In 1988 I moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts, to live in a house overlooking Salem Sound. The house was owned by a wealthy family and they needed someone to live there for awhile—“awhile” turned out to be seven years. From my bedroom window I could see three real lighthouses and the fake one in Manchester-by-the-Sea that was built as a watchtower during the Second World War. Another was Baker's Island.
|Keeper's House and Lighthouse today|
Baker's Island is a sixty acre island about four and a half miles off the coast of Salem to which it belongs. It served as my model for Hephzibah Regrets, the island home of the Ravenscroft family in my book, Depraved Heart. As early as 1630, Baker's Island was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and in 1660 it was granted to the town of Salem. Most of the coast is steep ledges but on the western coast there is a stretch of rocky beach. Sometime in the 1790s the federal government took control of 10 acres at the northwest tip of the island and built two lighthouses, one of which still stands. The rest of the land was privately owned.
|View of the island from the north|
In the nineteenth century a Dr. Nathan Morse from Salem built a large summer home for his family, followed by a 75 room hotel called The Weene-egan. Eventually another fifty cottages were built by affluent families from Boston and the North Shore to be used as summer cottages. A private dock was built and the property owners were very reclusive. No one who was not a resident was allowed to use the dock so access to the island was limited. The hotel burned to the ground in 1903, but the cottages remained.
|Ariel view showing the ponds, pier, and rocky coast|
The island has three land-locked ponds and numerous wells containing water suitable for bathing and cleaning but not for consumption. There are no roads. People use golf carts and four-wheelers to get around. The only power comes from solar panels and generators. There is a small store and a community center, but people have to go to one of the surrounding towns to buy water and groceries. For over seventy years the island was a mystery to anyone not fortunate to have property there. When I was living in Marblehead a friend and I took her boat out to the island, but there were numerous signs on the only pier warning non-residents to stay away. The natives were most definitely not friendly!
|The hotel resort before it burned in 1903|
During this time I met a woman who had worked as a caretaker on the island for a few years. The lighthouse was automated so she had no responsibilities there. She lived in the lighthouse keeper's cottage with just her dog and did some maintenance and repair work on a few of the cottages. She told me she was writing a book about the many strange things that had happened while she lived there. She spoke of fog horns that would suddenly sound for no reason and then go silent. She said she often heard voices, laughter, and the moaning and sighs of lovers as she went about her work. I asked if she was ever frightened. At first she said, no. Then she added that she was glad she had her dog with her at all times. I asked if her dog sensed anything and she nodded. She said she quit the job because it was starting to get to her.
|A postcard when both lighthouses stood.|
In 2003 the Essex Heritage Commission took possession of the ten acres on which the lighthouse is located. They wanted to start tours of the property but the residents put up a fuss. New residents for the lightkeeper's cottage were found and they set to work restoring the remaining lighthouse, the cottage, and grounds. Finally, in 2015, the Heritage Commission started taking tour boats out to their property but signs are posted warning tourists to stay away from the rest of the property. The residents maintain their privacy.
|Interior of the remaining lighthouse|
The trip to Baker's Island is not an easy one. The boat docks on the rocky beach below the lighthouse and visitors have to scramble over the beach and then climb a steep incline to the property but, once there, the views are spectacular. So far I have not heard any reports of ghosts.
|Path leading to the private property and cottages.|
|A few cottages as seen from the water today|
There is one more island I want to write about—Thacher Island, with its twin lighthouses. I have climbed to the top of one of them and will tell about that next time.
Thanks for reading.