Ohio lighthouses are majestic and full of historical lore. If you’re staying at the Put-in-Bay Resort, one of Put-in-Bay’s most popular hotels, one of the “must-see” attractions is the South Bass Island Lighthouse. Perched high on a cliff on the southern tip of the island, she’s one of the iconic symbols of South Bass Island.
The mere sight of a South Bass Island Lighthouse stirs the imagination. It’s as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and been magically transported back to the late 1800s. This lighthouse in Put-in-Bay is so majestic, so mysterious, it can almost seem she wants to speak to you and reveal to you her many secrets. This got me wondering. If the South Bass Island Lighthouse could talk, what would she say?
For tourists who take the scenic Miller’s Ferry over to Put-in-Bay, I think she says “Welcome to Put-in-Bay. It’s going to be a good day!” It doesn’t matter what language a tourist speaks, the South Bass Island Lighthouse speaks a universal language that all can understand.
Looming there bigger than life, bold and proud, on the cliff, she presents one of the best photo opportunities in all of Ohio. On a sunny summer day, her red-brick Queen Anne architecture is a striking contrast against a bright azure sky and the greenery that surrounds her. On a stormy day, the red slate roof of her tower provides a splash of color against the gray sky. She speaks to your heart. No words are actually needed.
This is why everyone who visits South Bass Island Lighthouse falls in love with her. She’s like that affable person you know who everyone takes an instant liking to as soon as they meet her. They never forget her and they always want to visit with her again. Isn’t that strange? Why are people so attracted to Lake Erie Ohio lighthouses?
For those who live in Put-in-Bay and are returning home on the ferry, I think she might say “Welcome back old friend. You can check out but you can never really leave.” It’s true. Once people get a taste of living on the island, they can never stay away for long without getting terribly homesick. The South Bass Island Lighthouse keeps calling them back with some mysterious force.
What would happen if a tourist could interview South Bass Island Lighthouse?
How would she answer their questions? Let’s give Sandy, a tourist visiting from British Columbia, the opportunity to do so.
Sandy: What are some of the things people might not know about you
South Bass Island Lighthouse (SBIL): Some people come just to see my lighthouse tower but the bigger attraction may be my grounds. Did you know I have a monarch butterfly garden?”
Sandy: No, I didn’t, that sounds lovely! Where is it?
SBIL: “Just as you enter the grounds. If you visit in the spring, you can enjoy my wildflower gardens too. Year round, the bench over there is a great place to catch a multi-colored sunset. Some people just sit there and zen out!”
Sandy: Oh wow, I would love that. I’m already planning my next trip to Put-in-Bay. Can I walk my dog on your grounds too?
SBIL: “Oh yes, I love my canine visitors, as long as you pick up after him or her.”
Sandy: Of course… that goes without saying. Do some people actually forget to do that?
SBIL: Yes and it upsets Samuel.
Sandy: Wait, are you talking about Samuel Anderson, the guy who committed suicide by jumping off the cliff?
SBIL: He didn’t commit suicide. He was pushed. I was there.
Sandy: You mean someone murdered him?
SBIL: I don’t want to talk about it. Next question.
Sandy: I heard some people are scared of you… should they be?
SBIL: No, a lot troubled souls come to visit me and I comfort them.
Sandy: Who do you mean by troubled souls?
SBIL: Mostly those who died in shipwrecks or froze to death by falling through the ice in the South Passage in the winter.
Sandy: Yikes! Are there a lot of these people?
SBIL: Oh yes, bodies used to float up in the spring after the ice melted all the time. Their spirits tend to linger when they die such a tragic death.
Sandy: That’s horrible. I feel sorry for them. You mentioned shipwrecks. Have a lot of people died in shipwrecks near here?
SBIL: Not much anymore but they used to die all the time in the western basin of Erie Lake in the 1800s before I was built. Lake Erie is pretty shallow and there are lots of rocky reefs hidden under the water. When the winds pick it, the water can get pretty choppy too. Eight foot waves are not uncommon. It was easy for a ship to crash on a rocky reef before GPS and underwater radar came along.
Sandy: I didn’t realize that. You learn something new every day. Well, it doesn’t sound to me like anyone should be afraid of you.
SBIL: Some OSU Stone Laboratory staff and students are scared to stay in my lighthouse keeper’s quarters but I am benevolent. No one should be afraid to stay here or visit me. But… never ever go in the basement! I repeat NEVER EVER GO IN MY BASEMENT! That’s not a place you should be — ever!
Sandy: What’s in the basement?
SBIL: I like you so it’s probably better if you don’t know, just stay out of there. I mean it.
Sandy: Oh come on… please…. please tell me…
SBIL: It’s so terrible, trust me, you don’t want to know.
