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SYMHC Classics: The Flannan Isles Disappearance

2019-01-26 | 🔗

This 2013 episode delves into a maritime history mystery. The Flannan Islands have been rumored for centuries to be haunted or have some supernatural darkness. In 1900, three men vanished from the lighthouse on Eilean Mor, leaving behind an unfinished meal and a mystery that's never been conclusively solved.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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stuff? You missed in history, class, from Howstuffworks, dot, com, hello and welcome to the podcast. My name is Holly front and I'm Tracy V Wilson and today we're going to talk about another maritime mystery. You know a lot of listeners written when we talk about shipwrecks and they really enjoy them. when does not involve a ship when it involves them bit in an assent, injuries or the way it does a centre around the ship at all. But in fact a lighthouse. Yes, so just for a little bit of background, the flame in islands of so called the Flanton Isles, are named after a sixth century irish bishop, who is storied to have brought good fortune to everything and everyone he touched in the Flanton Isles, which are off the coast of Scotland, have been rumoured for
centuries to be haunted by either see spirits or other supernatural powers, but powers. But the event that we're talking about today is an incident that happened in nineteen hundred construction of the and lighthouse ram from eighteen. Ninety six to eighteen, ninety nine and it cost seven thousand pounds to build Stevenson, was a relative of Robert Louis Stevenson, and he was the person who designed it and the contract or on the job was named. George Lawson. The lighthouse officially started its these in the summer of eighteen. Ninety, nine and the Lighthouse owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board in Edinburgh, which is a company that at the time owned and operated more than six dozen lighthouses and employed six hundred men accompanied us still exist today, but that was those where it stands at the time White House was built on island more, which is the largest of the seven islands that make up the flanagins and these are also called the seven hunters Eileen more sets about eight
miles from gallon head on the West coast of Louis in the outer Hebrides this area prior to there being a lighthouse, There had been extremely dangerous for merchant ships, and so that's really why there was cause for a lighthouse to be built and for stance on the lighthouse itself. It was seventy five feet tall. It still is, in fact it stands at the top of a hundred and fifty foot cliff, and it's a pretty. Here, drop off to you kind of raging waters between the islands and when it was built produce one hundred thousand candle power and flash twice every thirty seconds and those flashes visible theoretically for a radius of twenty miles. It was built incredibly story- and it really had to me because it was sitting there on a rocky cliff in the north atlantic- aside from the light housekeeper
if there were no other inhabitants on the flanagins. If you look at pictures of them, there is pretty much empty desolate rock there's, the very small and there's not really much. You could do it that lands and desolate in a beautiful, I was well very remote. The wildlife in that area is some of its really unique. It's a very pretty area, but you're, not so hospitable for people to make their lives there No, there was always a list of men willing to work the lighthouse and it used. A rotating schedule of two weeks shifts the duty, of the men who are employed there by the Northern Lighthouse Board, included polishing the lenses everyday, keeping the mechanics working in clean. Maintaining buildings and then keeping the place tidy and because of the lack of radio contact at the time, the northern lighthouse,
Lord had actually made a deal with a gamekeeper on the island of Louis Name, Roderick Mackenzie, in which they would pay him eight pounds per year to keep an eye on the lighthouse and he was instructed to report to the board's headquarters. If the light ever went out. So in mid December of nineteen hundred, the lighthouse was manned by three people. There was James to cut the principle. He was forty three men. He had two decades of lighthouse experience. He was so married and had four children. His second assessment was Thomas Marshal and he was twenty eight and not married. Then Donald Macarthur with an occasional keeper and he was servant alternate he was serving for William Ross, who was the first assistant and was out on sick leave. So Donald was forty and married and on December, fifteenth of nineteen hundred and american vessel, the ss arch tour, which was on route from Philadelphia to lease power,
by Eileen more just before midnight, and the captain of the vessel captain home in noted that there was no light emanating from the White House and when the arched were made port. Three days later, he reported that missing link to the port authorities, but for some reason, that information was never relate to the Northern Lighthouse Board at that time, that just kind of died on the vine, yeah and all only for some reason: category gamekeeper. Mackenzie. Also hadn't reported the outage to the board will actually come back to why that may have been the case in a bit, but so that had been again on December fifteenth and then they reported at three days later. But it wasn't until December. Twenty sixth, that some someone arrives, the check out the situation and, on that day, Captain James Harvey who was aboard the northern lighthouse.
