The lighthouse at Point Sur may or may not be haunted—but it’s a scary place.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Some say the Point Sur Lightstation in Big Sur is teeming with trapped spirits; one recent poll called it the fourth most haunted lighthouse in America. Any number of lost souls still live there: a stationkeeper’s wife, the spirits of the sailors of a dozen ships that have crashed nearby since 1875, or two men killed in 1935 when the >>USS Macon went down at the point.
Then again, it could all just be drivel.
Two docents, Carol and John O’Neil, agreed to let me see for myself. So last Saturday, my husband Mark and I blew down Highway 1 in 80-degree weather for a sunset rendezvous.
We pulled up to the gate but couldn’t see the lighthouse. It had been swallowed by thick, ominous fog. The road behind the gate twisted around a herd of grazing cattle and disappeared a mile back into the clouds. A lone coyote walked up the road toward us. A Hollywood prop master couldn’t have better equipped the place.
Ten minutes later, John and Carol were driving us up the steep incline to the lighthouse. From the road it was 200 feet straight down past ragged rocks to the Pacific below.
We started in the Visitor Center. I wanted to feel the spirit of the old man who haunts the place. Maybe he’s the one who, workers say, made a cash register ring and spew tapes full of gibberish even after it was unplugged. That night, he kept to himself.
By the time we headed down to the lighthouse, the fog was so thick it hid the ocean below, making it impossible to get oriented. Heavy drops fell in one area just outside the door. John said it was condensation blowing off of a nearby radio tower. That’s serious rationalization. Clearly it’s ghosts with not enough clout to make it rain on the entire rock.
We headed down the path to the lighthouse, where Carol told of a keeper’s adult son who died of consumption. (This, as it turns out, doesn’t mean he drank himself to death, but instead that he had tuberculosis.)
Inside the fog-signal room, Carol showed us an old rotating beacon. It hadn’t worked in years, until one night she watched it spin once. She blamed a power surge, until years later when it again made a single revolution. I was willing it to spin again, just once, but it remained stubbornly still.
I wanted moans, apparitions, a grumpy spirit to suggest we “Get out!” I wanted what that lucky Amityville family got. We were getting diddly squat.
The sun was setting when we walked toward the old barn. A high-pitched cry squealed over my left shoulder. Mark and I both looked back, then blamed it on a bird that wasn’t there.
John talked history as we stood in the old barn, right up until a thud shattered the dead silence, and Mark and I locked eyes again. It didn’t faze John or Carol, but our minds slipped into overdrive.
John guided us by flashlight to a three-story triplex that used to house lightkeepers’ families. We climbed rickety old steps to the second floor. I stepped into a closet in a dark bedroom and felt something brush at my hair. My imagination was really screwing with me by now.
On the way out, John pointed the flashlight’s beam down the steps of the basement. “We don’t go down there,” he said. Carol muttered something about finding skeletons down there. OK, maybe she said rodent skeletons. No matter. That’s about when I stopped willing the spirits to come out and play.
The flashlight barely pierced the blackness as we entered the main residence, and that was it for me. Every last baby hair on my entire body was standing straight on end. I followed obediently as we toured the empty house, commenting on pretty doors and windows, or some polite gibberish, but I wanted nothing but out.
It’s nothing in particular and it’s specific things. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s lonely. It’s hauntingly beautiful. On a clear night, the station’s light can be seen as far away as the curve of the Earth 23.5 miles away. That night, it couldn’t be seen from the other end of the rock.
Carol, John (and the flashlight) went inside to lock up, and I held onto Mark tight for our walk back to the car, feeling my way to the back bumper. Mark warned me of a cliff somewhere to our right. I hoped an overzealous spirit wouldn’t bump into me and push me to my demise.
Carol was the brave soul who drove us down the rock. At the bottom, John hopped out to close and lock the gate behind us. The running lights from the car glowed against him and cast his shadow directly onto the thick fog behind us.
“Boy, that was weird,” John said when he hopped back in. “Did you see my shadow in the fog?”
Yes. At least I think it was his shadow.
THE POINT SUR LIGHTHOUSE GHOST TOUR 5:15pm Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Lightstation on Highway 1 in Big Sur. $50 donation, space is limited. Call 649-7139 for reservations and information.