Execution Rocks Lighthouse

Sands Point Light is situated close to Execution Rocks, but proved ineffective at warning mariners of the danger in heavy fog or stormy weather. On March 3, 1847, the United States Congress appropriated $25,000 for creation of Execution Rocks Lighthouse. Designed by Alexander Parris, construction was completed in 1849, although it was not lit until 1850. It stands at 55 feet tall, with a flashing white light. Built of granite, the tower is painted white with a brown band around its midsection. Next to it is a stone keeper's house inhabited since the beacon became automated. Initially, there was no keeper, although Daniel Caulkins tended to its needs while remaining as keeper of Sands Point Light. A year later, William Craft took over as headkeeper. He and his assistant lived in the tower. The keeper's quarters wasn't erected until 1867, 16 years later. A concrete oil house was also added sometime between 1910 and 1920.

On December 8, 1918, Keeper Peter Forget took a lunch break shortly after noon. He noticed the engine that provided power to the light and foghorn was running slower than usual. When he opened the door to the engine house, he was greeted by a wall of flames. With the combined efforts of the keepers, Navy patrol boats, and soldiers from Fort Slocum, they managed to put the blaze out before the lighthouse could be consumed by inferno. The fire with an unknown origin caused $13,500 in damages. The engine house and machinery were destroyed, the tower and oil house, the windows, woodwork, gutters and eaves were damaged. It would meet with flames again a few years later when an overheated exhaust pipe set the engine room’s roof on fire. This time, only minor damage was incurred, including smoke damage to the lens and clockworks.

A serial killer named Carl Panzram is also connected to the lighthouse. In August 1920, Panzram started out as a thief and arsonist. He robbed former president William H. Taft's home, stealing a .45 colt revolver in Connecticut. He moved on to boats and yachts in New York before setting his sights on more gruesome crimes. He would tie rocks to his victims' bodies and row them out in to the Long Island Sound, dumping them about 100 yards from the Execution Rock lighthouse. Panzram claimed to have killed 21 people in total. He lured sailors in New York away from bars, got them drunk, shot them and dumped their remains into the river (ten). He claimed to have raped and killed an 11- or 12-year-old boy in Africa. Hired a rowing boat, shot the rowers and fed them to the crocodiles. In America, he allegedly shot a man trying to rob him. Raped and killed two small boys, one in Massachusetts and the other in Connecticut, in 1922. He also claimed to have committed murder while burgling homes between Baltimore and Washington D.C. and an August 1928 murder in Philadelphia. Only three of the last five killings were confirmed. After being arrested in 1928, he was sentenced to 25 years at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. On June 20, 1929 he killed Robert Warnke, foreman of the prison laundry in Leavenworth, battering him to death with an iron bar. This murder got him a death sentence by hanging. His last words on September 5, 1930 were "Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill ten men while you're fooling around!"

Execution Rocks Lighthouse has a legend attached to its name. According to folklore, the British avoided public executions in Colonial times, afraid of inflaming the revolutionary spirit of the American people. Instead, they would carry the condemned to the reefs at low tide, chain them to rings embedded in the rock, and wait for high tide to perform the executions. Some say the skeletons were left to torture the minds of the newly condemned as they faced certain death. None of which has been proven true. A shipload of British soldiers, sent to pursue Washington on his retreat from Manhattan to White Plains, foundered at the reef and left no survivors. This shipwreck seemed to fuel the rumors as some believed the ghosts of the condemned were seeking their revenge. Another legend states the name came from the settlers of nearby Manhasset Neck (Cows Neck). Supposedly, many ships tried to make their way past the dangerous reef en route to Manhasset Bay and found themselves "executed" on the rocks. This tale is much closer to Execution Rocks Lighthouse's true name origin.

The last keeper, who retired in 1970, claims he never saw any ghosts or had any abnormal experiences. However, paranormal activity has been reported by many travelers passing by. Some have allegedly seen spirits wandering the rocks. Apparitions, footsteps, voices and strange sounds have also been reported by many eyewitnesses including US Coast Guard personnel who took night shifts there until the automation was finished.
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Anonymous said…
I got interested in this story because i saw it on an episode of Ghost Adventures. I'm from Long Island and i just thought it was very cool.
Jessica Blevins said…
I also saw it on Ghost Adventures last night so looked up some info. I found it to be rather interesting.
I, JOHN EDWARD KURIAN, Retired, USCG, was the very last Officer in Charge of: USCG Light Station Execution Rocks... before it was officially decommissioned by the USCG. I too could tell you many strange happenings while stationed at that particular lighthouse. I in fact, had kept the stations: Holy Bible and still have it too this very day! Ghost Adventurers television show... I believe had made a joke of this historic lighthouse and it's place in history, during the War of it's time. Many people had been murdered by the British Army during King George's reign in England. I have so very much to say about it's blackened history... and was proud and honored to have served on this historic lighthouse!

Anonymous said…
I have published a comprehensive history of the Execution Rocks Lighthouse on my website. For more information on the light, visit: Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

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