Sandy: Yes, I do! Please tell me. I’ve been hearing all these stories about ghosts and weird phenomena, I almost didn’t come today… but now I see how nice you are. Please tell me about the basement. I won’t tell anyone.
SBIL: I don’t know. The reason I almost never talk about it is because it’s just too scary to most people.
Sandy: Don’t worry. I grew up with 3 older brothers. I’m tough. Nothing scares me.
SBIL: Are you sure? It would help lift a terrible burden I’ve been hiding for years.
Sandy: Yes, I’m sure. You can tell me.
SBIL: Okay, here goes… Serpents have lived in my bowels for 121 years. The ancient one is now 156 years old and the others are his grandchildren. He was born at Hogwarts in the Chamber of Secrets.”
Sandy: Wait, what? Do you mean the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?
SBIL: Yes and these serpents aren’t friendly snakes like a green garden snake or a corn snake. These are evil serpents brought here in 1898 by Samuel from the House of Slytherin. He could charm them but others simply succumb to their evilness.
Sandy: OMG, that is so fascinating but also alarming at the same time! Are you okay?
SBIL: Yes, I am protected from their evilness. Samuel put magic spells around the basement to protect me but they won’t work on anyone else!
Sandy: How do you keep people out of the basement?
SBIL: Oh, I have my ways. Every time someone is tempted, I slam doors, I make my floorboards squeak, stuff like that. I do it for their own good. Better they be scared enough to never go in the basement.
Sandy: That IS a heavy burden you’re carrying!
SBIL: You know how they say Samual was “eccentric”… well, that’s not the word I would use for the powerful magic a wizard uses. I begged him to take those Slytherin serpents away but he refused. He was so attached to them. Maybe they controlled him, I’m not sure how that relationship worked exactly but I do know that no muggle should ever go in the basement!
Sandy: This is almost too hard to believe. You’re yanking my chain, right.
SBIL: I so wish I were honey but it’s 100% true! It’s such a relief to share this secret with someone so kind as you. It’s been so difficult to keep it for more than a century. Please, no muggles should ever be allowed in my basement, not ever! I’m afraid of what might happen to them!
Sandy: I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll help perpetuate the rumor that you are haunted by ghosts and that the ghosts live in your basement. That will keep all the muggles away!
SBIL: Thank you. That would be a big help.
Sandy: Is it safe for muggles to visit your grounds when the lighthouse tower isn’t open?
SBIL: Well, the answer to that is complex and would take hours to explain. For now, no one should ever get too close to the edge of the cliff.
SBIL: An unseen force may push them to their death. You know what happened to Samuel Anderson. And then… you know that the lighthouse keeper, Harry Riley, who went crazy right after that happened…. or so they say he did. I think he had a dark spell cast upon him. There’s been others too over the years too.
Sandy: But wait a minute, I heard one guy say that Samuel Anderson is probably buried in the forgotten Potter’s Field at Crown Hill Cemetery. If that’s true, he can’t still be haunting your grounds, right?
SBIL: Bodies can be buried but spirits live forever!”
SBIL: And troubled spirits are restless!
Sandy: Well, I’ve got to be getting back to the Put-In-Bay Villas now. This is beginning to creep me out a little. Thank you for sharing all that with me.
SBIL: Will you come to see me again?
Sandy: Yes, I will I promise. We’ll be touring the island tomorrow with a Put-in-Bay golf cart and we’ll swing by.
SBIL: Who are you bringing with you?
Sandy: My boyfriend. Don’t worry. He’s good with secrets too and he can help spread the rumor about the ghosts in the basement. No one else needs to know the real truth.
SBIL: That’s a good idea but keep him away from the basement too. An evil force is lurking there.
Sandy: Yes, we will stay away from the basement… and we won’t get too close to the edge of the cliff either
SBIL: Yes, be sure to be careful when you’re here, even if I happen to be asleep. It’s for your own good. As a lighthouse, it is my duty to protect you just like I used to protect those ship captains and their crew with my 4th order Fresnel lens.
Sandy: That’s so kind of you. Thank you again. See you tomorrow.
There’s will always be a certain mystique about South Bass Island Lighthouse, some of it quite dark. There are rumors whispered about her in Put-in-Bay taverns and passed down through the generations.
People new to the area ask questions like, “Is the South Bass Island Lighthouse really haunted? I heard she was.” A more skeptical person might ask, “Has anyone actually seen any paranormal activities at South Bass Island Lighthouse? Anything usual or creepy on the grounds?”
This is where the conversation can turn quite interesting as old-timers share the rumors they’ve heard over the years. But what is the actual truth? Why do so many of these rumors exist? Are they there to hurt us or protect us?
Regardless, if you see the glowing eyes of an owl at dusk on the grounds of the South Bass Lighthouse, be extra vigilant!