By Thomas D'Agostino
Lighthouses have a certain mystique that makes them alluring. Throw in a ghost or two and you have a perennial tale to forever be told by the flickering light of a campfire. There are many lighthouses in New England that are haunted by their former keepers or their families. The Wood Island light is no exception. In fact, there are a few ghosts roaming the island and the best part, you can actually visit them during the summer months.
Wood Island lies about two miles east of the entrance of the Saco River. The island itself is 35 acres and sits less than a mile from the village of Biddeford Pool. Early on, the area was considered hazardous for maritime navigation so funds for a lighthouse were appropriated and the island purchased from Pendleton Fletcher. The wooden octagonal tower and light was completed in September of 1807 for a price of $4,750 but was not put into service until 1808.
The first lightkeepers soon claimed the tower was rotten and rickety, swaying constantly during high winds and storms. In 1839, the old tower was replaced with a 44-foot rubble stone construction along with a one-story granite dwelling. This construction proved to be as inferior as the original and by 1858, a new tower and wooden home graced the landscape of Wood Island.
In 1896, a murder suicide took place on Wood Island that would leave psychic scars on the atoll and a few permanent residents as well. Frederick Milliken, a game warden and special officer, owned the only other two small buildings at one end of the island. He and his family lived in one while two fishermen, Howard Hobbs and William Moses, both 24 years of age resided in the other. On June 1, 1896, Moses and Hobbs visited Old Orchard Beach, drinking and becoming unruly. They returned to Wood Island about 4:30 p.m. Upon return, Milliken approached the two and stated to Hobbs that he wished to see him in regard to back rent owed. The two young men walked to their cabin where Hobbs grabbed his rifle. "I might get a good shot at some birds." he said to Moses and the two proceeded out the door to Milliken's home.
When Milliken saw the rifle, he asked if it was loaded. Hobbs replied it was not, but when Milliken stepped forward to take the weapon from the drunken man, Hobbs fired the gun hitting Milliken point blank in the chest. Forty-five minutes later, he was dead. Hobbs went back to his cottage where he turned the rifle on himself. The papers ran the story and soon all was quiet on the mainland, but the island would forever reverberate with the remains of the tragedy in the form of two ghosts.
Visitors and volunteers hear strange voices attributed to the ghosts of Mr. Milliken and Hobbs. Their voices are carried in the wind. Strange footsteps echo where there is no one to create them and their apparitions are seen on occasion. Teresa Rowell, wife of a former keeper lived on the island in the 1980s. She had several run-ins with the ghosts. One actually bumped into her while she was tidying her bedroom closet.
Boats passing the island have seen two men in older garb looking out at the sea. When the viewer takes a closer inspection, they appear to be semi-transparent. Volunteers working at the light experience strange phenomena in the form of items being moved from one place to another or footsteps where no living person is. The ghosts of the island are somehow bound to the spot where they tragically met their end. Like many other lights, the past stays with them shining through eternity.
Thomas D'Agostino may be reached at www.tomdagostino.com