what about the S s hesper is approached Eileen more and on board with him was a man who had been intended to replace one of the three men stationed at the Flanton lighthouse. So he was gonna, be a shift change and they were gonna rotate one man out at the hesper, as had actually been originally scheduled, to make their relief personnel switch on December twentieth, but because of adverse weather they weren't able to stick to their schedule and they were doing by several days. At this point, the lighthouse had been dark for eleven days and people are really worried about what was going on. No one welcomed, these both at the landing stage, so the captain at first he blew the ships with all and siren, and then he fired at a distress signal repeatedly that he could alert the keepers of his arrival, but no response ever came knowing him down from the lighthouse relief keep Joseph more rowed ashore. He went up the cliff steps to the lighthouse and it's worth noting
that, because no one was at the landing stage to help them, he had to kind of back into the landing and jumpers ashore. So this was a turkey, maneuver and possibly dangerous more made his way, the lighthouse any proceeded initially to the kitchen and there he found a few things that were a little off. He found an overturned chair. There remain of an unfinished meal and a clock which had stopped and that clock Up a lot that this being one of those history mysteries, some people want to give it some sort of supernatural element like the clock stopped, but remember: Coxe had to be wound at this time, so that this that's really not a hint at anything supernatural going on. It had wound down
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we were the car right to your house, so hit the road the easy way with road out. the beds were all made. The fire great was cold and more went on to investigate the rest of a lighthouse, but he couldn't find the keepers. There was a pet canary in a cage which appeared not to have been fed for awhile. The lighthouse met In some dough appeared to be fully functional, so there was no mechanical problem that would cause it to go out of more wrote a letter in his own description of the incidents. Two days after this, which was on December twenty eighth in it, he says, on entering the kitchen, I looked at the fireplace and saw that the fire, Was not waited for some days. I then entered the rooms in succession found the beds empty, just as they left him in the early morning. I did not take time to search, weather, for I only too well knew something serious had occurred.
I darted out and made for the landing. When I reached there. I informed Mr Mccormick as an aside Mr Mccormick was the second mate of the hesper is I informed Mr Mccormick that the place was deserted. He with some of the men came up a second time so as to make sure, but unfortunately, the first impression was only too true So after more reported back to the hesper s that he couldn't find any sign of life at the lighthouse, Mormon The boat joined him and started a thorough search of the small island, and there was no trace of three missing men, so Joseph more along with three volunteers, which included and Alan Mcdonald who, as a boy master and to seamen, Mr Lamont, Mr Campbell, remained on the island to keep the lighthouse in operation. While the investigation continued these Wallace mystery slash, tragedy had occurred, they still had to warn ships away from the rocks captain Harvey sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse Board telling them about.
tragedy and letting them know that arrangements had been made for the lighthouse, a man on December, twenty nine, so three days after the initial discovery bored superintendent Robert we're head arrived at, we more to probe the matter and he made arrangements for a new crew for the interim management of the Lighthouse station, and then he said to the business of investigation. You went through the lighthouse again looking for for clues, but he couldn't find anything suspicious aside from the overturned chair and the abandoned. in the last slate and tree, which was written on the morning of December. Fifteenth had not yet been transferred to the log, so we turned about this before. Where often there's the book log. But what will often happen is on a chop border, a slate they'll right down long entries before they transfer them down kind of like an interim step so that last sleigh entry, not in the log me included. extraordinary information. It was Zena standard barometer
thermometer readings and then notes about the wind conditions, but nothing jumped out his odd. The word that would have been done the morning of the fifteenth had all been done for we're heads report. The lamp was trimmed the oil fountains and can't you were filled up and the limbs and machinery clean, which proved that the work of the fifteen had been completed so the afternoon of the fifteenth was pinpointed as the probable time of the disappearance and It was also notice that only one set of wet weather gear was remaining in the building, and that was Mc Arthur's, which meant that UK. Marshal, had been wearing, there's an it so Minos suggested that Macarthur went out in his shirt sleeves, which further suggested a possible emergency situation is remember, it's Amber, yes, what sort of imaginary Atlanta? Yes, the if, like the logical, conclude,
