As with most lighthouses, the Absecon Lighthouse was erected because of a need – along shorelines and inlets, running aground was common before harbors and inlets were lighted by lighthouses. The light was first lit in 1857, changing the look of the coastline along Atlantic City and making it safer for ships at sea. But the souls lost before the safety light was built still count as the ghosts of Absecon Lighthouse – perhaps they’d lived had the lighthouse been there sooner.
Absecon Lighthouse boasts a few interesting claims. It’s the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey. It’s the third tallest lighthouse in the United States, standing at 171 feet tall. It’s one of the oldest lighthouses in the country, too.
The Wreck of the Powhatan and a Need for a Lighthouse
One of the tragedies that would bring about the creation of the Absecon Lighthouse was the sinking of the Powhatan. During a nasty storm, the packet ship Powhatan was pushed by the waves and gusting winds into the Barnegat Shoals multiple times, about a hundred yards from where Surf City is today. The damaged ship, taking on a huge hole, began to break apart, and there was no way to save the people aboard during such a horrible storm.
Unfortunately, more than 200 people perished in the wreck. Depending on the resource, as many as 300 souls were lost when the Powhatan went down. While the ship went down near Long Beach, bodies of the dead washed ashore as far south as Absecon.
It was this wreck that truly sparked a flame in getting a lighthouse put in. Construction of the lighthouse began in 1854, the same year that the Powhatan sunk. While the lighthouse was deactivated in 1933, the light still shines every night, for show rather than as an active navigational aid, since ships can do all of that fancy stuff now.
The “Graveyard Inlet” saw more death than the German immigrants and crew of the Powhatan. Because the lighthouse was built on a spot where many dead washed ashore, and ships had wrecked for decades, those who believe in ghosts will have no trouble believing that the Absecon Lighthouse is very haunted.
The Ghosts of Absecon Lighthouse
Absecon Lighthouse has probably been haunted since day one, and the sands around the lighthouse surely have spirits rooming at night. The first stories of strange entities date back to 1905 when a lighthouse keeper reported seeing the Jersey Devil sitting right on top of the lighthouse tower – the guy even grabbed his gun and shot at the creature.
Most of the reported experiences since then have been about sounds, shadows, and spirits of people. While there are no records of anyone ever dying in the lighthouse itself, there seem to be plenty of spirits passing through. A television show crew even visited the lighthouse once, searching for answers to help determine if the ghostly experiences within Absecon Lighthouse were truly paranormal or only the wind, so to speak.
The Voices on the Stairs
One ghost story from a former director at the lighthouse is about voices at the top of the stairs coming up from the keeper’s cabin. The woman was ascending the stairs with her father, and they both heard voices coming from above – the woman verified with her father after the fact that he too had heard it.
It was more than a conversation – the witnesses described the talking as though it were a party with a few people conversing. When the two got to the main floor, they stepped outside and didn’t see anyone anywhere. Even looking around the yard caught them no sight of any living beings.
Other employees have experienced hearing British voices coming from within the lighthouse when there was no one around, especially nobody with an accent. It seemed the Brit spirits enjoyed swearing as well, according to those who heard the voices.
The Ghost in the Machine
When the lighthouse had the register converted to a computer system, strange things started to happen. Ghosts are often riled up not only when renovations are done on places but also when new technology they’re not accustomed to is moved in.
The computer system had an error when a lighthouse volunteer was using it. The director, the same one from the stair incident above, was called in to fix it. She cleared the screen ad headed back to her office. Before she even got there, the volunteer called her back – this time, the word “ghost” was on the screen.
Other Strange Sights and Smells
The strange phenomena that add to the paranormal experiences felt by some at Absecon Lighthouse don’t always involve hearing voices or seeing ghostly people, though there are more sights and sounds than already covered above. Sometimes, it’s a faint scent or a strange sound that is misplaced and ghostly.
There have been numerous reports of people smelling the scent of pipe tobacco coming as if from nowhere. Perhaps it’s a residual haunting smell from the past when keepers still lived at the lighthouse, some of which likely smoked cigars or pipes.
One person who worked there heard a baby crying in their office, though there was no baby anywhere in the lighthouse. Some people have reported hearing footsteps behind them on the stairs, only to turn and find no one was there. Visitors have said they’ve been laughed at by a disembodied spirit.
Many spirits in Civil War war uniforms have been spotted, and people in basic daily attire dating back to the 1800s. These ghosts sometimes appear to be confused about where they are – perhaps souls lost at sea trying to make their way home?
The Ghost Hand on the Staircase
Whether coming from the keeper’s cabin or going up to the light, the stairs in the lighthouse have elicited more than one story. One person working at the lighthouse claimed to see a ghostly hand, with no body attached, at the same section of the staircase where ghostly voices have been heard.
“Ghost Hunters” Visits the Ghosts of Absecon Lighthouse
Absecon Lighthouse has enough ghost stories that it was featured on an episode of the TV show “Ghost Hunters.” On the show, which has had 13 seasons since 2004, TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) visits various haunted locations in an attempt to prove that what seems like ghosts usually isn’t, or to capture proof that spirits are actually there.
On March 24, 2010, “Phantoms of Jersey” aired as episode 4 of season 6 of the TV show, then airing on the Syfy channel. The TAPS members had their investigation cut short due to bad weather, but they did catch some interesting things in their recording and filming that they couldn’t explain away as the high winds or creaky noises of the old lighthouse.
The team came in at the request of the lighthouse director of education programs at the time. She was looking for some explanation as to the ghost sightings and strange noises people had been reporting. The episode, though it aired in late March of the following year, was filmed in December.
Investigating during the storms led the TAPS team to conclude that any noises heard walking on the 228 steps of the lighthouse were likely from the windows rattling in high winds rather than ghosts. The consensus would only explain the sounds if it were windy outside every time someone heard them, though. Another explanation they had was that people at the bottom of the stairs talking sounded like gusts of wind from the top of the stairs – but what if no one is at the bottom of the stairs having a conversation and there’s no wind outside?
While they had explanations for those things, they didn’t have one for the sound of someone talking they heard after asking if anyone was with them in the lighthouse. There was a point in the investigation when a camera sitting at the top of the staircase moved on its own. The camera caught a shadow figure moving across the wall.
The ghosts of Absecon Lighthouse may not have names or stories that can be traced back, but they make for good spooky stories for those who have witnessed them. Whether it be the sounds of laughter coming from nowhere or a glimpse of a shadowy figure flitting up the stairs, these ghosts want to be noticed.