Close to the tallest point on Eilean Mòr, part of the Outer Hebrides Flannan Isles, Scotland, there stands the Flannan Isles Lighthouse. The story about this place contains the usual kinds of details, with its own date of construction and its unique design and location, except for one thing. Inside the dark interior of this lighthouse, there is a 117-year-old mystery: what happened to its keepers?
Close to 25 meters tall, this life-saving building was the brainchild of David Alan Stevenson, creator of 26 lighthouses. The construction began during the 1890s. The initial investment towards building this lighthouse was close to £7,000.
The construction of the lighthouse was not easy–building a lighthouse never is, as they are typically located on rough terrain in remote locations. The resources for its construction had to be carried by boat pulled 150 feet up the cliffs, and the workers also had the stormy Atlantic ocean to contend with.
Almost £4,000 more was required in order for the lighthouse to be finished. It shone its light for the first time on December 7, 1899. The lighthouse itself was connected to the landing jetties with a steam-powered cable railway to transport paraffin and other supplies for the light, as well as provisions for the keepers, up the steep hillside from the supply boats.
The train tracks ran downhill, up to a certain point where they fork, with tracks running off to the east and west to reach the two landing points. Another interesting fact about this place is that this is where the first communication using wireless telegraphy (or radiotelegraphy) happened in 1925.
The mystery at the lighthouse, however, happened in 1900, 25 years prior to this radiotelegraphy. The Archtor, a steamer from Philadelphia, traveling in harsh weather first reported that the lighthouse was dark.
The boat, unfortunately, hit the Carpie Rock shortly after passing the lighthouse. The Archtor managed to make it to Oban where her captain reported the unlit lighthouse, but not before tackling the repairs to his ship.
The three men stationed on Eilean Mòr were Donald MacArthur, Thomas Marshall, and James Ducat, and a fourth member of the team was at that time on the mainland on his rest period rotation. The next scheduled check-up on the lighthouse, to bring new supplies and rotate the lighthouse keepers, was due five days later, on December 20.
The visit didn’t happen until the December 26 due to bad weather. When they arrived at the lighthouse, the first thing the noticed was that flag was no longer flying from its post. Furthermore, none of the empty boxes for resupplying had been brought outside, and the usual warm welcome from the keepers was nowhere to be had.
And the mystery just kept getting more confusing. The main and compound doors were both locked, the beds of the keepers were unmade, and the clock had stopped.
The clues as to what happened just kept getting stranger. For example, the last entry in the lighthouse log on December 15 revealed terrible weather that day, but one set of the keepers’ oilskins had been left inside.
There were no signs of forced entry, or any other signs of a struggle, except for an overturned chair in the kitchen. The keepers were nowhere to be found. Investigators’ initial thoughts were that the keepers were swept into the ocean by wind or waves during the storm.
Outside of the lighthouse, things were more disturbing. The ferocious storm had caused the train tracks to be torn off the concrete and a rock weighing more than a ton was clearly shifted from its original position. The grass was torn from the ground up to 33 feet from the cliff edge, 200 feet above sea level.
No bodies were ever found. A number of theories exist as to what happened, but all explain only a portion of the clues. The lighthouse now runs without a keeper except for a few visits through the year for maintenance. It was fully automated in 1971, but the mystery remains for future investigators, researchers, and mystery lovers.