I'm sitting here during a raging summer thunderstorm and a thought comes to mind - why do we believe all lighthouses are haunted? An interesting question, isn't it?
I say "we" here, because I have spent a great deal of time around lighthouses, starting with my first job in the National Park Service (NPS) at Gateway National Recreation Area (Sandy Hook Unit, NJ) and continuing throughout my NPS (38 years) and US Coast Guard careers (33 years), and have been asked by most everyone I've met if 'that lighthouse is haunted."
From a paranormal investigator's (and a scientist's) perspective, I believe there are several reasons that lighthouses, in general, are likely to be haunted. Although we cannot assume this is always the case, here are 5 compelling reasons why it's more likely that a nearby lighthouse might be haunted.
1. Electrical Conductivity (or Specific Conductance) of Water
It is widely accepted today that natural water contains ions in solution which are responsible for the ability of electricity to be conducted through it. In the case of seawater, conductance is one million times greater than that of deionized water. The Delaware Bay experiences a mix of freshwater from the Delaware River and salt water from the Atlantic Ocean, however, at the location of the East End Lighthouse (for example), the water contains a considerable salt content (University of Delaware, 2018).
If we accept the idea that Spirits or apparitions are associated with electromagnetic fields, perhaps one reason lighthouses are frequently haunted is that they are surrounded by or adjacent to large bodies of water high in salinity.
2. Frequent Electrical Storms
I often am told stories from people that have seen apparitions during thunder and lightning storms - many associated with the sea. Given that spirit also use energy to manifest a visible form and certainly use it to speak and/or imprint their speech on electronic recording devices, it makes sense that electrical storms would increase this activity. When I worked at Gateway National Recreation Area-Sandy Hook Unit, the one story I heard most often was that during storms, staff members often reported seeing a figure standing on the deck of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse (New Jersey), which is also the oldest working lighthouse in the U.S.
Taking into account that a lighthouse is not only a tall structure but also likely to be the only structure standing in a flat area or in the water, it also makes sense that it would be hit by lightning, drawing more focused electrical energy to it. It is conjecture that this is the case but I think you can see the connection between that much electrical energy and the number of possible Spirits that might be found nearby or attached to such a structure (and visible to us during a highly charged electrical storm).
3. Emotional Ties to Duty
One of the widely accepted reasons that Spirits remain earthbound is that of an emotional connection to the location, situation, or people that remain in the physical world. Many of the apparitions seen on the decks of lighthouses are those of men, presumably the lighthouse Keeper, keeping watch over the seas. Like a soldier standing duty, lighthouse Keepers were duty-bound to serve, no matter the weather, the difficulty, or the scope of the disaster or loss of life they might encounter. One important difference, though, is that the Keeper was the only one able to respond - he had no other soldiers to call upon. I would suggest that this devotion to duty is an emotional connection that increases the possibility that Spirit might be bound to a lighthouse - repeating the watch for ships in trouble at sea through time.
4. Emotional Ties to Shipwrecks or Loss of Life
Another emotional tie that might tie Spirit to lighthouses is the many individuals that have been lost at sea, victims of shipwrecks, or killed doing the dangerous work of the sea. Surely these deaths were traumatizing as being a sailor was a dangerous job. In Delaware alone there have been roughly 1,000 shipwrecks since Colonial times. This suggests that the open water - the legendary "Davy Jones's locker" - is quite full of lost and confused Spirits.
In addition, dying due to hypothermia is likely to be a confusing situation as someone would simply fall asleep and not wake up. It is a frequent occurrence that Spirits remain earthbound because they are unaware that they have died - death by hypothermia would certainly fit the bill.
5. Isolation and Despair
As we've discussed, strong emotion is widely accepted as a reason the deceased might remain earthbound and there was no lack of emotion - in the form of isolation and despair - at lighthouses, in particular. Many are found on remote points of land or were built on rock pilings in open water. Even in the 1980s US Coast Guard members assigned to light stations rotated on a 2 or 3 week schedule, meaning they did not leave the lighthouse for weeks at a time. Imagine how long this might have been in earlier days. A letter from a Keeper's wife in Maine written in 1943 detailed just how lonely this type of work was, and this was on a lighthouse with several people at the station - the Keeper, his wife, and two Assistant Keepers (The Lighthouse Digest, 2005). The work was 24/7, with only a few days per month off if the weather allowed. One can only imagine the life of a solitary Keeper! It is possible that this difficult and lonely existence might be a source of attachment for a Spirit to the source of their despair - the lighthouse itself.
The East End Lighthouse - Lewes, Delaware
A recent visit to the East End Lighthouse confirmed for me that this structure is haunted. While there, I tuned in to two Spirits - one male and one female. The male was a shipwreck victim and the female was the wife of a keeper of the light. The latter shared that there are a total of five "people" there with her. I can't wait to do an in-depth investigation there!
Thanks for reading!
Carol A. Pollio, Ph.D.
Bertram D. Thomas, Thomas G. Thompson, Clinton L. Utterback; The Electrical Conductivity of Sea Water, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 9, Issue 1, 1 April 1934, Pages 28–34, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/9.1.28
Available online: https://academic.oup.com/icesjms/article-abstract/9/1/28/945094?redirectedFrom=PDF
Hirsch, M.L. (2015). The Lonely Lifesaving Job of Lighthouse Keepers Now Revealed at the National Lighthouse Museum. Smithsonian Magazine. August 7, 2015. Available online:
The Lighthouse Digest (2005). Maine Lighthouse Keeper's Wife Writes of Lonely Life. Available online: http://www.lighthousedigest.com/Digest/StoryPage.cfm?StoryKey=2232
University of Delaware (2018). Delaware Bay Salinity. https://www.ceoe.udel.edu/our-people/profiles/moliver/orb-lab/real-time-satellite-data//delaware-bay-salinity