New London’s Ledge Light
Photo by Beyond My Ken - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0; commons.wikimedia.org
By Thomas D’Agostino
New London, Connecticut’s Ledge Light, was one of the last lighthouses built in New England. Its distinct French Second Empire style came about at the request of the wealthy homeowners along the shore who wanted the structure to keep in harmony with the elegant appearances of their coastal estates. Unfortunately, many of these fashionable homes were destroyed in the hurricane that swept through New England on September 21, 1938.
The lighthouse was built in 1909 to replace the inefficient New London Harbor Light. It was originally called the Southwest Ledge Light, but the name was changed because a light in New Haven had already claimed that moniker.
The fourth-order Fresnel lens held an incandescent oil vapor lamp that could be seen up to eighteen miles away and was rotated by a clock mechanism that required winding every four hours. During the Hurricane of 1938, Howard B. Beebe was on duty as keeper. The waves came through the second-floor windows of the three-story building, forcing him and his assistant to take refuge in the cast iron light tower that sits on the mansard roof. After the hurricane, Coast Guard crews were stationed at the light to keep it lit until it was automated on May 1, 1987. The day the light went automated was a monumental event for one of the keepers, who wrote in the log,
“Rock of slow torture. Ernie’s domain. Hell on earth—may New London Ledge’s light shine on forever because I’m through. I will watch it from afar while drinking a brew.”
The ghosts that haunt the light are few, but they make themselves known — especially the ghost of John “Ernie” Randolph. Randolph is said to have lived at the light with his wife.
As the legend goes, Randolph’s wife became very depressed about living in the middle of the bay with little contact from the outside world and soon sailed off with the captain of a Block Island ferry. Poor Ernie was so distraught that he climbed to the top of the light, slit his own throat, and dove into the waters below. His body was never found, but from that moment on, Ernie’s ghost began haunting the Ledge Light. When the Coast Guard became keepers of the light in 1939, cadets constantly witnessed doors opening and closing on their own, and had their bed covers tugged on or wrenched off them as they tried to sleep. Televisions would mysteriously come to life without anyone to switch the units on. The foghorn was also prone to ethereal antics. Even on the clearest of days, the horn would begin to wail. When inspected, it was always found to be in perfect working order. When keepers went out to swab the decks around the light, they would find them inexplicably already washed down. Boats docked and tied securely would suddenly break free and start drifting out to sea. The 2009 multi-award-winning WGBY documentary Things That Go Bump in the Night: Tales of Haunted New England tells of an account by Guardsman Bill Rhodes Jr.
Young Mr. Rhodes was stationed at the light from August 1979 to January 1980. One night, while on watch, Bill heard creaking and groaning from the upstairs door to the light room. He was sure he had latched the door, which was part of his duty. When he checked out the noise, he saw the door wide open. It took a lot of force to unlatch the door and thrust it open, as it was designed to withstand hurricane-force winds.
New Hampshire EVP expert Karen Mossey once caught a voice on her recorder that was not Ernie’s.
Karen asked if there was anything she could do for the spirits. When she played back the recorder, she heard a voice loud and clear say, “Help me, I’m cold.” She was later told an account of a vessel that crashed on the ledges near the lighthouse. Unfortunately, the father and daughter aboard succumbed to the ravages of the sea before they could be saved.
A keeper heard his name called several times while descending the ladder from the light tower. This was rather disconcerting to the man, as he was the sole occupant of the light at the time.
A woman and her children staying at the light got a visit from the ghost of Ernie. She was suddenly awakened by something at the foot of her bed. As she focused her vision, she distinctly saw a semi-transparent figure of a man in a rain hat and slicker. The gaunt apparition stood over six feet tall and sported a beard. Her children were also witness to the maritime spirit that decided to pay them a visit.
The lighthouse can be seen from shore, or toured through a cooperative program with the University of CT’s Project Oceanology Program.