From the time of its completion in December 1899 on Eilean Mor, a rocky island some eighty miles west of the Scottish coast, the lighthouse seemed cursed. In its first year of operation, three keepers died, a fourth fell to his death from the lantern gallery, and several went mad. Then, on December 15, 1900, the light went out.

The lighthouse was operated by a crew of four, with three men on duty and one ashore. On December 20, Joseph Moore, the off-duty lighthouse keeper, was due to return to Eilean Mor from the nearby Hebrides to relive one of his three colleagues, but bad weather prevented his arrival until December 26. As the supply boat approached the lighthouse, the place was eerily calm. No keepers came to greet the boat, no flag was flying, and the empty provisions boxes had not been set out on the landing. Moore went ashore and mounted the steep stairs cut into the cliff on which the lighthouse stood.

 

 

He found everything in order in the lightroom except one feature: The light’s lens had been cleaned but not covered. Since the keepers would normally cover the lens soon after cleaning it, it appeared that someone had been interrupted at his work. An untouched meal of meat, pickles, and potatoes waited on the table, and one of the dining chairs was overturned. Two oilskin coats were missing.

The islands west landing showed signs of a violent storm earlier in December. A wooden box containing ropes had been torn from its place 110 feet above sea level. Gigantic waves had twisted the iron railings on the landing and torn away turf from the cliff top itself, 200 feet above high tide. But on the drizzly day of the keepers’ disappearance, the tempest had passed. “Storm ended,” read the December 15 weather log, “Sea calm. God is over all.” All, it seemed, but the three hapless lighthouse keepers.

 

 

Their disappearance was attributed variously to abduction by a sea monster; kidnapping by foreign agents, snatching by a giant seabird, and the angry intervention of a ghost said to police the island against intruders. Some believed that one of the keepers had killed his comrades before taking his own life. But the official investigation concluded that the three men must have been washed away when a monstrous wave surprised them on the landing.

 

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