Ghosts of the Great Lakes
By Rowley W. Murphy
Rowley Murphy, marine artist, illustrator and stained glass window designer, was the first official war artist of the Royal Canadian Navy. Born in Toronto 28 May 1891, Murphy studied at the Toronto Technical School, the Central Ontario School of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He taught at the Ontario College of Art from 1931 until he joined the war effort and was employed painting ship camouflage designs during 1941-41. He then created War records drawings and paintings and in June 1943, Murphy became the first official war artist of the Royal Canadian Navy. His first public show was in New York in 1919, and his last exhibit was four months before his death in February 1975.
Rowley Murphy's interest in shipping history began at a very young age when he started sketching the schooners and other sailing vessels that he saw on Lake Ontario and in various harbours. He later became a friend of C.H.J. Snider, John Ross Robertson, Willis Metcalfe, Peter Edwards and other regional historians. He assembled the index to Snider's "Schooner Days" articles, many of which are reproduced in these pages.
This article has been adapted from "Inland Seas", Volume 17, 1961 with minor editing and annotation, hence the reference to the Great Lakes Historical Society, G.L.H.S.
There must be members of the G.L.H.S. who, as experienced Great Lakes seamen have, like the writer, seen curious and extraordinary sights which remain clear in the memory. Could not some of these members record impressions of strange or wonderful occurrences which they have seen afloat, and yet appeared to be outside the boundaries of fact? In particular, the writer would be interested to learn who first spoke of the S.S. Bannockburn as the “Ghost Ship of the Great Lakes," and why? Was this name first given her by some seaman to whom she has appeared since her loss in November 21, 1902? The writer was unfortunately in the wrong place at the right time, in the good old days on the third Welland Canal, to have met Bannockburn, but he knew her twin sister Rosemount very well, and had the great privilege of blowing her whistle when canalling. Rosemount was commanded by Captain John Woods of Port Dalhousie, while his brother, Captain George Woods, was master of Bannockburn, and with his entire ship's company, was lost in her in Lake Superior on November 21, 1902.
Perhaps the word “Ghosts" might apply to the visual or audible reappearance of those Great Lakes vessels who have vanished leaving no trace of their existence – or sometimes only slight but positive evidence, such as the oar or oar-blade from Bannockburn, or the more substantial towing bitts from Minnedosa. Nor should human appearances be excluded, nor sounds without sight, as these may be valuable proofs of identification to those with sufficiently sensitive auditory equipment.
Ghost of Small Boat in Toronto Harbour
In the winter of 1908, my father and I designed and built a small, seaworthy and fast cruising yawl. Being constructed of the best white oak for keel, frames, stem and transom, and having cypress planking, she lived a long time. The writer last saw her in Port Credit harbour about five years ago.
As the writer's home was for many years on Toronto Island, which lovely location gave about eight months of sailing every year, he often sailed by himself around the island, a distance of about twelve miles. This provided excellent experience and training in winds of varying direction and strength, and particularly in keeping clear, in all weather, of the shoal water off what is now known as Gibralter Point. Toronto Island, subdivided into Ward's (named after Wm. Ward, who settled there in 1820), Centre, and Hanlan's Point (after the great oarsman, Ned Hanlan), all now divisions of the present island, were once parts of a peninsula, extending from what is now Woodbine Avenue to Gibralter Point, a distance of approximately 9 miles. From Woodbine Avenue, the compass bearing is about S-W to Gibralter Point.
The division of this peninsula into an island was due to high water levels in Lake Ontario in 1852-53 and finally in 1858 when backed by heavy easterly gales, the Lake washed a channel 1,500 feet wide and nine feet deep through the "carrying place" mentioned by Captain Walter Butler of Butler's Rangers, March 12, 1779, on his way to Cherry Valley. These inundations, especially the last one, destroyed several buildings – including the large three story brick house of The Hon. Poulet Thompson, later Lord Sydenham. This building was used by the owner's family in 1839 as a place of refuge from the cholera, then raging in the city. But the peninsula was used long before the arrival of the white man, as a place of rest and recuperation, by the Indians; while at a later date it was much favored for riding and horse racing, fishing, shooting, sailing, paddling, rowing and bathing, even sketching! This area is rich in historical importance, as around this "corner" on November 27, 1678, sailed the first French vessel to venture that far westward on any of the Great Lakes. She was probably named Frontenac, and was on her way to Niagara with shipwrights, gear and supplies for the building of the Griffon in the winter of 1679. [Note: See "Tarry Breeks and Velvet Garters", by C. H. J. Snider.]
