Digest>Archives> May 2008

Pensacola Light: A Haunted History

By Thomas W. Atkeson


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Pensacola Lighthouse, Florida. Photograph ...

By Thomas W. Atkeson, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist 3rd Class

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The blood stained floor at Pensacola Lighthouse.

The Pensacola Lighthouse stands as an eerie monolith rising 171-feet over the Gulf Coast. In 1856, congress allocated $55,000 to build the Pensacola, Fla. lighthouse, and it was completed in 1858, making it the oldest lighthouse on the Gulf Coast. First lit on New Year’s Day 1859, the famed lighthouse featured a first order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse survived the Civil War and was even struck by cannon shot fired by Union forces from across the bay at the Confederate troops occupying the tower and keepers quarters using it as a lookout. Fearing the light could be used to aid Union forces at sea the Confederates removed the first order lens and sent it to Birmingham, Ala. for safe keeping.

The light has also survived more than a century of keepers, some whom are said to still roam the halls of the keeper’s quarters, tower and surrounding grounds.

There are many stories and photographs posted around the lighthouse’s visitor center from guests, volunteers and Coast Guardsmen and their family members who have served or even lived at the lighthouse. Reported ghost sightings and mysterious activities, in and around the lighthouse, date back to 1931. Emmitt Hatten, a Pensacola resident, lived with his parents in the keeper’s quarters while his father was the keeper from 1931 to 1953.

“When I would go up to pull the chains to keep the lens turning, I could hear human breathing. I was certain that it wasn’t mine and I would stop and listen.” Hatten said according to reports maintained at the lighthouse.

When he was 10 years old Hatten and his mother, Myrtle Belle Hatten, heard the 100-year-old stairs in the keeper’s quarters creaking. Myrtle Hatten yelled at Hatten to go see who was there. When Hatten went to see who was in the old house he saw no one but still heard the creaking. He called out “Who’s there?” There was no answer except the sound of the front door opening and shutting. Hatten then ran to the second story balcony to see who had left the house but again no one was there only the front gate opening and slowly closing on its own.

Another report by Hatten tells the story of a former keeper being murdered by his wife in the keeper’s quarters. According to Hatten’s story the keeper was stabbed to death by his wife leaving blood stains on the pine floors, which are still visible today. Hatten reported that the keeper’s punishment was to carry out her husband’s lighthouse duties for the rest of her life.

According to another report on July 9, 1994, a sightseer, Bruce Hamilton, took his son, Alex, and daughter Anne to tour the lighthouse. “During the wait to go up and while climbing the stairs, Alex kept saying that he wanted to see the ghost. I told him that the ghost moved things around but never showed itself. He continued to insist on seeing the ghost, speaking out loud to me, for most of the climb up,” said Hamilton. “By the time we reached the top he had stopped talking about the ghost. We admired the view from the top of the lighthouse and started back down. Anne was on step ahead of me, but Alex had moved ahead several steps. He was still in my direct view. In fact, I was keeping an eye on him in case he stumbled.

“Stop whispering, Anne!” Alex suddenly snapped.

“What are you talking about, Alex?” asked Hamilton.

“Anne is whispering in my ear,” Alex replied.

“No she didn’t,” Hamilton told him. “She’s back here with me.”

Alex gave a skeptical look back at his father and sister and continued to head down the stairs.

“Why did you think Anne was whispering,” Hamilton asked.

“Somebody whispered in my ear,” Alex told his father.

“There was no one near you,” Hamilton said. “I was looking right at you.”

Alex became more serious realizing that his father was right. There was no one within sight and they were alone on the stair case.

“What did you hear?” Hamilton asked his son.

Alex waited for his father and sister to catch-up to him and put his hand up

to his father’s ear and said “ALEX” in a

loud whisper.

Joe Everett, a retired Coast Guard petty officer was checking an electrical connection in the lighthouse on Oct. 1, 1992, when he heard a banging noise. He turned to see what made the noise and saw a sheet of plywood covering an opening to the outside entrance bouncing as if it was being hit rapidly. A carpenter who was also working on the lighthouse heard the noise and went to investigate. When he got to the source of the banging the noise had stopped. Everett reported the banging lasted 30 seconds. Everett and the carpenter went into the basement to see what the cause of the bouncing could have been, but there was no apparent cause. There was no evidence of damage to the wood panel the carpenter had installed, except that the four nails he used to secure the wood had raised one fifth of an inch from where he had placed them flush with the wood's surface.

Many other reports are available at the lighthouse -- from people seeing a man in the windows of the house to a woman on the catwalk around the top of the light and doors and gates opening and closing.

“I was here one afternoon, by myself, and I kept hearing footsteps. When I got up to see who was here I wouldn’t find anybody,” said Petty Officer First Class Marilyn Warner, a store keeper stationed at Coast Guard Liaison Office Pensacola, whose office is in the keeper’s quarters at the lighthouse.

Many ghost-hunting groups have been to the lighthouse to scientifically investigate the house. In May 2007, a paranormal research group called GHG Ghost Hunters visited the Pensacola lighthouse to investigate the house.

“We did note the odor of tobacco, like a cigar or pipe that had just been lit on a landing at the top of the stairs on the east side of the house” said Marlene Blanchard, of GHG Ghost Hunters. “This had been noted on a previous visit in the tower midway up.”

The team conducts their investigation beginning with baseline electro magnetic field readings, still photos and a general survey of the rooms noting anything that might influence readings or suspected anomalies to assist with the review of the data, said Blanchard.

According to Blanchard, the team divides into pair of two or three people, positioning in different areas to sit quietly and report to the monitor station anything unusual. We set up wireless cameras in different areas and a monitor is situated in the room, which has access to the tower. At least one person is assigned to the monitor, making notes as reports are radioed in from the investigators.

“While our documentation has not revealed the anomalies either the Friends of the Lighthouse members of the Coast Guard stationed at this site or the GHG Ghost Hunters have experienced, we do feel strongly there are energies associated with this site,” said Blanchard.

Capt. Jeffery Pettitt, the Coast Guard liaison to Naval Air Station Pensacola’s naval flight school, spends much of his time in the room the stabbing is rumored to have occurred in because it is now his office. Pettitt has not had a run in with any ghosts or strange activities around the lighthouse.

“I’m just a ‘Coastie,’ like them, so they know I’m just doing my job and they aren’t trying to scare me,” said Pettitt said about his lack of paranormal experiences while serving at the lighthouse.

This story appeared in the May 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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