Ghost of Drowned Keeper Frederick Jordan at Penfield Reef Light in Connecticut Still Helps in Rescuing Mariners
Penfield Reef Lighthouse sits atop a dangerous reef about a mile offshore from Fairfield, Connecticut, in Long Island Sound.
It is believed to be haunted by the ghost of an old keeper who drowned trying to get ashore to see his family.
Keeper Frederick Jordan hadn’t seen his family for weeks due to a series of storms, stranding him at Penfield Reef Lighthouse until he was finally relieved by Assistant Keeper Rudolph Iten. On a cold morning in December 22, 1916, a series of gale force winds came up suddenly, churning the waters, but the keeper decided to row ashore to join his family with handmade Christmas presents. In a dory, Jordan set out around 1:30 p.m. that afternoon as huge waves started tossing the keeper’s boat. Suddenly a large sea swell created a huge wave and broke over the craft, spilling Jordan into the icy waters a couple hundred yards away from the lighthouse shore. Assistant Keeper Rudolf Iten witnessed in horror from the shore as his friend struggled over the raging waters. Iten grabbed a boat, but as he tried to row towards Keeper Jordan, the winds had shifted against him. He could not get his boat near the keeper, who at this point had drifted nearly a half mile away from the shore with the constant wind gusts. Fearing for his own life, Iten had to give up on the rescue and watch Keeper Jorden drift helplessly away, eventually drowning in the cold seas.
Jordan’s body was later recovered, and Iten was absolved of blame for the death. He was then promoted as the next keeper of Penfield Reef lighthouse.
Weeks later, Iten claimed he felt a constant unearthly chill in the Lighthouse and observed a hazy presence coming out of the dead keeper’s former room. One day, Iten found the keepers’ journal on the floor instead of on the shelf where it was placed, and it was opened to the day that Jordan had perished, describing his death. In the months that followed, Iten claimed to have witnessed a hazy figure coming out of the lantern room at various times, and that the light would begin “behaving strangely” each time the ghost appeared.
Years later, another keeper at Penfield Reef Light reported seeing the figure of an old man dressed all in white, floating down the stairs of the tower and then disappear after leaving the tower door. Other keepers have claimed to witness on stormy and foggy nights, a ghost or hazy figure in the lantern room, swaying and sometimes moaning as if in pain.
One owner of a power yacht reported that in rough weather his boat was guided to safety by a mysterious figure in a rowboat, which disappeared once they were safe in calmer waters.
In 1942, a couple of youngsters were fishing near the lighthouse when they capsized their boat. An old man appeared from the nearby rocky shore and directed the boys to safety at the base of the lighthouse, then disappeared. When they went to thank him at the lighthouse, the keeper did not know whom they were talking about. The boys then identified Jordan as their rescuer after seeing his photograph on the wall.
Decades after Jordan’s death, other keepers at the Penfield Reef Lighthouse reported the light acting strangely at times especially just before a storm. To this day mariners along the Connecticut coast claim that, in stormy weather, a human figure is seen on the lantern room gallery or floating above the reef itself. Many still believe it is the ghost of Keeper Jordan still guarding the safety of mariners who come too close to the destructive reef.
Access to Penfield Reef Lighthouse
The lighthouse is not open to the public, it can be seen distantly from the shore of Fairfield and Bridgeport, but is best seen by boat. There are specific lighthouse cruises by the Maritime Aquarium out of Norwalk that may pass by the beacon.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore. These include whale watching excursions, lighthouse tours, windjammer sailing tours and adventures, special parks and museums, haunted lighthouse stories, like the one above, and lighthouses you can stay overnight. You’ll also find plenty of stories of shipwrecks and rescues. Lighthouses and their nearby attractions are divided into regions for all you weekend explorers.
You’ll find this story and many others in my book New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues, and Other Tales. The book also contains, along with my photographs, vintage images provided by the Coast Guard and various organizations, and paintings by six famous artists of the Coast Guard.
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