On this "Toronto Point" then "Lighthouse Point", and later "Gibralter Point", a famous vessel was wrecked in the summer of 1812 through a mistake in the position of the light. This was H.M.S. Toronto, yacht, generally known as the Toronto Yacht. She was built in the mouth of the Humber river in 1799, was armed, and carried passengers of quality, dispatches and cargo between Niagara, the capital of Upper Canada at this date, and Toronto. This last was the original name used by the French for this area – which was changed to "York" by Lieutenant Governor Simcoe in 1793, and again happily became "Toronto" in 1834.
The wreckage of the Toronto Yacht was first shown by the writer's grandfather to his father, in the summer of 1865, and much reduced in quantity, was still to be seen on the beach in 1949. At that time, C.H.J. Snider and the writer secured some good pieces of white oak, (now black), which contained spikes most likely hammered out at the forge established at what is now known as the "Old Fort."
Let us digress for a moment. Around this corner, then "Lighthouse Point," in the early morning of April 27th, 1813, came the American fleet of 16 sail to attack York. The two big square-riggers, the shiprigged President Madison, 24 guns, and the brig Oneida, 16 guns, were followed by 14 schooners, some carrying square topsails. Using batteaux towed from Sackett's Harbour and the boats of this flotilla, the 1,700 American troops were landed on the beach at what is now Sunnyside. This westward drift was caused by a fresh east wind, and gave the troops, led by rifle regiments, the protection of the bush north of the beach in their advance on Fort York. Unfortunately, there were only six guns mounted, two from the French Fort Rouillé of 1749-59, and the defense was not effective for very long after the landing, about 9-10 a.m.
Late in the afternoon, after a seven hour battle, those of the 1,700 American troops who were still active, had thoroughly worked their way through the remnants of the 683 men who had opposed them and gained complete command of the town. Those remaining were from the 8th Kings, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Glengarry Light Infantry, the 3rd York Militia, some Royal Navy seamen and a few Indians.
As 292 prisoners were taken by the United States forces, 391 of the British and Canadians were killed, wounded or missing. The American loss at York in killed and wounded was 286 men. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment still wears the battle honours won on this day of disaster of "York 1813," and American and Canadian surgeons gave their best for friend and foe with no question of allegiance. Then came a last and very destructive act. The brick Parliament Buildings and Library, which stood on Parliament Street near the Harbour, after being pillaged, were set afire and completely consumed. This is the reason there are no legal records extant of early York. But among other trophies of importance saved, was the Royal Mace of the House of Assembly, which relic accompanied the U. S. fleet back to Sackett's Harbour, and eventually found a place in the Museum of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
However, a great American sailor of the sail, who was a great President – and also had concern and regard for artists during the depression – had a kind and friendly thought for this important relic and its value to the Canadians of present day "York." On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Toronto in 1934, (previously "York" from 1793 to 1834) he caused the return of the Mace to its old home town aboard an American cruiser, the U.S.S. Wilmington, Captain A. F. Nicklett, U.S.N. The initials of this great president, who fully understood that "blood is thicker than water," were F. D. R. Gentle reader, whatever your political opinions may be, please try to understand Canadian approval for this handsome action!
After this long free run into history, we must return to our course and our appointment with the ghost of a small boat, possibly French, in the year 1913. In a freshening breeze, we too turn the corner of Gibralter Point and head for the entrance of the "new" western gap from Lake Ontario, (York Roads in 1813 and now Humber Bay) into Toronto Harbour. On the way we pass the spot where the three-masted schooner St. Louis of St. Catharines came ashore in 1909, and where her master and crew were taken off by Captain Frank Ward and "the Ward boys" assisted by C.H.J. Snider. This rescue was made not far from the home of William Armstrong, a lifelong island resident and an outstanding marine artist during his life of 98 years. To the S-W in Humber Bay, the lights of a steamer could be seen on the course from Hamilton to Toronto. This proved to be the new S.S. Turbinia of the Turbine Steamship Company, the first on the Great Lakes to employ this principle of propulsion. She was designed by the great firm of Swan-Hunter and Wigham Richardson, Newcastle-on-Tyne, [Note: this should be Hawthorne Leslie of Newcastle. ed.] from whence came many famous vessels, including the first Mauretania. Turbinia was said to have been designed on her lines, scaled down, and was a very beautiful vessel, speed 26 knots, with a most interesting career on fresh and salt water.
