A case of mistaken history has led to rumors this antebellum Gulf-Coast lighthouse is haunted.
- The current lighthouse, on the north side of Pensacola Bay, replaced an older lighthouse located on the bay’s southern entrance.
- According to legend, the first lighthouse keeper haunts the new lighthouse, which was built in a different location 18 years after his death.
- Pensacola Lighthouse was featured in a 2009 episode of Ghost Hunters.
Since Ghost Hunters came to the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum in 2009, there have been no shortage of articles about its legends. I finally had the opportunity to visit this historic site shortly before Halloween in 2014. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the lighthouse and former keeper’s house was decorated for the holiday. Fake spiderwebs and cheesy Halloween decorations were everywhere–making for some interesting photos.
Pensacola Bay has long been a strategic harbor, and even today, it is used for military purposes. The lighthouse sits on the grounds of the Naval Air Station, home of the Blue Angels. Ships have long needed safe passage into the harbor. The first lighthouse was built in 1824/25 for $6,000 on the south entrance of the bay. It was 40-feet tall. The current lighthouse, located at the north side of the bay, was built in 1858 and lit in 1859. It is made of brick and stands 150-feet tall. In 1861, an artillery duel between Union and Confederate forces lightly damaged the tower.
The legends of Pensacola Lighthouse revolve around its keepers. According to the lighthouse museum, there were eleven different keepers between 1863 and 1886. Nine were removed for being drunkards or shirking their duties. The keeper’s quarters was completed in 1869. In 1965, the lighthouse became fully automated and the keeper’s quarters fell out of use. It slowly deteriorated and was in danger of being torn down in the 1980s (it was rehabilitated in the 1990s).
The lighthouse’s first keeper was Jeremiah Ingraham, who began his service in 1824. He died in 1840 and his wife Michaela took over as Head Keeper. She died in 1855, and remains the only female to serve in that position. According to a legend reprinted on several websites, Michaela Ingraham (Penalber) became jealous of her husband’s devotion to his job, so she stabbed him to death with a knife.
For some reason, his cause of death was listed as illness and she was never convicted of the crime. Today, visitors hear footsteps, heavy breathing, and their name being whispered. Others have had objects “thrown” at them in the keeper’s quarters. Some have even claimed a dark red stain appeared on the floor as the lighthouse was being renovated.
The obvious problem with this legend is that Jeremiah and Michaela Ingraham never lived in the lighthouse, and they both died before the current lighthouse was built. The original lighthouse, where Jeremiah and Michaela served, wasn’t even located on the same side of Pensacola Bay. Did Michaela’s ghost migrate across the bay to its new location? Some believe it did, or that ghosts of at least two former keepers haunt the premises.
When TAPS investigated the lighthouse, they came away convinced it is haunted. According to the episode synopsis, “Amy and guest hunter Britt head to the keeper’s quarters where people have heard voices and seen the apparition of a woman. To ensure there’s no environmental interferences in their investigation they make sure the windows are tightly shut. While there, Britt thinks he hears a chair being drug across the floor. Later on, Britt and Dustin investigate the same area and they hear the hatch door slamming shut on the tower top. When they go to investigate they don’t find anyone there.”
I did not experience anything unusual while I was there, and I found the Halloween decorations to be a bit distracting. The Pensacola Lighthouse Association has gained some mileage from the ghost stories, however, and has been able to translate them into additional visitors and donations. The lighthouse was only recently opened for regular tours, so hopefully the added attention will allow it to stay open for many years to come.