Block Island Southeast Light is a lighthouse located on Mohegan Bluffs at the southeastern corner of Block Island, Rhode Island. Block Island is surrounded by submerged rocks and sandy shoals and many ships have met their end here, on what was often called the “stumbling block” of the New England coast. However, the six-mile-long island didn’t get its name from being a stumbling block, but rather by the Dutch explorer Adrian Block, who charted the area in 1614.
Block Island Southeast Lighthouse is one of the most visually striking lighthouses in the United States because its flashing green light shines forth over 60 meters above the water due its elevated location atop Mohegan bluffs, named as a result of an Indian battle that took place on the southern tip of the island in 1590. At the time, a war party of forty Mohegan Indians paddled their war canoes to the island, sneaked ashore, and launched a raid against the Block Island natives. The local Indians repelled the attack, backed the Mohegans up to the edge of the bluffs, then, as story goes, drove them over the cliff, forcing some to fall to the water and rocks below.
A lighthouse was built on the northern tip of Block Island in 1829 and thirteen years later, some recommended that a light be placed on the island’s southern shore to help the southern coasting trade access Long Island Sound, but it would be years before it would be built.
It was commissioned thanks to a bill signed by Ulysses S. Grant due to public outcry for safer vessel passage along the southern end of the island after the 1858 wreck of the Palmetto.
And so, Block Island Southeast Lighthouse, a redbrick tower about 16 meters high, was first lighted on February 1, 1875.
Because of its exposed position high on a bluff, the lighthouse took the full force of the legendary hurricane that hit New England on September 21, 1938. Windows were blown out, shingles torn off, the oil house destroyed, and the giant lens had to be turned by hand for several days. Marie Carr, wife of Keeper Earl Carr, later recalled the devastation caused by the hurricane: “My windows were broken in the living room. The tower windows were breaking. Everything was going. Somebody said, ‘Look at the garage! The garage is gone, the shack is gone.’ It was scary! The stones came up the bank, up that cliff there, right into my living room, and they went up and put the light out. So the men put dishpans over their heads, and they went up the tower and they had to turn the light by hand all night long.”
There is another story, a classic ghost story, because apparently many spirits love lighthouses and everyone has at least one ghost in their more or less long history.
It is reported that, in the early 1900s, a keeper’s wife died under mysterious circumstances: she was found with a broken neck at the foot of the stairs. She and her husband were known to have a remarkably contentious marriage, and it seems that the man so hated his wife that one day, after a fierce argument, he pushed her off the round staircase in the tower and she plummeted to her death. The husband claimed that she had committed suicide, but he was tried for, convicted of her murder and sent to prison, never returning to the lighthouse.
But his wife–understandably–never left.
Locals call her Mad Maggie.
And she is one pissed-off lady.
Allegedly the spirit is not a fan of the lighthouse’s male guests, and one might assume she still holds a grudge. She occasionally would do gentler things such as rearranging the furniture, which is merely noisy–and she would stomp up and down the stairs where she died in the middle of the night.
If a lightkeeper happened to be sleeping alone in one of the house’s beds, she would shake him awake. She would cause the bed to lift clear off the floor, only to settle back down with a loud bang.
And she loved locking men into empty rooms or closets. It seems that when she was really angry, she throws knives or other sharp objects at them, but she is also know to throw food at whoever dares to eat in her kitchen.
Her most popular feat, however, seems to have been the night she locked the keeper out of the house altogether.
The man was single and sleeping alone when Maggie began harassing him that night. He finally had had enough and went racing outside in his underwear, only to find, when he tried to go back, that the lighthouse’s door had been locked from the inside.
When he was finally able to get into another building on the site, he had to call the Coast Guard to come and unlock the lighthouse, so he could get back inside. Of course, he left shortly thereafter.
Since it was built, the lighthouse has been moved back from the edge at least once, as erosion threatened to send it toppling into the sea. In 1993 it was moved back 80 meters. Ghosts usually leave when the residence of their haunting is moved, but the “Mad Maggie” apparently decided to stay. It’s said she isn’t too happy about the moving of the lighthouse either and has shown her disdain by stomping up and down the staircase and moving furniture about.
Ghosts apart, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The lighthouse has a small museum and gift shop in the base of the tower.
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