Great Isaac Light. Photo: Steve Singer
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GHOSTS of GREAT ISAAC LIGHT/ Elijah Swift Shipwreck
by Steven Danforth Singer
A haunted lighthouse? The Great Isaac Lighthouse sits atop a coral island in the middle of the so-called Bermuda Triangle. It lies about 20 miles NNE of Bimini, Bahamas. Originally built as an exhibit in 1852 for the Great London Exposition, it was later shipped in pieces to Great Isaac Cay in 1859.
Multiple ghosts are said to haunt the site. It’s said that during the construction of the light, a supply ship wrecked off the cay and all were saved but one young boy who was devoured by sharks, and some have reported seeing his poor soul wandering the cay.
Then there’s the story of “The Grey Lady.” A ship was reportedly lost off Isaac in the late 1800’s and all perished except an infant. During a full moon, the Grey Lady is said to wander the grounds searching for her infant son, and her cries have been heard by a number of people.
The light is now automated and her light shines every 15 seconds today, but until 1969, lighthouse keepers manned the site. In August of that year, it was found that the two lighthouse keepers had disappeared and were never heard from again. A hurricane had been in the area a few days earlier, but Isaac was not directly hit, and the lighthouse would have offered refuge. Their disappearance remains a mystery.
We liked to swing by when entering the New Providence Channel. You can’t climb the light as the lower stairs have been removed. It is a spooky place and the abandoned keeper’s house, cistern, and storage buildings remain in a crumbling condition. If sailing near, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of a ghost!
The disappearance of the two two lighthouse keepers is well known, but I believe the following tale of the shipwreck of the Elijah Swift, told by one of the survivors, is where the story of the "Grey Lady" comes from. The shipwreck of the Elijah Swift happened ten years before the lighthouse was built, and her sorrowful story was soon printed in many newspapers. Is the ghost that of Mrs. Bailey, read on and you be the judge.
The Elijah Swift was a 391 ton bark built in Falmouth, MA, in 1847 (though other sources say Falmouth, ME, after further research and help from David Farnham at the Falmouth Historical Society in Maine, Falmouth, MA is where it was built), and was registered at the port of New York. On Oct. 29, 1849, the bark was anchored about two miles off Great Issac. Her captain was D.S. Nye, and she was from New York and bound for New Orleans. Along with her crew, were thirty-nine passenger including women and children. A gale soon sprung up and she dragged her anchors and soon struck the rocks on the northwest end of the island and began to go to pieces. All made it to shore safely, though many were injured from the sharp rocks due to some having no shoes or little clothing. The storm was getting worse and the waves were starting to wash over this section of the island. Fearing for their safety, they all started to make their way to the island’s high ground on the southeast side of the island. They only got about fifty yards when a great wave washed twenty of them into the ocean. Only nine of the twenty were saved from drowning. The survivors made it through the night and the next morning searched the island for water and any items from the wreck that they could save. To everyone’s amazement, they found a six-week-old baby that had been washed up onto the island who had miraculously survived twenty-six hours there with only minor cuts and bruises. It was the child of a Mrs. N.A. Bailey, who was one of the women who drowned. The surviving women immediately took the child into their care. They all remained on the island for another two and a half days until rescued by the passing ship Bangor. The ship Louisiana was also supposed to have rescued two passengers.