At the westerly end of our new Western Channel from Humber Bay to Toronto Harbour, I came hard on the wind on the starboard tack, and just reached the waters of the Harbour before Turbinia, properly checking down her engines, passed me to port. (It may be noted that in these days vessels under sail were properly given their rights by steamers – and even some power boats.) The light easterly wind was increasing to a pleasant sailing breeze with light clouds and pale moonlight – the impression of which exists powerfully in the memory.
At this time a long wooden breakwater, built of cedar piles, extended across a part of Toronto Bay from the site of the blockhouse built by Governor Simcoe, halfway across the Harbour from South to North. This dangerous construction, for strangers, sometimes had lights at night, and was for the protection of water pipes from the island filtration plant to John Street pumping station. The opening in the middle of this breakwater, very useful for those under sail, also oarsmen and canoeists, was right ahead of me. I passed through it and then came about to port tack on which I could stand right to the entrance of the channel to Reilly's Bay, Ward's Island. This perfect small harbour was used by many yachts, and was named for W.J. (Bill) Reilly, whose efforts saved it from the passion for "filling in," so prevalent in Toronto. Several members of the G.L.H.S. will remember Bill as a great dinghy sailor and owner of the Class R yacht Riowna, winner of the George Cup in 1925 [Note: in fact, 1924. ed.] He is now doing his sailing up aloft.
My port tack was working out nicely, and in the misty moonlight I saw a sail ahead and realized I could easily pass to leeward. As I got closer, I saw that this sail was like nothing in use at this date, being of a very old design known as a sprit-sail, and not nearly as effective for windward work as a gaff rig, or particularly as a "Marconi" then coming in. When about 50 feet to leeward I saw that the boat carrying this sail was also of an old design, and with a higher transom stern than those used in the yawl boats of Great Lakes schooners in the past. In this boat were three figures, one near the mast, which was stepped through a forward thwart, being rather shapeless and wearing rough, perhaps wet, dark clothing, which seemed too large. The next figure, seated amidships, was wearing dark trousers cut high, and a torn, once white shirt, with full sleeves, and had a dirty bandage around a head which showed a pronounced nose and cheekbones. The figure in the stern wore something like a battered tricorn and a long jacket the worst for hard wear, perhaps a very old naval frock coat, and in the shadow under the hat brim, appeared to have a lean face and short beard. But the surprising feature of the reflection from the past was that the transom of this boat had been knocked out, and harbour water was washing freely in and out of her hull! Her stern post, or part of it, appeared to be in place, and the steering oar in use might have been lashed to it. As if conscious of a strange and unexpected situation, no one in this boat spoke – somewhat unusual in passing strangers in peace time on such a beautiful night. I also was so surprised by this meeting that I said nothing even when the slight glow of my port light made the three figures momentarily clearer. To this day I regret my silence, as the crew of the other boat might have replied in French!
This possibility is not unsound, as Toronto Harbour was naturally used for a sheltered anchorage – especially in strong southwesters – by French vessels, when trading here with the three French fortified trading posts from 1668 until 1759 when French Lake and Harbour charts went up in smoke with the vessels using them, in the collapse of the French Empire in Canada, 1759-60.
Those aboard the Frontenac in 1678, however, possibly unacquainted with Toronto Harbour soundings, but needing supplies of food from the Indians of Teiaiagon, near what is now Baby Point, used the mouth of St. John's Creek or Toronto River, (now Humber River since Governor Simcoe's arrival in 1792). It might fittingly be mentioned that Baby Point was so named after an ancestor of Mr. Stanley Baby, a valued friend, shipmate and member of G.L.H.S.
Lake Steamer off Etobicoke
Another appearance from the past was seen by the crews of three yachts one beautiful night with full moon (like cool daylight) in August, 1910. My father, a cousin, and I were on a holiday cruise around the west end of Lake Ontario, and as we were late getting underway from Toronto Island, and were running before a light easterly, decided to spend the night in the quiet, sheltered and beautiful basin at the mouth of the creek, spelled "Etobicoke" – but always pronounced "Tobyco" by old timers. (This seems hard for present residents of that area to tolerate, as they insist on trying to pronounce each syllable.) In 1910, the Tobyco Creek was really a small river which made an abrupt turn westward and widened into a small lake, with a good beach held by poplar trees, between this harbour and the Lake. There was perfect shelter in this excellent harbour from wind from any direction, though in a hard easterly, it was not easy to reach Lake Ontario through the narrow harbour entrance.
