Owls Head Lighthouse is number one on Coastal Living magazine’s most haunted lighthouse list, and there are said to be at least two ghosts at the lighthouse. One is known as the “Little Lady” and is most frequently found in the kitchen or looking out a window. Doors slam, silverware rattles, but people say her presence brings a feeling of peace. The other is thought to be a keeper from beyond the grave.
Historian Bill O. Thomson says that he’s often heard of mysterious footprints that appear after a rain or snowfall. The prints of large workman’s boots lead in only one direction, up the ramp, up the stairs, and to the tower where the brass will be found polished and the lens cleaned. “The typical keeper who lived back in these times was a dedicated worker,” said Thomson. “He loved his lighthouse and didn’t want anything to ever go wrong with it. Keepers knew that if anything fouled up the equipment or disturbed the light, a disaster could occur. So they never wanted to leave their post. I think sometimes when they died their spirits stayed behind.”
Denise Germann, a Coast Guard keeper’s wife, said that one night her husband Andy got up to attend to something outside. She rolled over and then felt her husband get back into bed. She asked him a question and upon receiving no reply, turned over to find the bed empty, except for an “indentation of a body” next to her that was moving as if a person was shifting their position. In the morning, Andy told her that when he was going outside, he’d seen “a cloud of smoke hovering over the floor” that passed through him and into the bedroom just before her experience.
In the 1980s, two-year-old Claire, (daughter of Gerard and Debbie Graham) woke in the middle of the night to meet her coastguardsman father at the top of the stairs and say excitedly, “Fog’s rolling in! Time to put the foghorn on!” Her surprised parents say those terms had never been used in front of her. Over the next two years, Claire described a man with a beard wearing a blue coat and seaman’s cap. “But we knew this was not a real person coming in here,” Debbie said.
Owls Head Lighthouse was built in 1825, for $2707.79 on seventeen-and-a-half acres of pine-covered headland, on the south side of entrance to Rockland Harbor. Even though the conical, rubblestone tower was quite short, only fifteen feet tall, its light could be seen for sixteen miles due to its elevated location atop the rocky headland.
In 1831, Captain Derby of the Revenue Cutter Morris wrote “ [Owls Head Light is] the most miserable one on the whole coast & I am fearful it will not stand till spring.” He approved of the keeper, noting that the house was neat and “the Keeper & his wife to all appearance [are] excellent people.” Despite repairs, the condition of the lighthouse was no better in 1842. Inspector I.W.P. Lewis wrote that the interior of the tower was covered with ice in the winter and was “in a filthy state.” The tower roof leaked, the lantern had broken panes of glass, and the reflectors were out of alignment. The house was in a comparable state. Keeper Penley Haines confirmed the report, adding, “The light-house contains a fixed light of eight lamps, with 14-inch reflectors. The tower stands on the summit of Owl’s head, which terminates in a sharp pointed rock, sloping steeply down to the sea, 90 feet below. The distance from the dwelling-house to the tower is 120 feet up a sharp ascent, which, during winter, I find very difficult, and even unsafe in heavy storms.” Despite Lucy Stearns’ accident and Haines’ complaint, it took till 1874 before a set of walkways and stairs linked the dwelling with the light.
Keepers were required to treat visitors with respect but were to prevent them from touching the lighting apparatus and leaving their mark. In an 1845 inspection report, Collector John Anderson wrote that he “found Owls Head in good condition except the glass in the lantern. Several panes were cut and scratched by visitors’ names.” The keeper was instructed to “knock out these panes and set new glass.” He was given a warning that if such behavior were repeated, it “would be good cause for removal.”
Keeper Haines was not given a boat, but was required to travel three miles by land to get supplies. And although he had a good well, it was frequently run dry by ships landing to replace their own water supplies. In 1850, an inspection report recommended that a new tower and lantern be supplied and noted that “large props” had been put up to support the western wall of the keeper’s dwelling.
“One of the most terrible storms we have ever witnessed,” wrote the Lime Rock Gazette, hit Rockland on December 22, 1850. A small schooner set anchor in the harbor early in the storm, and its captain went ashore leaving on board Richard B. Ingraham, the mate, Roger Elliot, a crewman, and Lydia Dyer, Ingraham’s fiancée. As the storm intensified, the schooner was torn from its mooring and dashed onto the rocks near Owls Head Lighthouse. The schooner’s three occupants huddled close together and pulled blankets around them for warmth and protection. As the schooner was breaking up, Elliot sought help by going to shore. The keeper, who was out driving his sleigh, spied Elliott and took him to the lighthouse to revive him. Nearly unable to speak, Elliot pled for help to be sent for Dyer and Ingraham. A search party was organized, and the two were discovered encased in a block of ice formed from the spray.
In 1852, a round, twenty-four-foot-tall tower, built of “the best hard burnt brick” replaced the original dilapidated stone tower, and in 1854, a new one-and-a-half-story, wood-frame keeper’s dwelling was built. A fourth-order Fresnel lens took the place of the array of lamps and reflectors in 1856.
In 1869, a small bell, to be sounded as a fog signal, was attached to the porch of the lighthouse. Then in 1879, a larger fog bell, operated by a Stevens striking machine, was installed in a wooden, pyramidal tower situated 100 feet from the lighthouse. Every seven hours or so, the keeper needed to turn a large crank to wind up the weights used to power the striking mechanism. When visibility was low, the bell rang every fifteen seconds and nearly deafened anyone nearby. A modern striking machine, fabricated in the Lighthouse Board’s machine shop in Boston, replaced the Stevens striking machine in 1902. This new machine was one of several fabricated using the same pattern and with interchangeable parts. The striking machines obtained from private manufacturers varied in dimensions and didn’t have interchangeable parts, making it troublesome to maintain them. A new wooden bell tower was built erected 1902.
