The first Pensacola Light was the lightship Aurora Borealis. A lightship is a permanently The first Pensacola Light was the lightship Aurora Borealis. A lightship is a permanently moored ship that has a light beacon mounted on it. Due to the frequent occurance of choppy seas, the lightship had to be anchored inside the bay entrance, behind Santa Rosa Island. Because of this, the lightship proved inefficient and unreliable and was quickly replaced in 1824 by a permanent lighthouse. How quickly? This new lighthouse and the keeper’s house were built for $5,725 and completed in barely two months.
In 1825 a 40 foot tower was built on a 40 foot bluff at the south entrance to Pensacola Bay. This light was also partially obscured by trees close to the tower and on Santa Rosa Island. There are no known drawings or photographs of this original lighthuse.
In 1858 a new tower was built on the north side of the bay entrance, and was lit on January 1, 1859. The new, and current, tower is 150 feet tall, and also sits on a 40 foot bluff located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station, placing the light 190 feet above sea level.
The lighthouse is said to be haunted by its first lighthkeeper, Jeremiah Ingraham. A transplanted bachelor from New England, he took on the lightkeeper duties in December of 1824. He grew fond of the tropical Florida climate and his crops of strawberries, grapes, rice, among others, were plentiful. He lived this abundant bachelor life for two more years, then decided it was time to take a wife.
Jeremiah married in 1826, and the couple soon had three children. They hired a young Negro boy to as an assistant lightkeeper, and soon took on caring for an ailing relative. Although they expanded their crops and had more people to help with hunting and fishing, there never seemed to be enough food. This issue seemed to be the root cause of heated arguments and underlying tension for years. Jeremiah’s wife pressured him constantly, saying he wasn’t doing enough, although he seemed to work ceaselessly.
This continued for the nearly thirty years the couple ran the lighthouse. The intensity grew and grew and eventually ended in Jeremiah’s brutal murder. With the children grown and on their own, the couple was alone in the house.
One night, for reasons still unknown, Jeremiah’s wife got up in the middle of the night, went downstairs, and grabbed the sharpest knife in the kitchen. She proceeded back upstairs and stabbed her husband in the back. As she watched him die, she formulated her plan for covering up her actions. She disposed of the incriminating evidence and reported her husband’s death as a hunting accident. Her ploy worked, and she soon took over tending the lighthouse.
Her tenure as lightkeeper was not an easy one. The lighthouse was plagued by ongoing mechanical problems and setbacks, and the guilty wife seemed to be plagued by the vengeful spirit of her murdered husband.
Legend says she saw objects fly through the air, heard creepy laughter in empty rooms, saw shadows in the windows of the locked tower at night, constantly smelled the odor of pipe tobacco, and felt ice cold blasts of air no matter how hot the fireplace was burning.
Even though the old station has been replaced, reports say the bloodstain of Jeremiah’s murder shows through the floorboards of the upstairs bedroom of the current keeper’s house. No amount of scrubbing is able to permantly remove that stain. The son of a former keeper stated that when he pull the chains to keep the lens turning, he would hear breathing. Visitors have reported having their name whispered into their ear by some unseen force. Doors open and close by themselves, and residents would hear footsteps walking to the front door, the door would open and close, then the footsteps would continue on to the gate, where the gate would open and close, then the footsteps would stop.
Coast Guard staffers have been frustrated by doors that won’t stay locked. They lock the doors, double-check to ensure they’re locked, and then come back the next day to find them all unlocked. Many of them have also smelled the pipe smoke; one even reported actually seeing the smoke. Nearly everyone reports feeling another presence among them when they’re in the tower. Still others are startled by the sudden slamming of the hatch to the lantern room, when they know no one is there.
Maybe the creepiest report is that of a volunteer and his wife from the late 1980′s. The couple was asked to check the lighthouse to see why the light was out. When they got there, they heard a man pacing and cursing. As the husband went up to fix the light, the wife continued to hear the pacing and cursing. At the exact moment the light came back on, the cursing and pacing abruptly stopped. Maybe Jeremiah was frustrated because he couldn’t figure out how to fix the light…
The light was automated in 1965. In 1971, the Gulf Islands National Seashore was created to help preserve the tower, as well as the neighboring fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas. The lighthouse tower and associated buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
The Pensacola lighthouse is open for tours from June – October. The facility remains an active aid to navigation.