This is the first in a series of articles where I discuss articles from the paranormal news website Mysterious Universe. I’m going to call the series My Serious Universe, because I’m clever like that.
Why Mysterious Universe? Mainly because I see the site as having a fair amount influence on the web, and I don’t see them getting much in the way of pushback, especially considering how much completely untrue material the website promotes. I’d like to point readers to the obvious mistakes in MU’s articles, and lead readers to sources that are more fact-based and the result of sound research.
Today I’d like to discuss the article “The Great Lighthouse Mystery of Eilean Mor” by Brent Swancer. I’m not sure why MU is covering this now, specifically, though I have noticed that another clearing house of fringe crap, Ancient Origins, covered the story with a similar article a little over a month ago.
The story, in a nutshell, is this. On December 26, 1900 a ship carrying supplies to an incredibly remote lighthouse on Eileen Mor in the Flannan Islands off the northern coast of Scotland found that all three lighthouse keepers that should have been there were gone. Further investigation revealed that the keepers had probably disappeared about two weeks earlier, during the day on December 15th, when a captain of a passing ship witnessed stormy weather and noted the lighthouse beacon was not lit that night.
So right off the bat, I’m not sure I would dub this a “great mystery” like Swancer did. Lighthouse keeping on remote islands was an inherently dangerous occupation at the time (it’s mostly automated now), and there is no indication that anything impossible or supernatural happened to the keepers. Later keepers at the same lighthouse reported that enormous waves would occasionally wash over the island, so it’s entirely likely that all three keepers just happened to get caught outside by a large wave and were washed out to sea. We can’t say for sure that’s what happened because no one alive witnessed the events, but there’s no reason to assume anything stranger happened.
No reason to assume anything stranger happened, unless you buy into all the unsupported claims that have attached themselves to the story in the decades since. And Swancer does. For example, Swancer says the lighthouse’s log was found and included an an account of a strange storm on the 12, 13, and 14th, the men praying together, and ending on the 15th with an entry that reads “Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.” Somehow Swancer intuits that this last entry was “scrawled,” but I can’t find that in what is undoubtedly the primary source for his claim, the 1965 book Invisible Horizons by Vincent Gaddis. Gaddis, in turn, credits his version of the log entries to a 1929 article in True Strange Stories, though as far as I can tell no one today has a copy of that article. But we know from the Scottish authorities’ original report on the keeper’s disappearance that nothing particularly strange was written in the log (or more properly, the slate the keepers used before transferring entries to the permanent log), and that the last entry was hours before the alleged “God is over all” entry. In other words, the log entries Swancer repeats are almost certainly fictional, and by writing about them with details he can’t possible know (that the last entry was “scrawled”) he makes them sound more credible than they really are.
All the other strange parts of the story Swancer repeats (the half-eaten meal, the missing oil-skins) can be similarly dismissed. Swancer also engages in some deliberate mystery mongering when he says the only “truly severe” storm hit the area on December 17th, ignoring the report from the captain of the passing ship that said the weather on the night of December 15th was “clear, but stormy.” Swancer even quotes the captain earlier in his article, though he changes the the captain’s words to the nonsensical “calm, but stormy.” Incredible. Another detail I think Swancer invented, either deliberately or by misunderstanding the primary sources, is the “broken clock” he says was found in the lighthouse’s kitchen. The sailors who found the lighthouse abandoned said the clocks had wound down, indicating the keepers had been gone a while, not that they had been broken.
If you’re interested in reading the entire true story of the Flannan Island Lighthouse incident I would highly recommend Mike Dash’s article on the story, which you can read here. Like all of Dash’s articles it’s based on the best primary sources available, and I used it heavily for this blog entry.