The keeper’s dwelling received a pump and piping for water in 1880, and in 1894 an oil house was erected. Also in 1894, the lighthouse tender Myrtle delivered materials for a boathouse and boat slip, and these structures were built on the beach northwest of the dwelling.
In 1898, “a boundary fence was built to enclose the whole reservation”, and a telephone line connecting the station with Owls Head Village was paid for with an appropriation for national defense, prompted by the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.
In 1903, a covered way, about sixty feet long, was placed over the stairs linking the oil house and lighthouse, and three years later, it was extended about 100 feet to reach the dwelling. The covered way was removed in around 1932, after the light had been electrified. Local citizens wrote newly elected Senator Margaret C. Smith in 1949 in an attempt to get the covered way rebuilt, but Joseph F. Farley, Commandant of the Coast Guard, nixed the idea, saying that as the keeper no longer had to make treks to the tower during the night to mind an oil lamp the covered passage, which was expensive to maintain, was unnecessary.
A famous lifesaving resident of the station was Spot, a springer spaniel owned by Augustus (Gus) B. Hamor, keeper at Owls Head from 1930 to 1945. Gus’ daughters Pauline and Millie taught Spot to pull on the rope to ring the fog bell. Whenever a vessel passed by, Spot would ring the bell and receive the sound of a bell or horn from the ship in return. As Spot’s favorite visitor was the mail boat skippered by Stuart Ames, who always brought a special treat for him, Spot came to recognize the sound of the boat’s engine. Once when a terrible snowstorm blew in, the snow banks muffled the sound of the bell. Mrs. Ames worried that her husband was lost in the blizzard. During the thick of the storm, Spot scratched to be let out and raced to the shore, where he barked loudly and incessantly. It wasn’t long until the sound of the mail boat whistle was heard in reply. Captain Ames had heard the barking and was able to figure out his position, which saved him from crashing into the rocky promontory.
George Woodward replaced Hamor as keeper in 1945, and the next year, a photographer captured these images at the station: Keeper Woodward cleaning an emergency lamp in the lantern room, Hazel Woodward cutting her husband’s hair, and Shiela Woodward brushing her teeth while her mom pumps water into a teakettle.
Archford V. Haskins, who served at Owls Head from 1947 to 1953, was the station’s last civilian keeper, and in 1953 was one of just two civilian keepers in Maine – the rest were all Coast Guard keepers. Haskins began his lightkeeping career as an assistant at Boston Lighthouse in 1927, and was then in charge of Great Point Lighthouse and Sankaty Head Lighthouse on Nantucket before arriving at Owls Head. Marla Haskins Rogers was born at Great Point Lighthouse and spent much of her childhood at Owls Head, where the family shared a two-seater outhouse up until 1950, when the dwelling was finally plumbed.
In March 1949, fourteen-year-old Barry Haskins, Marla’s older brother, was walking home with two friends after attending a movie in Rockland, when he was struck and killed by a nineteen-year-old driving under the influence. Marla and her husband lived in Owls Head for many years and loved to volunteer at Owls Head Lighthouse and the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland.
Owls Head was automated in 1989, but Coast Guard personnel continue to use the keeper’s dwelling as a residence. In 2007, the Coast Guard leased the tower to the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF), which has proved to be a capable caretaker. During the summer of 2010, ALF saw to an extensive, but sensitive renovation of the tower. Thanks to $80,000 from the foundation and $168,000 from the Coast Guard, rust and peeling paint were banished, and the tower restored to its original 1852 appearance. The bricks were repointed and repaired before being repainted. The lantern’s ironwork was restored, its windowpanes replaced, and the parapet floor repaired. In addition, the iron railing and granite gallery encircling the lantern room were replaced. After the light’s renovation, the ghostly keeper must feel right at home.
In 2012, the American Lighthouse Foundation announced that it had licensed the keeper’s dwelling at Owls Head from the Coast Guard and would be opening it late that year as an educational interpretive center. The former residence will also serve as headquarters for the organization, which cares for more than twenty lighthouses throughout New England.
Head Keepers: Isaac Stearns (1825 – 1838), William Masters (1838 – 1841), Penley Haines (1841 – 1845), William Masters (1845 – 1849), Henry Achora (1849 – 1853), Joshua C. Adams (1853 – 1857), Asa Coombs (1857 – 1861), George D. Wooster (1861 – 1872), Joseph G. Maddocks (1872 – 1895), Llewellyn S. Norwood (1896 – 1911), Paul A. Sawyer (1911), Charles F. Chester (1911 – at least 1921), Allen C. Holt ( – 1928), Albion T. Faulkingham (1928 – 1930), Augustus B. Hamor (1930 – 1945), George E. Woodward (1945 – 1947), Archford V. Haskins (1947 – 1953), Douglas L. Larabee (1953 – 1963), Leon Detz (1963 – 1970), Melvin Davis, Jr. (1965 – 1968), Larry Rowe ( at least 1968), David Bennett (1970 – 1973), James Sullivan (1973 – 1974), Gorham Rowell (1974 – 1976), Joseph A. Gourde, Jr. (1976 – 1978), Raymond Slade (1978 – 1981), John Norton (1981 – 1983), Andy Germann (1983 – 1987), Gerard J. Graham (1987 – 1988), Malcolm Rouse (1988 – 1989).