The Wreck of the Isadore: One of the Catalysts for the Construction of Cape Neddick Lighthouse
Cape Neddick Lighthouse is one of the most photographed beacons in the nation. Located in York, Maine, near the New Hampshire and Maine border, it is also known as “Nubble Light,” it sits atop a small rock island called a “nubble,” located a few hundred feet from shore. Due to the rocky coastal area, a lighthouse was requested by many local mariners since the early 1800s. In 1837, a proposal was rejected, sighting there were “already enough lighthouses in the area.” A lighthouse was finally erected over 35 years later, years after public outcry over the famous wreck of the Isadore in 1842 and other shipwrecks that continued after that. The Isadore sank during a fierce gale storm on Thanksgiving in 1842, killing all aboard. The wreck became one of the catalysts for the initial construction of the Cape Neddick lighthouse. Mariners over the years still claim on quiet nights to see the ghost ship sailing near the area where it had perished.
The True Story of the Wreck of the Isadore Behind Cape Neddick Island
The true story of the Isadore’s tragedy begins a few nights before it sets sail with a cargo load from Kennebunkport, Maine. One of the Isadore’s crewmen, Thomas King, dreamed about the wreckage of a ship resembling the Isadore and its crew washed up on the shoreline. He told the dream to the ship’s Captain, Leander Foss, and begged to be left ashore. Still, the captain threatened that he had better be on board when the ship left or face serious consequences, especially when the crew member was already paid a month’s wages in advance for their trip to New Orleans.
The night before the Isadore sailed, another crewman dreamed about seven coffins with his own body in one. He also came to Captain Foss about his dream and begged not to have the ship sail the following evening, fearing for the lives of all aboard, but Foss refused to listen. The frightened crew member and King discussed their dreams, fueling King’s decision to stay behind.
On Thanksgiving night in 1842, the call went out for all crew to prepare for the sail. Thomas King stayed away, deserting his post on the ship, and hid in town, fearing the wrath of the captain and of the fate of the ship. The Isadore sailed out of Kennebunkport with a load of lumber, bound for New Orleans. As it left port, the wind picked up out of the northeast, and snow began to fall.
By the time the crew had come near Boon Island Lighthouse, about seven miles away from the main shore of Kennebunkport, the storm had intensified to gale-force winds that started steering the Isadore off course towards the mainland. The sea was making over twenty-foot swells in blinding snow, tossing the ship closer towards Avery’s Cove, an underwater ledge located a short distance from Cape Neddeck island, where it crashed on the rocks and sank.
The ship’s wreckage was discovered the following day all around Cape Neddick Island, separated by a few hundred feet of ocean water from the main shoreline and six miles from Boon Island. The bodies of seven crewmen out of 14 aboard were the only ones found washed ashore. One of the bodies was the other crewman who had dreamed about the seven coffins and was too frightened of the captain’s wrath to remain ashore. The body of Captain Ross was never found.
Sightings of the Ghost Ship Isadore
The Isadore still seems to appear as a phantom ship patrolling the bays. Since the day it perished in 1842, there have been sporadic sightings by mariners and visitors of the ship just offshore of Boon Island and Avery’s Cove. Over the years, many fishermen have claimed to have seen it and have tried to approach the ship, but it always seems to disappear when they sail near the site. Many hotel guests and tourists residing along the shoreline inns in York have reported seeing a faint “phantom” ship, even though most did not even know the story about the tragedy of the Isadore.
On a Joyous Note: Lighting of the Nubble During the Holiday Season
Cape Neddick lighthouse, or Nubble Light, is well celebrated as a photographer’s favorite lighthouse. During the holiday season, visitors will find a ceremony that occurs around the weekend after Thanksgiving as the “Lighting of the Nubble,” where the beacon is decorated and lit each night during the holiday season. In the first week of December, visitors can enjoy the Festival of Lights parade, among other events, by the town of York Parks and Recreation department. You’ll also find a lighted lobster trap holiday tree by the lighthouse, a New England tradition in many seacoast towns. For those who can’t visit during this time of year, there are also the same lighting festivities in July, a grand site during much warmer weather. Check out this photographic icon; maybe you might see the ghost ship Isadore in the distance.
Here are some of my favorite photos of Nubble Light. Happy holidays, and have a safe, joyous season.
The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships: Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted Coal Schooners of New England. In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies and measured longer than a football field! This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides unique 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, and even lighthouses where 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 weekly and weekend explorers. You’ll also find plenty of stories of hauntings around lighthouses.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, provides memorable human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore and tours. Lighthouses and their nearby attractions are divided into regions for weekly and weekend explorers. Attractions and tours also include whale watching tours, lighthouse tours, windjammer sailing tours and adventures, unique parks and museums, and lighthouses where you can stay overnight. There are also stories of haunted lighthouses in these regions, like a shortened version of the story of the Isadore wreck above.
Included are more details of the story of events that lead up to the wreck of the Isadore, along with over 50 other stories in my book New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales. This image-rich book also contains vintage images provided by the Coast Guard and various organizations and paintings by six famous artists of the Coast Guard.
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