Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Search of a Ghost Story

            It’s October. That means it’s time for ghosts and goblins and spooky stories told by flickering candlelight. I went searching the northern part of the County for one.
In the days before superhighways and turnpikes, when Palm Beach County residents wanted to head north, they used U.S. Highway One.
From our North Palm Beach home in the 1960s, there wasn’t much to see. There was an occasional business here or there. Through Juno Beach, gently rolling sand dunes covered with native Florida plants appeared on either side of the road, but that was about all there was.
Until we approached Jupiter.
At the intersection of U.S. Highway One and Indiantown Road there were a few businesses, but the most exciting sight was still farther north. As we approached the bridge that crossed over the Intracoastal by the Jupiter Inlet, we could see the lighthouse rising to our right. Sitting proudly on a rare hill, it towered over the surroundings. 
It still does. 
On a recent very hot and humid weekend, I drove over to the lighthouse to do something I never did before. I was determined to climb to the top.  I was also hoping I could pick up a good ghost story or two.  After all, the lighthouse started flashing out its beacon in 1860. Plenty of time for a ghost to take up residence. Luckily for me, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum is operated by the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, whose volunteers and staff members brave the hot weather to lead tours through the grounds and yes, up to the top of the lighthouse.  
            The tour took us past the Tindall House, acknowledged as the oldest home in the area, which was moved to the grounds from its original location near Center Street. It also took us past the Pennock Bell which rang out in the 1800 and 1900s at Pennock Plantation where pineapples were plentiful.  To the north is an active Coast Guard Station because this is still a working lighthouse. Traipsing past native plants and well-tended lawn, our group moved to the star of the show—the Jupiter Lighthouse.
The lighthouse was designed by Lt. George G. Meade and supplemented by the addition of double walls, porthole windows and extra height courtesy of Lt. William Raynolds.  If Meade sounds familiar to history buffs, that’s because Lt. Meade later became General Meade who served in the army of the North in the Civil War. In an odd twist, The Loxahatchee River Historical Society believes a surveyor by the name of Robert E. Lee was one of the team of six surveyors who decided Jupiter Inlet would be a good spot. It’s that Robert E. Lee who later became the General of the Confederate Army.  Isn’t it amazing how fate works?
            There are thirty-four steps to get to the base of the lighthouse and another 105 to go up to the top. All I can say is thank heavens there are landings and open windows where the sea breeze pours in—that’s a rough climb! I can’t imagine how the early lighthouse keepers did it several times a day. The view from the top, though, was all I had thought it was.  Having poured over history books and pictures of the area, I could imagine how it must have looked when the lighthouse was brand new. It’s easy to picture where the inlet was originally located and what the area must have looked like before buildings and paved roads popped up like dandelions.
            The climb was worth it, and not only because of the catwalk and incredible views. At the top the original lenses made in France by Fresnel are still installed and shine out every night. During the Civil War, they were removed and hidden to keep them safe and it was June, 1866 when the light once again directed sailors home.
Situated on one of the few hills in Florida, the Jupiter Lighthouse is constructed on an Indian mound. Indians were in and around the Inlet area for thousands of years. As we walked through the grounds, the tour guide pointed out smaller mounds to the south of the walkway. South Florida generally doesn’t have much in the way of hills and it was the Indians who made all of these.
            Aha! My ghosts for October?
Sadly, no.
I hopefully asked Amanda Dixon, our guide, if she had ever seen or heard of any unusual occurrences on the grounds. She said no and added that the Loxahatchee River Historical Society prefers to emphasize the history of the location and lighthouse. But, she added, everything was built over land where Indian settlements existed long before the Lighthouse was built. If you are sensitive to that sort of thing, who knows?
So, no ghost story from me this week. But with or without a resident haunt, the Jupiter Lighthouse is worth the price of admission. There are friendly, knowledgeable tour guides, beautiful scenery, an interesting museum and a snack bar where you can buy a Gatorade and soothe your aching legs after your climb while you cool off in the air conditioning.
For more information on hours and prices, go to or call (561) 747-3830. The Lighthouse is located at 500 Captain Armours Way, Jupiter, Florida. 
If you are “one of those people” and manage to glimpse a ghost, let me know. I’ll write a whole new story.

This story first appeared in the October column of The Florida You Don't Know
in Seabreeze Publications, Inc.  
The incredibly cute animated ghost is from
Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

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