Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2017

The Keeper Ghost of Branscomb Road

A True Story

By Debra Baldwin


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The decision to make a “short” detour to see Cape ...
Photo by: Debra Baldwin

It was a dark and stormy night and I was lost on the Lost Coast of California.

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All the GPS would show was a squiggle of line ...
Photo by: Debra Baldwin

And I was alone . . .

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Were my eyes betraying me? But there it was- a ...
Photo by: Debra Baldwin

It had started out innocently enough. I had been lighthousing down the Oregon Coast on Highway 101 into California. I was headed to Point Cabrillo Lighthouse to stay the night, but had decided to take a “short” detour to Shelter Cove to see Cape Mendocino Light. It turned out to be a three hour adventure in the fog, with zero visibility up over a mountain to get there and back, and it was now getting rather late. Dusk had fallen, but because of the rain and cloud cover, it was pitch black out there.

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Never was a traveler by land or sea more grateful ...
Photo by: Debra Baldwin

My only consolation was my trusty GPS mounted on my car windshield. It showed Point Cabrillo to be another two hours away, so I put on some relaxing music and headed south, ignoring the pelting rain and howling wind on my car windows – and the ever deepening darkness of the night.

As I got to Leggett, my GPS said I was to turn off onto another narrow road, but the only sign I saw said “Fort Bragg” with an arrow to the right. There was a high chain-link fence there in the blackness of the night that my headlights barely made out, and being unfamiliar with California coastal towns in the area, I decided that must lead into a military installation of that name, so I purposely ignored my GPS and headed straight onward. That was my undoing.

My GPS repositioned to the next shortest route which I assumed would be a major road joining Highway 101 with Highway 1 where I needed to be. I had never been more wrong in my life. I took the next turn that it showed, and was led through a nice residential area. Fine, I thought. It will come out somewhere onto a main artery soon.

The houses started to thin out, and pretty soon the road began to twist and turn as I started to climb. Abruptly, I found myself in a dense forest of massive trees – California redwoods that go straight up to the roof of the sky, creating a dark underwood even in full daylight. But my GPS kept saying to go forward, so determinedly I pushed on.

The road had been getting narrower and the painted lines were getting thin. All of a sudden they disappeared altogether. No marking. None at all. Just black narrow road now barely wide enough for one car in black woods on a black night. No houses, no lights – only my headlight beams cutting the thickness of the mist and rain for a few feet between the trees.

If I had accidently gone off the road, I am sure it would have been months or even years before anyone found my car. The terror started to mount. Was that something I saw moving back there behind that last tree? Wraith-like fog started sifting through the massive ancient trunks. Was that a big hairy something off to the side of that last bend? I kept driving and started praying.

My GPS showed a pink squiggle of a line with no turns off it anywhere. I hadn’t seen a car in either direction since the road lines had vanished almost 45 minutes back. I had only seen the endless trees with the black denseness, so thick now that I could even feel it inside the car.

All of a sudden I saw something ahead, beckoning in the fog! What was it? A faint light, the thinnest of forms emerging from the dense black forest around me. It got brighter and more solid as I approached. It looked like . . . but it couldn’t be . . . but it was . . . a man in uniform holding a lantern! I could barely make out the shape of the hat. He was smoking a pipe and holding a can of some type in his other hand. It had a long narrow spout and was made of shiny dark metal. It all looked vaguely familiar.

For some reason I was comforted by this apparition. I trusted him, and sped up towards him. He moved back into the mist, and where his lantern had been, I then saw a small porchlight beam cut through the fog. A house! Then another and another! Within ten minutes, I had emerged from the woods and the lines reappeared on the road. I was coming back into civilization after my horrendous hour of utter trepidation and rising panic.

As I finally merged with Highway 1 and headed south once again, I came upon the town of Fort Bragg and realized my mistake. It wasn’t very much further to Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. I finally arrived at 10:30 pm. Never was any weary traveler more grateful to see that welcoming beam of light cutting through the darkness of a foggy night!

I realized then that I had gained a first-hand experience and been initiated into the ranks of the lost mariners who were brought safely back to port from their watery darkness because of the efforts of a single keeper and a small flame. And whether on land or at sea, a lantern light will shine its rays of comfort to those in their greatest time of need and bring them safely home.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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