Saint Simons Island Lighthouse
Last week I was two days at an elementary School on Saint Simons Island, one of the Golden Isles of Georgia’s lovely coast. Fascinated by lighthouses, I took some time to visit the island lighthouse, which is now a museum that also includes the keeper’s cozy house, and 129 steps of the iron staircase to the top of the lighthouse tower.
The original tabby lighthouse and keeper’s residence were completed in 1810. In 1862, the blockade and invasion by Federal troops caused Confederates to evacuate the island. They destroyed the lighthouse so Federal troops couldn’t use the navigational aid. For the next ten years a tall cotton barn served as the navigational reference on maps for ships entering the harbor.
A second lighthouse and keeper’s house was completed in 1872, overhauled in 1876, and restored regularly since. The lighthouse went under Coast Guard jurisdiction in 1939, and became fully automated in 1953, the year the last keeper retired.
Today the lighthouse continues in use as a navigational aid keeping boats entering the Saint Simons Sound centered on the entrance channel. Its light extends 23 miles over the water. The powerful Fresnel lens is one of only 70 in the U. S. that remain operational, 16 of those are on the Great Lakes, 8 of those are in Michigan. The rotating lens projects four beams and one flash every minute, all automated.
A fun piece of the lighthouse history is that paranormal investigators have been there several times and claim to have collected electronic voice phenomenon. Multiple witnesses, including Coast Guardsmen while doing light maintenance, and the Svendsen family, keepers who lived there, claim to have heard the sounds of footsteps on the stairs. The Svendsen’s dog was frequently harassed by the resident ghost, believed to be the ghost of Frederick Osborne, a keeper who was murdered by his assistant. It’s believed he comes up the stairs to check his light.
The house is cozy and comfortable. I found the lighthouse to be oddly melancholy, with a lonely echo in the tower with every step I took. Though it overlooks St. Simons Sound, water parks, playgrounds and a busy green park, after climbing to the top, looking down one can still sense the remoteness of the early keepers and their families who had to be completely self-reliant. The ferry to the mainland only operated in the summer months and none of what is now, was here.
I also discovered a story waiting to be written about Helen and Carl Svendsen, their dog Fritz, and their parents, the lighthouse keepers, and, of course, the ghost of Osborne. To be read in a tent on a dark night on the beach, watching the beam of light, listening for the echo of footsteps on the tower stairs. Coming up next.