Many lighthouses are purported to be haunted by the presence of some supernatural being. No one has yet purported to have encountered such at Maine’s Little River Light Station – That is, until now.
The Little River Light Station is on an island just off the harbor of the town of Cutler, Maine, a lobstering community way down-east in a remote part of the state. The boathouse there was built in 1881, replacing an even earlier one that dated from the station’s beginnings in 1847. Like most light station buildings, weather and time take their toll, and this one too has been repaired and patched many times in the century-plus since it was new. In fact, it was slipping into the ocean until the American Lighthouse Foundation, under the direction at that time of Tim Harrison, restored and saved the boathouse in the summer of 2000. Although it’s been decades since a keeper’s boat has actually been kept in the boathouse, as an original part of the station, its continued upkeep is an essential part of preserving and telling the history of the site.
As one of several seasonal caretakers at Little River Lighthouse, I was helping with yet another repair - adding a second coat of paint to the freshly refurbished doors and the wood trim of the boat house that had been painted a few days earlier by Dave Corbett, whose grandfather and great grandfather had both been keepers at this station. It was a bright August day, sunny but with a welcomed breeze - a good day for painting. After getting the paint and my brushes ready, I opened the double doors at the top of the skids, and prepared to start the job.
That’s when I heard the voice behind me. “Do you want some help?”
I was so startled that I dropped the brush, which fortunately hadn’t yet been dipped into the paint. I didn’t know I had company. The only other people on the island were my wife and our two current guests, and I thought they were back at the keeper’s house on the other side of the island. I turned to look, figuring it had to be Charlie, our visitor, who must have decided to come and help. “Sure,” I replied, “the more the merrier.”
It wasn’t Charlie. I’m not sure who, or maybe even what, it was. The remnants of what seemed to be old time sailors clothes hung about him in tatters, and those bits were covered in dirt. His face, or rather where his face should have been, was mostly skeletal. I couldn’t help noticing his hands, and his feet too, as he had no shoes, and showed more bone than flesh. About that time I noticed a strong and strange odor about him - the odor of death perhaps?
I was speechless, but he on the other hand was quite talkative. “I’m a good painter,” he told me. “The Cap’n always lets me paint the spars and the ‘tween decks too. I’ve had nothing to do for a long time. I’d really like to help.”
About this time, since I knew some of the history of the island, it dawned on me who, or should I say what, this strange apparition - if I were really seeing it at all - had to be. He was a man from another time, but since volunteer help is hard to find, particularly good painters, it only took me a minute to say, “Sure, I’d really appreciate some help.” I left him the paint for the doors and trim and a couple of brushes and told him I’d check back later.
With that, I high-tailed as fast as I could walk, trying not to appear scared, across the island’s boardwalk to the keeper’s house on the other side of the island where my wife and I resided. “You’re not going to believe who I just met,” I blurted as I went into the house with the screen door slamming behind me.
I did not return to the boat house that day, maybe out of fear; maybe not. However, the next morning, I had to go back. I needed to take our overnight paying guests back to the mainland and pick up the next arrivals. The boathouse looked great. The lid was back on the paint can and it was back on the shelf. The paintbrushes were clean and hanging on their nails. There didn’t seem to be any sign of my helper, but I hope he comes back the next time we have painting to do.
Editor’s Note: In December of 1897, the Julia A Warr, a vessel out of Calais, Maine, departed for Fall River, Massachusetts. Shortly after the ship left port, a winter storm struck the Downeast area of Maine and the ship was lost. Over the next weeks there were numerous sightings by vessels traversing the waters between New York and Calais and Eastport, Maine of a shipwreck floating down the east coast.
A few days after the December 1897 storm, the bodies of two men washed up on the rocks at Little River Lighthouse, which is a 15-acre island off the coast of Cutler, Maine. The bodies were found by lighthouse keeper Roscoe Johnson who decided to bury the bodies in the soft soil of a bright sunny spot near the boat house where it was easier to dig a grave. This was likely done because of inclement weather or because of the difficulty of bringing the bodies ashore in the unpredictable winter weather months. Then, if authorities later wanted the bodies removed from the island, it would be much easier to dig up the graves and the remains of the lost souls would be close to the boat house for easy removal from the island during the spring or summer months.
On March 20, 1898 the remains of the vessel Julia A Warr, bottom up, washed ashore at the Shinnecock Life Saving Station on Long Island, New York. The crew of the life-saving station reported that it appeared that the vessel had been floating upside down for many weeks as it drifted down the coast.
The Julia A. Warr had a crew of six men, one of whom was Capt. George Warr who left a wife and six children. Because of the timeframe of the storm that struck the area shortly after the vessel departed from Calais, Maine and because there were no other vessel disappearances in the area at that time, it is highly probable that the two bodies that washed up at Little River Lighthouse were from the Julia A. Warr. If there was any identification on the bodies, which is highly unlikely, the names were lost in the pages of time.
Simple markers were placed on the graves, but over time, as people forgot about them, and probably during the Coast Guard era, the markers disappeared from the site. In 2006, on a return visit to the island, Neil Corbett, who grew up on the island where his father Willie W. Corbett was the lighthouse keeper from 1923 to 1945, showed members of the Friends of Little River Lighthouse the exact location of the two graves. Interestingly, Roscoe Johnson was Neil Corbett’s maternal grandfather, the lighthouse keeper who buried the bodies.
In 2008, Boy Scouts from Troop 23 of the Pine Tree Council cleared the area and placed stones on the graves to mark them and Tim Harrison and Kathleen Finnegan placed a memorial marker with a sailing ship.
Eventually, the Friends of Little River Lighthouse, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, hope to install a fence around the grave site area and place a historical marker at the site.
The deceased souls have apparently rested peacefully at Little River Lighthouse ever since 1897, except, apparently, for this instance when one of them reportedly offered to help paint the boathouse. Regretfully, Jack Graham never thought to ask his name or the circumstances of his demise and that of his mate.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2013 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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