Even though the Fairport Harbor Light on Lake Erie, Ohio, was given the amazing nickname “The light that shone for 100 years”, it actually doesn’t live up to its name.
The current lighthouse didn’t earn the nickname alone, because Its predecessor, which was built in the same site, shone for the first 46 years.
The original lighthouse was built in 1825 and, when the population of the town reached 300, the Painesville Telegraph issued a notice asking for lighthouse bids. Collector of Customs, A. Walworth, signed the proposal but, unfortunately, he didn’t leave the detail-planning to the potential builder. On the other hand, he specified the height of the deck, depth of the foundation, number of windows, materials to be used, etc. in his proposal.
Builders Hiram Wood and Jonathon Goldsmith received a contract to the lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling for $2900.
Everything went smoothly with the construction at first, until it was realized that there was a mis-communication concerning the cellar, as its construction wasn’t included in the builders’ plans. It wasn’t until after the construction of the lighthouse that an upset Walworth contracted Goldsmith and Wood to complete the cellar for additional money.
It was 1841 when Goldsmith applied for the keeper’s job for the lighthouse he had helped build, but someone else received the job.
Fairport Harbor, on Lake Erie, wasn’t just used as a hub of commerce, it was also the final stop for the Underground Railroad, and the lighthouse acted as a beacon of freedom to slaves.
The town, along with the captains and seamen who sailed there, was completely anti-slavery and the ships in the area would help transport escaped slaves to Canada. Many of them were kept hidden in the lighthouse itself until a ship was available.
The original lighthouse began to wear and tear just a few years after its construction: after a decade, the foundation had settled to the point where it needed a replacement and, within 30 years, wire hoops encircled the lighthouse to keep it from falling over.
In March 1869, Congress finally approved a proposal to replace the original tower and keeper’s dwelling, a new project that cost an estimated $30,000.
Not wanting to make the same mistakes of their predecessors, the new builders contracted engineers to help them, and they scouted the area to find the best foundation point.
And so, in 1871, the new Berea sandstone tower and brick keeper’s dwelling were finally complete.
Minor improvements have been made over the decades, and the harbor itself grew considerably as new piers and a foghorn were installed.
The original lighthouse was set to be destroyed but the citizens of the community protested due to its historical value. After World War II, it was turned into a museum and, still today, visitors can walk through the very same corridors as the runaway slaves more than 150 years ago.
However, one of the most interesting story coming from the lighthouse doesn’t involve the underground railroad or even humans for that matter.
For years, curators at the Fairport Harbor lighthouse museum swore they saw a ghost of a cat, skittering across the kitchen floor or jumping on the bed.
Then, they found one.
During renovations in 2001, workers installing air conditioning vents discovered the mummified remains of a cat in a crawl space.
Was it Sentinel, the gray cat beloved by Mary Babcock, the wife of the first lighthouse keeper?
In 1871, Civil War veteran Captain Joseph Babcock moved his wife and his two children Hattie and Robbie, to become the first keeper of the new lighthouse.
Unfortunately, in 1889, 14-year-old Robbie died. Other sources put his age at 5, and say he died from smallpox or diphtheria, depending the version of story you heard.
In any case, Mary fell critically ill shortly after Robbie’s death. Bedridden in the keeper’s quarters, she kept cats to help pass the long days and Sentinel, a gray cat her husband found in the lighthouse basement, became her constant companion. However, after her death, the gray cat disappeared.
In 1989 the curator of the now lighthouse museum first reported seeing an apparition of a cat playing in the kitchen and also felt it jump on the bed. Visitors soon started to report small puffs of gray smoke and the sightings have continued ever since.
The gray ghost cat, who’s remains are on display inside the museum, makes Fairport Harbor Lighthouse one of the most haunted places in America.
Images from web – Google Research