Their task might seem simple to us today–to keep the light burning all the time–but it was a job filled with countless dangers. And by taking a closer look at the lives of a few lighthouse keepers throughout history, one lesson seems to shine brighter than all the rest: the closer one stood to the light, the darker the shadows became.
Episode 173 of the Lore podcast focuses on the chiaroscuro, as host Aaron Mahnke explores some of the dark lore surrounding lighthouses. A brief survey of these seaside structures establishes the plentiful pitfalls of the lighthouse-keeping profession. As isolated sites that frequently bore witness to the savagery of nature, island lighthouses formed the scene of fatal mishap time and again. Such death and destruction in turn has furnished the fuel for many a haunted narrative. Accordingly, Mahnke centers the episode on Eilean Mor in Scotland’s Flannan Isles, a place of inhospitable geography and otherworldly reputation–which was greatly enhanced in 1900, when three lighthouse keepers were seemingly ghosted away while on duty. The mystery remains unsolved to this day, but the various theories (from the meteorological to the supernatural) of the cause of disappearance are fascinating. I wish that Mahnke had gone on to note the incident’s inspiration of works of fiction (Robert W. Sneddon’s “On the Isle of Blue Men”) and film (The Vanishing), and drawn connection with Robert Eggers’s sublime effort The Lighthouse, but that is the only shortcoming to be remarked upon here. For aficionados of the dark, this is a delightful episode, one that effectively illustrates how an icon of the romantic shades off into the Gothic.