there's two men were outside and their wet weather gear with Arthur was inside getting ready to eat knocked over the chair in his haste to exit the sort of seems like a logical progression of events, but we know really know yeah. According to lighthouse regulations, all three keepers we're not supposed to be outside. At the same time, somebody always had to stay put inside the lighthouse, so something had caused them to break with their procedure. There was coiled rope. Does covered strewn about the rocks below the crane platform, but the crane was secured. rope was not in use when the men disappeared, and the railings there were bent out of shape. There was also a block of stone. It was estimated to at least half a ton had been dislodged from. cliff wall and had fallen on the landing stage
Normally all of this rope would have been stored in a box near the crane, but the box itself was missing when the superintendence report he stated quote, the ropes were strewn in the crevices of the rock near the crane platform and entangled among the crane legs, but they were all coiled up, no single coil being found on fastened. So I didn't really look like the had been uncoiled in some sort of rescue effort. Yeah, I think a lot of times. When you read accounts of this incident when they say that the ropes were strewn about it, in my hand, the first time I read about it- I was like oh, they must have unfurled the ropes to try to reach someone. But then, when you read where heads report it clearly says knew no, they were still all tied tight, they had just fallen out of their box initiative, scattered Hap has
more scattered here and there had also been a life boy that had been fastened to the railings and it was gone, but it appeared to have been swept away rather than used for an emergency evacuation, because the fastening ropes that would have held it were still in place and tied with bits of canvas still attached to them. Sir, look much more like a breakage than any one had cut or unfurled them we're headss assessment, but theorize that three men probably tried to secure the wooden box it during some rough weather and then were swept away by a large wave while they were trying to work. He wired his findings to his years and then called the widows of delicate and macarthur in his report. Where had notes that Joseph more was severely shaken by the events that have happened in Eileen, more and stated quote If this nervousness does not leave more, he will be repealed will require to be transferred, but I am reluctant to recommend this.
I would desire to have one man at least who knows the work of the station. So that point because the other three men were gone. He wanted someone on shift who was familiar with that particular lighthouse and its workings He also investigated the seeming negligence of the gate, keeper Mackenzie. So as we talked about earlier in the pond. Cast light had been out for a while. He hadn't said anything about it. After first talking to Mackenzie sons and then with Mackenzie himself and discovering that the light had not been seen between December seventh and twenty ninth, he reported quote Mackenzie stated, and I have since verified this. The light sometimes cannot be seen for four or five consecutive nights, but he was beginning to be. Anxious at not seeing for such a long period and had for two nights prior to its reappearance Ben We assistance of the natives to see if it could be discerned had the look,
been kept by an ordinary light keeper. I believe it would have struck the man ashore at an earlier period that something was amiss and while this would not have prevented the lamentable occurrence taking place. It would have enabled steps to have been taken to have the a real it at an earlier date. There is basically shocking. All of this up to the fact that Mackenzie was not an experienced light. Housekeeper it was. It was a problem of inexperience, rather than just falling down on the job rates. Yeah Mackenzie Internet had kept records and had noted these. You know times when the lights would go dim, but they all came back so great party I cleared out my whole day, LISA Car the whole day, yeah. First, we need to study. I have some flashcards here to go. Releasing vocabulary, seclusion price costs, money factors, disposition is You do not need to know all this to Liza Car, but I gotta negotiate a good deal carelessly,
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so that was where his report and as Teresa mentioned earlier, based on the weatherproof proof gear being gone, it seems like two men went out to do something something took place in a third men left which is basically kind of what we're had suggests. But despite that report there are some sticking points that bother people that really love a good mister. Into theorized about other things, and some of those sticking points include number one. None of the bodies ever washed back on shore and as the second, when the men were generally fairly experience, seamen my housekeepers. It would be odd for them to be taken unawares by a wave. However, freak waves do happen in the North Atlantic as they do in other bodies of water. So it's conceivable that they Just been surprised by a water wall whipping up.