At the date of this cruise, there was one brick farm house to westward of the harbour entrance and no buildings at all among the walnuts and oaks on the lovely grassy banks of the creek, except one ancient landmark, known as "The Old House," from the veranda of which Lieutenant Governer Simcoe is said to have shot a deer in 1794. This house was in good condition, when a few years ago it was torn down to increase parking space for a supermarket! The whole area is now completely built up, but in 1910 the beautiful grassy plains contained no buildings from Lake Ontario to the Lakeshore Road, except the landmark mentioned.
Our cruising yawl, with a larger sister of the same rig and a still larger Mackinaw (one of several "fish boats" converted to cruising yachts with great success), were the only occupants of the harbour this perfect night. The crews of the three yachts numbered eleven in all, and as is generally the case, after dinner was over and dishes done, gathered on deck in the moonlight to engage in the best conversation known to man.
All hands turned in earlier than usual, there being no distractions ashore, and by midnight were deep in happy dreams, helped by the quiet ripple alongside. At what was about 1:30 a.m.., the writer was wakened by four blasts on a steamer's whistle. After waiting for a repetition to be sure it was not part of a dream – he put his head out of the companionway. There, flooded by moonlight, was a steamer heading about WSW. at about half speed, and approximately half a mile off shore. She had a good chime whistle but not much steam – like Noronic on that awful night of September 17, 1949, who also repeated her four blasts many times.
But who was she? On this amazingly beautiful night, with memory strained to the utmost, it was difficult to do more than think of who she was not! She was considerably smaller than the three famous Upper Lakers, China, India, and Japan (about this date under Canadian registry, known as City of Montreal, City of Ottawa, and City of Hamilton). She was not as small as Lake Michigan, but like her, did appear to be of all wooden construction. However, there were many in the past, of quite related design and size. The vessel seen had white topsides and deckhouses, and appeared to be grey below her main deck, like the Welland Canal-sized freighters (at this date, the big wooden steamers of the Ogdensburg Line of the Rutland Transportation Company). Persia and Ocean were like her in size and arrangement, but were all white and came to known ends, and of course Arabian was of iron, and was black.
In this appearance off "Toby Coke" (a variant of spelling), the starboard light, deck lights and some seen through cabin windows, had the quality of oil lamps; and her tall mast, with fitted topmast, carried a gaff and brailed up hain-sail [head-sail? ed.]. Her smokestack was all black, and she had no hog beams – but appeared to have four white boats. Her chime whistle was a good one, but was reduced in volume as previously mentioned, and was sounded continuously for perhaps 10 minutes. Very soon all hands now watching on the beach decided that something should be done. So a dinghy was quickly hauled over from the basin, and, with a crew of four made up from some of those aboard the three yachts, started to row out with all speed to the vessel in distress, to give her what assistance might be possible.
As the boys in the dinghy reached the area where something definite should have been seen, there was nothing there beyond clear and powerful moonlight, a few gulls wakened from sleep – but something else, impossible to ignore. This was a succession of long curving ripples in a more or less circular pattern, which just might have been the last appearance of those caused by the foundering of a steamer many years before on a night of similar beauty. In any case, the four in the dinghy returned in about an hour, reporting also small scraps of wreckage which were probably just old driftwood, seldom seen with any fresh breezes blowing.
But something more there was. This was the reappearance to the visual and audible memory, which those on the beach and those afloat had seen and heard, of something which had occurred in the more or less distant past, and which had returned to the consciousness of living men after a long absence.
Whatever the cause, the experienced crews of the three yachts mentioned were of one mind as to what had been seen and heard. At least eleven lake sailors would be unlikely to agree on the character of this reappearance without good reason! And the reason was certainly not firewater working on the mass imagination, as no one of the three yachts had any aboard. So, reader, what is the answer?
