The Ghost of St. Simons Lighthouse

Posted by junketseo in Savannah Ghost Tours
The Ghost of St. Simons Lighthouse - Photo

Dubbed one of the United States’ most haunted cities, Savannah oozes fascinating history and spectral energy. From the antiquated historic district to the sprawling Bonaventure Cemetery, its storied past is told through the ties that bind its bounty of spirits to our realm. Its haunted relics aren’t the only found in Georgia, though, and if you care to come face-to-face with meandering spirits and restless souls without the crowds of the living Savannah draws, you’ll want to travel about an hour and a half south to St. Simons Lighthouse. 


Located on St. Simons Island and overlooking the Saint Simons Sound, the 19th-century structure reaches 104 feet high and looms over the nearby keeper’s duplex. Born from the rubble of a casualty of war, the building can be viewed as a symbol of hope and perseverance until you start to dig into the history of St. Simons Island Lighthouse. 


Blemished by murder and unexpected death, there’s a lingering heaviness that taints the tower. While learning of its complicated century-long past in the museum, expect to feel the presence of someone reaching out to you from afar and keep your ears peeled for faint disembodied footsteps.


Is the St. Simons Lighthouse haunted?


There is plenty of reason to think the lighthouse is home to several spirits. Keep reading to find out who they are. And for an in-depth look at the haunted history of Savannah, book a Savannah ghost tour with Savannah Terrors tonight! 


The First Lighthouse Crumbles


What’s most unique about the St. Simons Lighthouse is that it doesn’t refer to just one structure. Over the course of more than 70 years, two different lighthouses bore St. Simons’ name, which they adopted from the island they were constructed on. As for the name, it stems from San Simon, a 17th-century native American village that once lived near Fort Frederica. 


The first of the two buildings was completed by James Gould, who the Treasury Department commissioned to oversee construction. Originally standing 75 feet tall and 25 feet wide at its base, the lighthouse remained in service for nearly 60 years. Plans for the building called for a hard brick surface, but government funding for the project has only been extended so far. In place of brick for most of the construction, Gould opted for tabby, a cement-like mixture of lime, sand, oyster shell, and a popular conduit for the otherworldly—water. 


Eight feet thick at its base, the lighthouse was designed to withstand whatever storms the Atlantic threw its way. What Gould couldn’t have planned for was the military presence at Fort Brown and how it would affect the St. Simons Lighthouse. Unfortunately, the Confederate occupation of the fort wound up being the lighthouse’s downfall


Only a year into the Civil War, the Union broke through Confederate blockades and pushed forces into Georgia. Forced to leave their garrisons, the Confederate soldiers on St. Simons Island evacuated. Before leaving, they brought down the lighthouse for good, hoping to hinder the Union’s navigational assistance. 


All of Gould’s hard work and vision were instantly turned to rubble with a little dynamite, all of its memories lost and trapped within the tabby compound until a team of archeologists excavated part of the ruins in 1974.


Bigger, Better, More Dangerous


Though St. Simons Island could operate without a lighthouse and did so for about a decade, the U.S. government commissioned the construction of a replacement. Plans drawn up by local architect Charles B. Cluskey were the basis of the new structure. By 1872, the larger lighthouse had been completed. The 104-foot tower was accompanied by a Victorian-style keeper’s house, restoring its purpose on the island. Unfortunately, for all the good it would go on to do, it became the center of many of St. Simons Island’s tragedies. 


Before it could even be finished, death struck the lighthouse. The area was known for having still bodies of water, which became nesting sites for mosquitoes. The men working on the second lighthouse were subjected to bites every day, and eventually, many contracted malaria. Cluskey was among the unfortunate few, passing before seeing his work completed. 


More men died as the construction continued, but the lighthouse’s tragic past is even deeper than disease. If any negative energy lingers, it’s tied to the death of Frederick Osborne, a former victim and alleged murder victim. Summoned to oversee lighthouse operations in 1874, John Stephens accompanied Osbornes, and the pair worked together for six years. Details about what unfolded in 1880 remain fuzzy, though some accounts claim either Stephens or Osborne made a pass at the other’s wife. 


Whatever led to the feud between the two was enough to warrant the assistant shooting the lighthouse keeper. Osborne was dead, and quite unceremoniously, George W. Asbell took over in his absence. Though Stephens is still often blamed for Osborne’s death, he was acquitted of all charges. The lack of justice could be keeping the former keeper tied to his post, forever stuck in a loop of manning the tower. 


Osborne and the Spirits of St. Simons


For nearly 30 years after Osborne’s untimely demise, whispers and rumors of strange occurrences plaguing the lighthouse were aplenty. They remained little more than scary stories told by each keeper until 1908, when a documented account revealed that Osborne never truly left St. Simons Island


During one quiet night, a lighthouse mechanism failed and needed attention. At the time, only the wife of the then-current lighthouse keeper (thought to be either Carl O. Svendsen or Joseph Champagne if the date is off by a year) was on the grounds. Though she knew a lot about the equipment, she was exasperated when she couldn’t find the malfunction. Recalling back to a conversation with Frederick Osborne, in which he promised to provide help when she was in need, she called out to the deceased keeper. According to the report, the wife fainted at the sight of Osborne tinkering with the machinery, and when she awoke, it was as if the malfunction never happened. 


Is it Osborne that museum visitors hear today, clanking up and down the 129-step spiral staircase? Or possibly the restless spirit of one of the many who died during the construction of the new facility? Whoever remains at the St. Simons Lighthouse, they’ve provided those seeking signs of life after death with a needed assurance. 


Shadows flitter in the peripheral, chills wash over museum guests, and voices can often be heard coming from no known source. It seems, with the apparitions that remain attached to the lighthouse, that a keeper’s work is never truly done. 


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