They also really not addressed why one of them would have been out in the December wet weather without his wet weather gear on Although we know there are lots of theories that pretty quickly explain that away guides, it seems pretty logical and believe. All that if there were a dire emergency, somebody could run out without their code idea. And while the Tipps chair and the abandoned meal found in the kitchen suggested in emergency, the gate and the door to the lighthouse were actually closed. When Joseph more first arrived there, which seems contradictory initially, but many have kind of written that off as it being entirely possible that the wind just blew them shut. It is very windy area. Another problem was that the whether, on the day of the last entry in the Lighthouse Log and the first time, the leg was noted to be missing, which was December, fifteenth that had been a clear day
there were storms the day after, but not on the fifteen. So again, if it were a weather thing, it would have to have been a freak wave so because there are just enough question work still on this story, many other theories and stories grew out of the mystery to Ex had to explain what had happened to the keepers and will do a shortlist of them, and some of them are very funny. But again, remember three mended lose their lives, but some of these really are outlandish. I find isle of to be very silly yeah. Why is it a foreign power had landed and captured the men, because light housekeepers are who you wanna take prisoner, totally spaceships patient they really. There were people theorizing the aliens and landed also ghosts an alcoholic murder suicide. My favorite, the sea monster theory that some sort of sea monster had come out of the North Atlantic and dragged them
They only this one's not actually funny about that. There may be they were lost, trying to help a vessel that was in distress yeah, although to the best of my knowledge there, no records of a distressed vessel happening. At the same time, now, and the last one on our list, but there are more, is that they were carried off by giant birds. but there are only two things on this list that seem remotely feasible to me. The- murder, suicide or their lost, while yeah turn it help another vessel. He yeah most people agree. I think that one or two of the man likely went out to the landing stage to secure something, probably this box with the ropes in it and was swept away. under both of them and that the roommate, whoever was remaining, went out to help and got swept away. Also at the end of his report, which was dated January ninth, one thousand nine hundred and one superintendent
had said. I was with the keepers for more than a month during summer of eighteen. Ninety nine, when every one worked hard, here, the early lighting of the station before winter and working along with I appreciated the manner in which they performed their work, the plan and islands when the really was made. So lately is seventh December and have the Melanie your recollection that I was the last person to shake hands with them and bid them do ye. That's it sort of an interesting point. It adds color to this whole story. Is that we're head knew all of these men. Personally, he wasn't just like a big wig from the company that came to look things over and write his report. He was investigating the deaths of men that he knew and appeared to have really liked. If you read his report, he releases very good things about them. Even beyond that that brief bit Tracy just read so it it's a little bit extra melancholy to think of him. You know having to investigate the death of people who were basically his friend.
And born of this tragic incident, there have been a couple of interesting pieces of art. One is a poem in title flannel, which was written in nineteen twelve by Wilfred, Wilson Gibson, and it tells the tail of a mystical force that turned the man and the sea birds. There is another story that goes along with the landing of the hesper. Isn't Joseph Moors exploration. Add that says that Joseph more allegedly saw these three odd birds on the island when he first landed on December twenty six and that story is what provides the inspiration for that poem. The opera at the lighthouse composed by Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, was also inspired by the vanishing at Flannan Isles. It bayview at the Edinburgh Festival in nineteen. Eighty
This version becomes more about the tension among the three men traps together at the lighthouse. Yet almost goes along with the our colleague murder suicide theory. I have not actually seen that opera, but it seems to be much more about interpersonal communication and the drama and the flame and White House still stands. It remained manned peacefully and without incident, so for all of the stories of the islands being haunted didn't seem to have any effect on the functioning of the White House. It continued to be manned by crew until September. Twenty eighth and ninth, Seventy one, and at that point the White House, it only more became, what's call a major automatic light, so its fully automated its unmanned. It receives maintenance, visits and annual inspections, but it doesn't have a crew that stays there. In two thousand and three lost light. Housekeepers were commemorated and a ceremony attended by residents, relatives and officials from the Northern Lighthouse Board and mystery levers, of course,
Oh bandy about theories to what really happened on December, fifteenth of nineteen hundred, although I think most historians accept some variation and where heads reports that it was really just sort of her an unfortunate accident that happened while trying to secure something at the crane and the landing stage. I think I would have liked to have been allayed housekeeper, you think about allegedly this one. reasons they always have. People wanting the job is that compared to other jobs at the time it was a pretty sweet deal. Then you had to be away from your family by it. You you know basically Godfrey Ruin Board during that time it wasn't particularly horrible or arduous work. Do you have any experience at the sea? It probably seemed pretty easy by comparison, so it was a really good job to get others, solitary dobbs- that normally exist anywhere like light housekeeper or the, people who man firewall towers and forest like all of those you want them.
they are pretty appeal, may be appeal them, but I would go a little crazy. After a bit Thank you very much for joint action on this Saturday. If you have heard an email address or a facebook url or something similar over the course of today's episode, since it is from the archive tat might be out of date. Now you can email us at history, podcast at how stuff works, dot com and you can and it's all over social media at missed in history, and you can subscribe to arson. On Apple podcast, Google Podcast, the Iheart Radio APP and wherever else he wasn't upon count for more on this and thousands of other topics visit how stuff works dot com.
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