Minnedosa of Montreal – 1890-1905
Another ghost, often discussed by lake seamen, is that of the largest Canadian schooner on the Lakes. This was the handsome Minnedosa of Montreal, a four-masted schooner belonging to the Montreal Transportation Company, and built in Kingston, Ontario, in 1890. Minnedosa had much distinction of design, was very well built, and must have been a beautiful sight under canvas. But in her last years, when known to the writer, she had been cut down to a tow-barge, with bowsprit, topmasts, figurehead and trail-boards removed. She was towed by the splendid steamers of the Montreal Transportation Company. These were Bannockburn, lost with all hands in Lake Superior November 21, 1902, and then by Rosemount, sister of the former, and Westmount. The last was probably the writer's centre of admiration of all he knew in the days of the Third Welland Canal. With other steamers of the M. T. fleet, these were built on the Tyne.
Westmount with Minnedosa in tow, and with the smaller but heavy three-masted Melrose towing astern of the latter, cleared from Fort William elevators late in October 1905. All were loaded deep with wheat, as the annual grain rush was on. Westmount, who with her sister Fairmount could load to 21 feet draught, was probably down to about that figure. She would lighter enough grain at Port Colborne elevator to bring her up to 14 feet – maximum Welland Canal draught at this date – and then reload her lightered grain, sent down by rail, at the Port Dalhousie elevator. Minnedosa, reported to be drawing 16 feet, was two feet deeper than usual, while Melrose was probably loaded to 9 feet. The three vessels made Whitefish Bay and the Sault Canal safely after the easterly passage on Lake Superior, and passed down to the St. Marys River where even in shelter it was really blowing. Leaving St. Marys River for Lake Huron, the wind had reached gale force from northwest. The weather became much worse with big sea, and offshore from Harbour Beach, Michigan, and late at night, in thick dark, the flotilla was making heavy weather of it.
Westmount was one of the finest vessels in dirty going known to the writer, and could take care of herself. But those aboard her had some natural concern for the oak wedges holding the steel battens which secured the tarpaulins over her hatch covers, as on 20 feet draught she had about six feet of freeboard amidships.
The sea became so bad that the lights of Minnedosa and Melrose could not be seen aboard Westmount when the vessels in tow were down in the troughs, so when about three miles offshore the master of Westmount was worried for their safety, particularly as Minnedosa was loaded two feet deeper than usual.
So her captain carefully altered his course to stand in for the harbour of refuge at Harbour Beach, Michigan, blowing his whistle to let Minnedosa and Melrose know of this change of course. Westmount had excellent towing gear right aft, consisting of powerful towing engine, steam winch, cable reels and big towing bitts. So, after blasts on her whistle, indicating the shortening of the tow, she started heaving in on the big towing wire.
This strong wire towline, necessary for lake towing, which to the writer seemed to be about the length of two long city blocks, kept steadily and easily coming in, and finally out of the thick darkness, jammed in the eye splice of the towing wire, appeared the enormous oak towing bitts of Minnedosa!
Attached to the bitts was a horrible mess of splintered planks and deck beams from her fo'c's'le head. As the bitts had been mortised into her keel or keelson, and the whole structure, of immense strength, had been torn bodily out of her, with the possibility of the loss of her forestay, even perhaps foremast, she would fill quickly through this large opening in her bows.
At the present date, however, memory is a little rusty, but the writer's vague impression is that the big wire towline used for lake towing, led through a bridle or span in Minnedosa's forestay, and that both sides of her stem-head had been rounded off to allow the wire to have free play. For canal towing however, a heavy manila towline was passed through a chock on Minnedosa's port bow, and then led to the towing bitts of the tug Escort of St. Catharines; who at this date was the only one of the ten or twelve tugs on the Third Welland Canal small enough to get in a lock with Minnedosa, making care necessary by Lock Tenders.
But back to Minnedosa. She had high bulwarks and scuppers not too large for freeing her decks when filled rail to rail with solid water; and it is as likely that she had already lost some hatch covers and was filling so :fast that the weight of ship and water in her tore out her towing bitts. This will never be definitely known, as no wreckage, nor the bodies of Captain John Philip, his wife, and crew of eight seamen, have to the best of the writer's information, ever been found, or if so, identified. If it could have been done in the violence of wind and sea on a night so dark that most of the light came from the white crests of big breaking seas, there would have been no time to get Minnedosa's boat over; as it was probably lashed over the hatch just ahead of her cabin house, as if on davits over her stern, it would likely have been fouled, or damaged by the towline to Melrose.
