On a beautifully island off the coast of Scotland, you’ll find a small, 75-foot lighthouse, built in the 1880s. The picturesque lighthouse look like any other to the average tourist. But the Flannan Isles Lighthouse has a strange history.
In December 1900, a boat called Hesperus set sail for the island of Eilean Mor, one of the seven islets of the Flannan Isles off the coast of northwestern Scotland. Captain James Harvey was tasked with delivering a relief lighthouse keeper as part of a regular rotation. The journey was delayed a few days by bad weather, and when Harvey and his crew finally arrived, it was clear that something was awry.
None of the normal preparations at the landing dock had been made, the flagstaff was bare, and none of the keepers came to greet the Hesperus. The keepers, as it turned out, weren’t on the island at all. All three of them had vanished.
What the Hesperus crew did find at the lighthouse was a set of perplexing clues. The replacement keeper, Joseph Moore, was the first to investigate, and reported an all-encompassing sense of dread as he ascended the cliff toward the newly constructed lighthouse. Inside, the kitchen table contained plates of meat, potatoes, and pickles. The clock was stopped, and there was an overturned chair nearby. The lamp was ready for lighting, and two of the three oilskin coats belonging to Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald McArthur were gone. The gate and door were firmly shut. But there was no sign of any of the three men.
The captain then sent a telegram to the mainland:
A dreadful accident has happened at Flannans. The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island.
Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane or something like that.
Night coming on, we could not wait to make something as to their fate.
I have left Moore, MacDonald, Buoymaster and two Seamen on the island to keep the light burning until you make other arrangements. Will not return to Oban until I hear from you. I have repeated this wire to Muirhead in case you are not at home. I will remain at the telegraph office tonight until it closes, if you wish to wire me.
On December 12, an entry from Marshall in the Lighthouse log book described “severe winds the likes of which I have never seen before in twenty years.” He wrote that Ducat had been quiet and McArthur, an experienced seafarer, had been crying. The next day, Marshall reported more storm details and wrote that all three of them had been praying. Strangest of all, there were no reported storms in the area on December 12th, 13, or 14—all should have been calm up until December 17. The last report in the book, from December 15, read: “Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.”
The speculations started. Was it something supernatural? Sea creatures? Aliens? Ultimately, it was evidence outside the lighthouse that provided the most promising lead in explaining what had become of the three keepers. Over at the western landing platform, ropes were strewn all over the rocks, ropes which were usually held in a brown crate 70 feet above the platform on a supply crane.
The lack of bodies, supposedly calm conditions, and sheer experience and know-how of the lighthouse keepers still hadn’t been accounted for, and never would be. In the years following, other keepers claimed to hear voices in the salty air screaming out the names of Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald McArthur. Whatever the reason for their disappearance, something (or someone) snatched those three men from the rock of Eilean Mor on that winter’s day over 100 years ago.