Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

The Light Keepers

on October 7, 2022
(Point Betsie Lighthouse, near Frankfort, Michigan. Photo from travelthemitten.com)

I just finished reading the book, The Lamplighters, by Emma Stonex, which tells the story of three lighthouse keepers who disappear without a trace. Her fictionalized story is based on a true story. On December 15, 1900, three lighthouse keepers (James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and Donald MacArthur) were discovered missing from the Flannan Lighthouse on Eilean Mor, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The crew which searched the island found the clock stopped, a half-eaten meal, and no sign of the lighthouse keepers anywhere. The popular theory is that one of the keepers killed the other two and then did himself in; but no evidence exists that this is what happened. No bodies were ever found, and the case has never been solved. Stonex’s book maintains the mystery of the original story while providing a plausible solution. If you like history and mystery, I highly recommend this book.

Reading the book led me to watch the movie, The Lighthouse (2019), starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. My daughter had watched it and recommended it to me. The story is about a lighthouse keeper and his apprentice who get trapped on an island by a severe storm and go crazy from the isolation, excessive amounts of alcohol, and personal conflicts. It’s a fascinating movie with exceptional acting, and I recommend it for people who like psychological dramas and movies about interpersonal conflicts. Next, I watched The Vanishing (2018), starring Gerard Butler, which also tells the story of the Flannan Lighthouse and the disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers. Although the movie provides a plausible solution to the mystery, I did not like it as much as The Lighthouse.

Reading books and watching movies about lighthouse keepers reminded me that my great-great-grandfather, Medad Spencer (1836-1919), was a lighthouse keeper on Lake Michigan. A Civil War veteran, he joined the United States Lighthouse Service and manned lighthouses at Point Betsie and Beaver Island. At the same time, he owned a 120-acre farm near Spoonville, which his children ran, and a general store in Nunica.

From 1894-1905, he served as the lighthouse keeper for the Point Betsie Lighthouse, near Frankfort, Michigan. In his later years, he served at the St. James Lighthouse on Beaver Island. His wife, Julia, always accompanied him when he was away from his other obligations. She complained about the blizzards, rain, and isolation on Beaver Island. But when Medad’s health began to fail, she would take his watch for him, which meant staying awake all night. Now, that’s true partnership for you!

(Medad Spencer in his lighthouse keeper’s uniform.)

Although being a lighthouse keeper sounds romantic and exciting, I have to wonder if my great-great-grandparents went stir crazy from the isolation and began to fight with each other. I haven’t seen any evidence that this was the case, but I can’t help thinking about it, especially after reading the book and watching the movies!

Thanks for visiting. Have a great day!

Dawn Pisturino

October 7, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


19 responses to “The Light Keepers

  1. Iowa Life says:

    Interesting. A great study in the effects of solitude on a person. Reminds me of the forest fire watcher in those great big towers. While the mystery aspect intrigues some, the power of nature (storms, wind, waves) has always amazed me. Being outside in a blizzard by yourself is fascinating, for about 5 minutes. Or watching big waves crash into the shore at midnight.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I shall look out for this book!! Thanks for the notification!! We have a few stories of lighthouse keepers being driven made over here too. Must have required a special person to handle the isolation!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. WebbBlogs says:

    Interested and fascinating post. I have always been drawn to lighthouses. 😁

    Liked by 2 people

  4. WOW Dawn, it’s so interesting and fascinating that your grandfather was a lighthouse keeper. No wonder you are so fascinated by them. 🤗 Great review about this book and making me aware of the three missing lighthouse keepers on which this book is based on. I didn’t know this. Thanks for sharing today’s moment in time my friend. 🌊

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Michele Lee says:

    The book sounds intriguing, Dawn. I have seen that movie; it is interesting and creepy with captivating cinemaphotography. Cool connection to your family history. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Myheartscry says:

    I enjoyed reading about your family’s history. Many blessings to you Dawn.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Dawn, I’ve also just finished reading Emma Stonex’s book. It’s a haunting story that reminded me of the ways in which our lives, as women, are intertwined with that of our men. I found the 2018 movie, The Vanishing, too violent, but watched it to the end. Isolation can do strange things to the human mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene, for your thoughtful insights and comments. The isolation experienced during COVID was really no different, and some people are still suffering from the effects. This should remind us that we are all interconnected and need one another to survive. Have a wonderful day!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. revruss1220 says:

    Thanks for these great recommendations. I hadn’t considered lighthouses and lighthouse keepers as fodder for entertainment, but it sounds as if this book and these movies might prove me wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. […] The Light Keepers — Dawn Pisturino’s Blog […]

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  10. KK says:

    The book sounds interesting and informative! Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. unclerave says:

    I belonged to a choral group in college called The Lamplighters! — YUR

    Liked by 1 person

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