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Fire Island Lighthouse

Fire Island Lighthouse

A Brief History: During the early half of the nineteenth century it was decided that the southern half of Long Island needed a lighthouse. The area was visited by many fishing and cargo vessels, so there was a need to warn them of sandbars and shallow waters near the southern Long Island coast. The first lighthouse on Fire Island was completed in 1826. It was 74 feet high, and shaped like an octagonal pyramid. As time went on it was decided that the lighthouse had a limited effectiveness. The lack of height made its range inadequate. Congress set aside $40,000 in 1857 for construction of a new, larger lighthouse that would be seen more easily by ships out on the ocean. The new 168-foot tower was first lit on November 1st, 1858. The lighthouse was first manned by the United States Lighthouse Service. When the Lighthouse Service was eventually dissolved, Fire Island Lighthouse was placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard.

On December 31st, 1973 the Fire Island Lighthouse was decommissioned as a navigational aid. A strobe light facing the ocean was placed atop the water tower at Robert Moses State Park. In the 1970s the land was given over to the park service. Private citizens rallied to save the lighthouse through raising donations. Boaters who used the Great South Bay were unable to use the strobe light for navigation and also wanted the lighthouse restored to service. By 1982, $1.3 million had been raised for lighthouse restoration. Then in 1984 the Fire Island Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historical Places. Finally, on Memorial Day of 1986 the lighthouse was reinstated, and once again a shining beacon to the area. The Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society (FILPS) took over running the lighthouse from the Coast Guard in 2006. It is now listed as a private aid to navigation.

Haunted History: While Fire Island Lighthouse has its share of visitors, there are some whom claim that not all who appear are of the earthly realm. One such reoccurring story involves the original lighthouse. All that remains is a foundation where the original lighthouse stood. The new lighthouse was partially constructed of bricks from the original lighthouse. This meant that the original had to be dismantled before the new structure could be built. The caretaker of 1857 and his family were displaced from their home in the original lighthouse and had to live in poorly insulated wooden shack until the new lighthouse complex was completed. The winter of 1857 was harsh and life inside the shack was difficult. The daughter became ill from the constant cold. A doctor was summoned, but before he could arrive she passed away. The caretaker’s wife brought the body of their daughter back to Sayville for burial. The caretaker do to his position couldn’t leave to attend the funeral of his daughter. He was needed to keep a fire burning as a warning for ships in the area. Alone, his grief became unbearable. One night people noticed that the light in the newly constructed tower had gone out. A party was sent out to see what happened. Upon entering the new lighthouse they discovered the lifeless body of the caretaker hanging from a rope. To this day people report seeing the ghostly visage of the caretaker pacing about, most likely waiting for the doctor to come to try to save his daughter. Other people claim to hear him walking the stairs, and opening or closing doors to the lighthouse. As he walks his route a maniacal laugh can be heard from the emotionally distraught keeper. Some claim to see him with a rope in hand, searching for a spot to hang himself again and end his grief.

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