I've already discussed the one in St. Augustine, and now it's the St. Simons Island lighthouse's turn. The first lighthouse built on this spot wasn't all that interesting until 1862, when it was blown up by fleeing Confederate troops to prevent it from assisting the Union once they took control of the area. When the Civil War was over, construction began on a new lighthouse in 1872. And that's when the tragedies began piling up.

During construction of the lighthouse, the head of construction and some workers died of malaria. Mosquitoes breeded in the stagnant ponds surrounding the area, making the area very unsafe. Finally, years after the structure's completion, major construction was undertaken to make the lighthouse safe for habitation. This was important, considering the adjoining keeper's house was home to two families: the keeper and his family inhabited the first floor, while his assistant and his family lived upstairs. Working together and living basically in the same space would be difficult for many people to manage. It was practically a given that, at some time, this much togetherness would cause friction between the keeper and his assistant. But no one could have imagined how badly emotions would turn at the St. Simons Island lighthouse.

In 1880, an argument between then lighthouse keeper Frederick Osborne and his assistant, John Stephens, turned deadly when Osborne was shot in the stomach by Stephens and later died because of the injury. No one is quite certain what brought on the dispute, but it's believed that Stephens was offended by Osborne's inappropriate treatment of his wife. Stephens was arrested but eventually acquitted by a jury and he went on to become head keeper. But many claim he had additional company of the supernatural variety. It was around that time when odd, unaccountable footsteps began to be heard in the lighthouse. And a few noteworthy claims of supernatural activity in the lighthouse have surfaced in the years since. One of the more remarkable ones came from a later keeper's wife, who had apparently known Osborne and had one been promised by him that if she ever needed his help, to just call for him. Her husband was away and she was tending to the lighthouse alone, finding problems with the mechanisms beyond her control. Apparently, furious, she called out to Osborne and saw a figure appear near her. She passed out and when she came to, the light was mysteriously fixed. Another lighthouse keeper's wife, Mrs. Svendsen, moved there with her husband in the early 1900s. They brought the family dog, Jinx, along with them. Soon, she began hearing the inexplicable footsteps and noticing an odd behavior change in Jinx. The usually friendly animal would growl whenever these footsteps sounded, and his hair would often stand on end as he'd back into corners. Perhaps it's true, as many claim, that animals have a better perception of spirits and apparitions than their human companions. Whatever the case, Jinx's odd behavior continued throughout the Svendsen's stay at the lighthouse.

Is the lighthouse on St. Simons Island truly haunted, as residents of the area and visitors say? If you're curious, visit the site of Frederick Osborne's murder and climb the steps of the lighthouse he once tended - and may still. Maybe you'll be able to hear his heavy footsteps and smell the kerosene of his lamp, as others have claimed to before.

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