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Excerpts from "The History of the Thorn Lighthouse"

Presented by Professor Greg Lenz at Drake University

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       Good evening.  My name is Greg Lenz.  I'm a professor of history on the faculty of Drake University. Today I'm honored to present to you a lecture on the history of the Thorn Lighthouse. But we're not going to focus just on the historical details that are of interest to academics. I'm also going to throw in some juicy gossip. Well, juicy at least by historical standards. Forrest City has a fascinating past and I'll try to make this lecture as entertaining as I can by throwing in some little known facts about our city's past as I go along.  If you'll do me the courtesy of laughing at my bad jokes, I promise to try to keep you entertained.

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      In the spring of 1803, the U.S. government paid $225 for 36 acres on a barrier island stretching from bay to sea adjacent to Forrest City. It was the future site of the Thorn Lighthouse compound. In June of 1803, a construction crew drove 24-foot pilings into the ground, firm footing in sandy soil for the lighthouse. By midsummer, almost a million bricks were mortared and stacked, and the tower was nearly completed. Exactly 214 steps spiraled upward along walls that were five feet eight inches thick at the base and steadily narrowed to three foot foot thickness at the parapet.  On December 1, 1804, the lighthouse broadcast its first beams across the waters near Forrest City. With rare exceptions, it was in continuous operation until 1975 when it was closed and eventually opened up to the public for tours.

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       Last year,  extensive renovations were made at the Thorn Lighthouse to give visitors access to the to the upper levels of the lighthouse and to shore up the structure of the brick tower. Enhancements and restoration work were also done to the ancillary buildings on the site. One unforeseen result of the work was the discovery of items hidden beneath the lighthouse over a hundred and fifty years ago by unknown persons.


      We now know where those items came from.


      We also know why they were buried beneath the lighthouse. 

      [*** The renovation work on Thorn Lighthouse was performed by two local companies hired by Forrest City: Feiler Construction and Gaveas Restoration, LLC.  You may recall from the news last year that Feiler Construction's owner, Butch Feiler, was present at the home of Henry Davenport on BRYCE CANYON when Davenport's daughter, Haley, was murdered. He was cleared of any wrongdoing. Gaveas Restoration was founded by members of Forrest CIty's prominent Savage family.  You may notice that Gaveas is actually an anagram for Savage. When the Savage family matriarch Agnes Savage died, her will provided that her estate would be given to the first person who could locate the fortune that she had hidden in Forrest City. Many considered these events to be GRAVE MATTERS. ***]

      While working on shoring up the foundation of the Thorn Lighthouse, workers unearthed a wooden chest buried beneath the lighthouse tower. Inside were nineteen silver bars, a vintage maritime compass, a worn copy of Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and several vintage documents. Experts estimated that the items were likely buried beneath the lighthouse sometime during the 1840's or 1850's.  During that time period, the lighthouse was manned at all times by one of two lighthouse keepers who lived and worked on the grounds: First Keeper Shawn Yancey and THE SECOND KEEPER, Horatio Pike. The chest and some its contents were placed in the care of the Lancaster Museum.

      [*** On an interesting side note, many people are not aware that the Lancaster Museum was established and endowed by Forrest City's prominent Lancaster family. In the early 1900's, one of the Lancaster ancestors, RACHEL, was a patient at BEDLAM ASYLUM in Forest City.  She was eventually released to the care of her parents, but died in a suspicious fire at the Lancaster farm in 1923. ***]


      Some amateur investigators finally figured out where the items buried beneath the Thorn Lighthouse came from.  To understand the context, it is helpful to know that the shipping lanes along the coast near Forrest City are perilous to those unfamiliar with the vagaries of the local waters. Many hidden perils beneath the waterline threaten to rip out the belly of any passing ship that stumbles upon them. Oyster beds, sandbars and rocky shoals are ever-present dangers. In 1803, the Thorn Lighthouse was built to help guide ship captains through these waters.


      For decades, the presence of the Thorn Lighthouse served to drastically reduce the number of shipwrecks on the shoals of Cavanaugh Key. Beginning in the early 1850's, however, two merchant vessels wrecked upon the shore: the Morella on Sept. 22, 1853, and the Mignonette on Sept. 3, 1853. Other vessels followed.

<< See the image of the Forrest City Tribune following the lecture excerpts >>

     In 1854, Second Keeper Horatio Pike was murdered. He was thrown or pushed from the top of the Thorn Lighthouse.


     [*** For those of you interested in Forrest City genealogy, Horatio Pike was an ancestor of FBI agent Ainsley Pike.  Ainsley Pike was the FBI agent in charge of the MALICE IN WONDERLAND and FORTUNE serial killer cases in Forrest City. ***]


      Horatio Pike's death was investigated in 1854 by Forrest City Detective Finnegan Drake, but Drake was unable to determine the identity of the killer.  The amateur investigators I spoke of before recently solved the crime by studying the historical record. They determined that Horatio Pike was murdered by Leopold Parker, the purser of a clipper ship called the Ajax. The Ajax often supplied the Thorn Lighthouse, making overnight stops at the island to deliver food and other provisions.


       As it turned out, Horatio Pike, Leopold Parker, and several others were involved in a conspiracy to cause ships carrying valuable cargo to wreck on the shoals of Cavanaugh Key.  Parker and others would pass information to Pike about the schedules and cargoes of these ships, usually via coded messages.  Then Pike would ensure that the Thorn Lighthouse beacon was turned off at the appropriate time, making it highly likely that the ships would wreck. Agents of the conspirators would then loot the cargo from the shipwrecked vessels, sometimes killing survivors who had had not fled.

      Horatio Pike double-crossed the other members of the conspiracy, skimming some of the valuable cargo off for himself without giving the others a share. Pike hid some of these valuables by burying them beneath the Thorn Lighthouse.  Leopold Parker discovered Pike's deception. There was a confrontation and Parker ended up killing Pike by pushing him from the top of the lighthouse.  


     Although we now know who killed Second Keeper Horatio Pike, we may never know the names of all those involved in the Thorn Lighthouse conspiracy.  

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