Monthly Archives: October 2014

Portsmouth’s Famous Lighthouse Keeper During and After Life

Allan Wood | October 5, 2014 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Portsmouth Harbor light guiding mariners.

Portsmouth Harbor light guiding mariners.

In 1874, Joshua Card, who was keeper at the desolate Maine’s Boon Island lighthouse, was offered the position of Keeper at Portsmouth Harbor light in New Hampshire, which he graciously accepted. He loved life around the fort near the lighthouse, the lighthouse itself, and his neighbors in New Castle and Portsmouth. He was a longtime resident of the area and served for 35 years, from 1874 to 1909, one of the longest stays for a keeper at the same lighthouse. Card was also known to have a great sense of humor. As part of his uniform, Card would wear a cap with the letter “K” surrounded by a wreath. When visitors or locals would ask him what the letter stood for, he would reply, “Why Captain of course.”

Keeper Card, along with many other truly dedicated lighthouse keepers, rarely took any time off as he loved being at the lighthouse and tending to its needs. He would maintain the light for years without taking a single day off. He stayed at the lighthouse for over 35 years and became the seacoast’s oldest lighthouse keeper. It is reported that in that span of 35 years, from 1874 to 1909, he only failed to light the lamp 11 times. This was quite a feat of dedication. He died a short time afterwards in 1911. One newspaper writer wrote that Card’s manner was of high intelligence, he was punctual to the minute, had a kindly humor, and was always courteous to his neighbors and visitors to the lighthouse.

Keeper Joshua Card. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

Keeper Joshua Card. Courtesy New Castle Historical Society.

Joshua Card still seems to be involved in many of the ghost stories of the area as well. Although he had retired due to an apparent stroke, and some have written he retired against his will at the age of 86, his ghost has been seen and heard for many years since his death in 1911. Recently reported sightings of Card’s ghost range from personnel stationed at the nearby Coast Guard building observing a “shadowy figure” roaming the grounds at night, to a recent event where a woman visiting the lighthouse reported seeing a figure in broad daylight standing on the wooden walkway on the front of the lighthouse, wearing an “old-fashioned” keepers uniform. She reported thinking “wow … a guy is giving tours in costume” and then she said he just vanished. Quite shaken, when she walked over to the nearby Coast Guard Station to describe her experience, she noted photos of Keeper Card and identified him as the one she saw in uniform.

Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse at dusk.

Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse at dusk.

These stories attracted the ghost-seeking team from the program “Ghost Hunters” in October 2008 to come out and film any strange occurrences, and to help explain any strange activities perceived. As the ghost-seekers investigated and videotaped throughout the night inside Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, the Fort Constitution area, and the keeper’s quarters, which were all closed to the public for the investigation, they got some very interesting evidence.

Most of the experiences seemed to happen inside the lighthouse. Two of the three teams heard strange noises in the lighthouse; such as the sounds of footsteps walking on the stairway while the team members were all up in the tower. Two female members of the team were even able to communicate with whatever entity was making the noises by knocking (“cut and a shave” sequence), with the entity responding back. Evidence of the sounds of the knocking response and footsteps were easily caught on video.

In the keeper’s quarters, in the basement, that team heard some voices and a slamming of a door, with no wind drafts to cause the incident, also captured on tape. Outside in the fort, there were some different noises heard, but nothing that could be identified as possibly paranormal.

With this interesting evidence, it seems there may be more investigations forthcoming. The ghost of Keeper Joshua Card seems to enjoy the attention, while he’s still visiting the lighthouse on some nights, and making sure the light is tended to and helping to guide mariners home.


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Enjoy your October, and if you have a chance to visit Portsmouth’s lighthouse and historical Fort Constitution, the surrounding scenery is well worth the trip (I’m a bit partial to this area as I live a short distance away) .


Al Wood

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