In the end of the "Water Of The Rapids," in Schooner Days [Note: number CMXXVII (927) of 26 November 1949. ed.], Mr. C.H.J. Snider says that those aboard Melrose thought they heard a faint hail from Minnedosa of, "For God's sake, cut that line," and did so, saving the ship from attempting to follow her larger sister. Melrose was steadily drifting further offshore, and in the wild conditions of wind and sea of that night, it was impossible for Westmount to get a line to her. So she stood by for the remainder of the night, and must have provided some feeling of confidence by her presence and by comforting blasts on her splendid whistle! With daybreak, Westmount was successful in getting a line to Melrose, and eventually towed her into shelter in Harbour Beach, Michigan.
After the tragic loss of Minnedosa, the writer learned the foregoing facts aboard Westmount on her following downbound passage through the Third Welland Canal, with the outspoken comment from friends that "We thought this one was gain' too, boy!"
Minnedosa was 225 feet in length, beam about 35 feet or a little more, full draught 16 feet, and was very well built. It is not impossible that some of the great-grandchildren of the shipwrights who built H.M.S. St. Lawrence in Kingston, in the winter of 1814, worked on Minnedosa. The St. Lawrence, the largest sailing vessel in point of tonnage ever to sail any of the Great Lakes, could not have used the locks of the Third WeIland Canal, as while she was just short of 200 feet in length on deck, her long bowsprit, jib boom and dolphin striker would have fouled head or foot gates, while her beam of 52 feet, and draught of 21 feet (some say 27 feet), could not have been accommodated in any but the locks of the present Fourth WeIland Canal.
The Minnedosa, by R.W. Murphy, short-rigged as a barge.
Minnedosa occupies a unique position, as she was the last vessel seen towing through the Third Welland Canal with power provided by eight horses, using a long manila line from them to her foremast. This most interesting sight was last seen by the writer in August 1905, who is very happy to have been present before it was discontinued forever. The accompanying drawing [Not certain that this particular drawing by Murphy is the one referred to. Ed.] of the ghost of Minnedosa shows many factual possibilities – but no more than that – as no person now living saw Minnedosa's actual end, October 25, 1905.
Ghost of Light-Keeper, J. P. Radenmuller
A rather well authenticated ghost, inseparably connected with Toronto Point, now Gibralter Point, is that of J. P. Radenmuller, who from 1808-1815 was the first keeper of the new stone lighthouse there. The construction of this important building was begun in 1806, and completed in 1808, with the light first used on the evening of September 30th of that year.
Light-keeper Radenmuller lived in a well built (by our contemporary standards) small house one story in height, to the west of the lighthouse. This house contained a large fireplace, oven and chimney built of brick brought from England, while the timbers and walls were of hard pine and white pine of a quality unprocurable now. The steps of the stairway were of solid blocks of white oak -l ike those to be seen in Fort Niagara. The lighthouse and keeper's house were well known to the writer from 1908.
As the "New Canadian" light-keeper was German and fond of beer, he usually had some in the house. It became the habit of some of the soldiers stationed at Fort York, as well as of those attached to the blockhouse on the peninsula (now Island, from April 1858) to row across, or if stationed at the latter defences, to walk south to the lighthouse for exercise and the accompanying refreshment provided by Radenmuller.
In the summer of 1815, three soldiers from one or other of these defensive works, called on Mr. Radenmuller. They were hot, thirsty and only partly sober. The light-keeper realized their condition, and refused the expected beer. This enraged the three men, who beat him to death with their belts and a club, committing one of Toronto's early unsolved murders. It is thought that Radenmuller's body was buried in a rough coffin on the lighthouse property west of the tower, as some human remains were found there in 1893 by Mr. George Duman, who was lightkeeper from 1893 to 1909.
However, light-keeper Radenmuller was in life a properly responsible person, and his spirit appears to have possessed this inheritance. After his brutal murder he apparently decided to return to his important position and for many years his footsteps could be heard shuffiing up the long stairway from the lighthouse entrance to the lamp-room. As the height of the hexagonal tower was increased by 12 feet in 1832, making the lamp-room now 64 feet above ground level, the additional exertion involved appears to have caused Mr. Radenmuller's elderly shade no distress, as his footsteps have been heard intermittently for many years. We wonder, however, what Mr. Halloway, who succeeded him from 1816 until 1831, may have observed or heard, as no recorded history mentions his opinions. It might be mentioned that for brevity, Mr. Radenmuller's name was shortened in general use to "Muller". [See: "Gilbralter Point Light”, a two part article by Rowley Murphy, Inland Seas, July and October 1947. ed.]
