Race Rock Lighthouse

Race Rock, New York

The night is dark, the seas are rough, but still the captain keeps a firm hand on the wheel, guiding the vessel into what he prays will be safe harbor. Off the side, black waters lick the keel, as if tasting the boat, savoring the flavor of its passengers. Through the fog and darkness, a red and white light beams accompanied by a loud siren. Dangerous rocks are ahead. Below the skeletons of hundreds of wrecked vessels sleep in the deep, their crews silenced and angry but never at rest. While the captain gives thanks that the lighthouse steered them away from the jagged teeth of Race Rock, the crew breathe prayers of a different type, because they know that the dead still walk the rocks, and that the souls of dead seamen are thirsty for companionship.

Lighthouses have long served the seafaring community by steering boats away from danger and guiding them into harbor. However, there are some places where a simple lighthouse seems to not be enough. Even after the installation of the giant rotating light, ships continue to be split and chewed by the jagged rocks, sending their crews to watery graves. In places such as these, the dead often do not rest, nor do those whose duty it once was to try to stem the loss of life. Such a place exists in the Long Island Sound.

To say the actual “Race Rock” was considered a nuiscience would be a gross understatement. It was, in fact, thought of as one of the most dangerous obstacles in the water at the time, with jagged rocks that sometimes hid beneath as little as three feet of water. In the 1800’s, the rock was notorious for the number of ships it had claimed. More dangerous were the twin currents, which ensured that anyone who survived an initial collision would soon drown afterward. After losing countless ships, the government stepped in to build a lighthouse.

Several attempts went by with only money spent and hard feelings. However, in 1871, after more than a quarter-million dollars, construction began. More than 10,000 tons of granite was laid in place for a foundation, upon which the tiny lighthouse would sit. When Neil Martin finally lit the beacon for the first time, it was nearly eight years after the first stone was laid.

Since the lighthouse was finished, local legend has it that only one more life was lost on Race Rock: Neil Martin, the lighthouse keeper, who was trying to get to work during a storm.

Notoriously superstitious, sailors tend to stay away from areas for which death was such a powerful acquaintance. In the case of Race Rock, however, mere superstition doesn’t seem to even begin to describe the happenings. Local coast guard officers often report strange occurrences, to the point that none of them like to visit the historic structure anymore. It is little wonder, as the island has claimed so many lives. By 1837 alone, there were eight recorded ships that went down because of the jagged rocks, with more over the following years. Most noted was the 1848 crash of the steamer “Atlantic,” which claimed the lives of forty-five passengers.

Several claims of phantom voices have been made, with some insisting that the presence whispers their names, while others talk about laughter and phantom voices that can’t be understood. Still others have talked about the presence of wet footprints on the bare floor, leading from the restroom, as if someone had just come in and taken a shower, though the building has not had a full-time attendant for many years. Other phenomena include cold spots, feelings of being watched or of extreme sadness, and a few cases in which officers have felt what they described as icy hands and being poked.

Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence of the Race Rock haunting was obtained on an investigation by The Atlantic Paranormal Society (T.A.P.S.) during the taping of the Sci-Fi Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” television program. The video footage shows a member of T.A.P.S. sitting in the attic in a chair. After he got up and left the room, the chair, unaided, scooted several feet.

Present Day
The old lighthouse is still in use today. Now, instead of being run by a keeper, the structure is owned by the Coast Guard and is automated. The original Fresnel lens was replaced in 1939 with an oil vapor lens, then again in 1978 with a 1000 watt lamp. The double-blow fog bell is now a first class siren that one would have to be dead not to hear. Automation took place in 1978.

The introduction of modern technology did not, however, alleviate the haunting. Reports are still filed about strange things encountered on the rock and in the lighthouse. Boats that pass by also sometimes report seeing strange things, like the shadow of a man moving inside the lighthouse turret. The last of its kind, the lighthouse still sits, protecting sailors from the treacherous rocks below.

Best Times
Visiting Race Rock isn’t really an option for most people. Apart from the fact that tour boats don’t generally venture near the structure, there is the problem of viciously rough waters to consider. Attempting to get out to the rock could very well be considered a suicide bid.

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Scott A. Johnson

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