In the year 1900 December 15th, a transatlantic steamer passed the lighthouse on the Flannan Isles and noticed a strange sight - the light in the tower was out. What happened to the three lightkeepers responsible for the lighthouse? That’s what we’ll dive on into this week!
But before we spill the beans, let’s solve this week’s riddle:
I am the only word in the English language that has 3 double letters in a row (by double letters, we mean for example “ss”)
What word am I?
Did you solve it? I know it was tough. If you didn’t, work on your skills!
Now, put on your boat shoes and let’s travel to Scotland...
After the initial sighting of the unlit lighthouse, a relief team set sail for the isles. The ship’s captain, Jim Harvie, sounded the horn and sent up a flare. But the three lighthouse keepers- James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, & William MacArthur showed no sign of themselves. Black birds watched with beady eyes as the relief crew docked their ship and headed up the one hundred and sixty steep steps to the entrance of the lighthouse.
After entering through the gate and the main door (both of which were securely shut), the crew discovered some odd facts:
The kitchen table was set with plates of meat, potatoes, and pickles. Full untouched meals.
The main clock was stopped and an overturned chair lay nearby.
One oilskin coat remained, implying two had been taken.
So… what the heck happened?
“The Other Country”
Before we get into the three main theories, a little background on the peculiarities of these Isles will help explain the wild ideas that have sprung up about this incident. The main island developed a strange mystique about it. It’s only permanent residents were sheep, and the herders often referred to the island as “the other country,” one touched by something paranormal. There were many who believed, and still do, that the isles were a place of otherworldly magic, home to spirits… not all of them being good.
This particular ‘aura’ combined with the reports of the missing lightkeepers led to both the fantastic (giant sea serpents, seabirds, sirens, skeletal ghost ships) and the adventurous (real life pirates or kidnapping by foreign spies.) These are fun to talk about, but the more likely scenarios deal with nature, both mother and human.
The Brutality of Nature
After their investigation of the lighthouse, the crew turned to the landing platform on the western side of the island. Here, there was plenty of evidence of a massive storm. Boxes smashed open, a railway track torn from its concrete moorings, turf ripped up- the ocean had done its best to bring the whole thing down.
The first main theory draws upon this evidence- Mother Nature rained down upon them and, in an effort to either secure equipment or save each other, all three men were swept away.
The second theories look at the nature of man, in particular that of William MacArthur who, by all accounts, was a surly figure. Three men in a small enclosure no doubt had their fair share of arguments, and the theory goes that MacArthur, already no stranger to violence, either initiated or ended the arguments physically.
The one piece of data that makes all of this just a little too strange is a series of entries in the log book, starting with December 12th-
“severe winds the likes of which I have never seen before in twenty years.”
Apparently the men were reported as quiet, and MacArthur even crying (unusual for a man with a reputation as an experienced seafarer.) But December 12th through 15th, there were no reported storms, and the last entry on Dec. 15th (the day the lighthouse was first seen unlit), read:
“Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.”
So, once again… what the heck happened?! We may never know..
Swim a little deeper!
Need more about this foggy Scottish mystery?
-Andy & Mark
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