Mr. C. H. J. Snider has given a demonstration of the sound of Mr. Radenmuller's shuffiing footsteps which is very convincing in its reproduction of what the writer feels he (personally) heard on a dark and forbidding evening in October 1948. This was when exploring the lighthouse property in order to find a situation giving enough shelter from wind to set up an easel and start a canvas of the lighthouse on the spot.
At about this date a Toronto newspaper man decided to attempt a meeting with the ghost of light-keeper Radenmuller by spending a night in the tower. He installed himself on the deck of the lamp-room with suitable quantities of blankets – as of course the lighthouse was not provided with heat – and attempted to sleep. This proved to be impossible, due to the violent noises of wind and perhaps those of protest made by the ghost of Mr. Radenmuller, on this invasion of his privacy in quarters well-known to himself from dark to dawn. Our reporter sensibly gave up the effort to sleep and began a systematic exploration which furnished some interesting discoveries.
On his first ascent of the lighthouse tower on this cold fall evening, it was noticed that plaster, or perhaps whitewash, covering the stone walls, had fallen on the steps of the wooden stairway, extending from the entrance doorway up to the lamp-room. Closer examination by flashlight showed that at the approximate height of the reporter's shoulder the stone work, under whitewash or plaster, was clearly visible in several places indicating pressure from a human or a ghostly shoulder! So for some warming exercise in place of sleep, our exploring reporter carefully swept this plaster from the steps, disposed of it, and made another attempt to sleep. However, with no success, he decided to go down the tower stairway again to ground level.
His surprise and amazement may be realized on finding that the plaster on the steps had been renewed – and that there were traces of footprints to be seen in it! This evidence of natural or supernatural exploration caused him serious thought; but as he had developed a bad cold from hours spent in a damp and entirely unheated cold stone building on a late fall night, he decided to move to quarters of more comfort, providing warming fluids.
His conclusions we know not, but to those interested, the apparent and continuing concern shown by Mr. Radenmuller's now elderly shade for the safety of lake seamen (not crewmen, please) and their vessels, when rounding Lighthouse (Gibralter) Point, would indicate that his feeling of responsibility was active until the light was finally discontinued by the Department of Transport during the early winter of 1959 – according to Mr. Alan Howard who lived nearby.
Some island residents have agreed that the "feeling" or "influence" of Mr. Radenmuller's presence and the shuffiing sounds of his footsteps on the stairway to the lamp-room, were known to them. During the years 1909-1910-1911, when the writer lived just across lighthouse pond, he frequently visited the lighthouse, as it was and is a most interesting link with the past. At this time a generous powdering of white dust certainly was in evidence on the steps in the lighthouse tower; but this was said by some to be due to the strong drafts of wind generally felt when the entrance door at ground level was opened. Quite true – but . . .
However, Captain Patrick McSherry (only survivor of the loss of the schooner Belle Sheridan in Weller's Bay, November 7, 1880) and a former light-keeper, mentioned the feeling that "the old man" had been back. This clearly remembered statement was made in conversation with the late Captain Frank Ward, one Sunday in 1912-13 when the writer sailed with him up to the lighthouse in his fast sloop Ruth, whose beautiful Wilson and Silsby suit of sails from Boston, are not forgotten. These well-remembered lake masters, now deceased, explained who was meant by "the old man," using the shortened form of Muller, by which at this time he was generally known.
It is regrettable that light-keeper Radenmuller left no documentary evidence of his impressions of the passage of the American fleet of 16 vessels of war as they rounded Lighthouse Point in the early morning of April 27, 1813, on their way to attack and capture York. However, he no doubt possessed feelings of gratitude that the lighthouse, guiding friend and foe, and his home nearby, were spared for the assistance of uncounted numbers of Great Lakes seamen of the past and present.
The writer is indebted to the late Mr. John Ross Robertson, whose invaluable Landmarks of Toronto have provided information of the distant past of Gibralter Point lighthouse – and as well for Mr. Robertson's human kindness in the provision of the Lakeside Home for Sick Children, Gibralter Point; without the hospital facilities of which, this personal effort could not have been written. Grateful thanks also are due to Mr. C. H. J. Snider and to James Hannay, D.C.L. for valuable historical assistance.