Throughout this, we’re going to be discussing the real-life story that inspired the new horror movie: The Lighthouse.
The Flannan Isles Disappearance is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the past 200 years and throughout this, we’ll be breaking down everything that you need to know about the story as well as the theories behind what really happened.
There will be some spoilers in regards to The Lighthouse here, so if you haven’t had a chance to watch the movie yet and don’t want some aspects ruined then I highly recommend that you turn off now. We won’t be spoiling the ending but there are some plot points that might be ruined here if you want to go in without any prior knowledge.
With that out the way I just wanna give a huge thank you for clicking this, now let’s get into our breakdown of the Flannan Isles. Disappearances.
The Lighthouse Explained
The film The Lighthouse follows two Lighthouse watchmen known as Winslow and Wake, the latter of whom begins to turn on the former due to him losing his grip on reality and gaining paranoia that makes him begin to take a dark path.
Whilst the events that happen in the movie seem very extreme, they’re actually a lot closer to the real-life events than you may think and the truth is actually a lot stranger than fiction. The real-life story of The Lighthouse starts at the beginning of the prior century in the year 1900 and takes place on Flannan Isles.
Flannan Isles is located in the outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland and this remote island was a central pillar of the sea trade in the area. The lighthouse guided ships through the night from crashing into the perilous rocks and due to its importance, it required three people to man it at all time.
The Flannan Isles Disappearances
This included Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald MacArthur who were all placed on the island over December to watch over the isles and make sure that the upkeep of the lighthouse was maintained. All men were thought to be loyal, hard-working people that put duty above all else and took pride in their work. A lot of trust had been put in them to man the station and no one would ever believe that they would flee from their post, no matter what weather conditions there may be.
However, on the 15th of December 1900, the steamer Archtor noted that the light was not in operation and when they docked, three days later, they passed this information onto the Northern Lighthouse board. Though this was unusual, it was not uncommon for the time especially due to the electrical upkeep that was required on such a station and the board didn’t attempt to send out the relief vessel until two days later as was scheduled. However, due to poor weather conditions, the boat did not actually reach the island until the 26th of December.
Upon arrival, the crew of the relief vessel found that the flagstaff had no flag and that all of the provision boxes had been left at the dock. More worrying this though was the absence of the lighthouse keepers who had not emerged to welcome them to shore. Captain of the relief vessel tried to flag them with both a flare and the ship’s whistle but still, no one emerged to see them.
The Isle Mystery
From here a boat was launched with relief keeper Joseph Moore, a fourth man that manned the island in rotation. He found the gate and door to the compound locked, all beds unmade and every clock stopped. He returned to the landing stage to inform them and joined by a more substantial crew he journeyed back to the station to find a final entry in the lighthouse log saying that due to weather conditions they had had problems on the island throughout the previous week. However, everything in the station seemed fine, untouched, except for one single chair which was upturned and a half-eaten meal which still lay on the table, almost as if something terrible had happened during it. A coat was still hanging up as well which meant that one person had left the lighthouse without it.
The 1912 ballad Flannan Isles by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson refers to the conditions that the sailors met upon landing and the lyrics are as follows:
Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table spread
For dinner, meat, and cheese and bread;
But, all untouch’d; and no-one there,
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come, and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat,
For at the table head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor.
Men scoured every inch of the island, unable to find anything out of place except for the west landing which seemed to be damaged by storms. A box had broken and it’s contents were about the island, with an iron railway pulled out of the concrete and a ton rock had been moved from its usual location. Whilst this gave an indication that it could have been the spot that the lives of the keepers ended, the damage was actually mentioned in the log long before the final entry and thus it could not have lead to their disappearance.
Their bodies were never found, nor a trace of what could have happened to them and on December 29th the Northern Lighthouse Board Investigation launched an inquiry.
Their examination of the logbook revealed very unusual entries such as an entry by Thomas Marshall which read:
“severe winds the likes of which I have never seen before in twenty years. James has been very quiet and Donald has been crying”.
Further entries also said that all men had been praying and whatever happened it’s clear that they were very fearful of their lives. What’s strange about this is that all men were experienced lighthouse keepers who due to the station’s location, 150 feet above sea level would have been safe from harm.
What’s even more alarming is that there were no reports of storms in the area that week and the final entry in the journal actually read ‘Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all’ meaning that, at least from their perspective it had ended.
The Flannan Isles Investigations
Whilst the investigation could not find any evidence on the island, they summarised that MacArthur, who was required to stay behind in all operations to man the lighthouse, watched for danger as the other two tried to moore a loose box and saw large incoming waves. After running down and trying to warn his colleagues of the danger he was too late and they were all swept away by a giant wave.
This would explain the overturned chair, a coat that still remained hanging and a meal that had been placed out, however, it doesn’t really clear up why the door and gate were locked as MacArthur would have had to stop to carry out both of these tasks. Thus meaning that he rushed to get outside and then took his time making sure everything was closed up properly.
Further investigations began to paint the lighthouse occupiers themselves as the main causes behind the disappearances, with one report alleging that MacArthur, who was renowned for his short temper, may have become volatile and lashed out at one of the men near the edge of a cliff. The other one who rushed over to break up the fight caused all three to fall to their deaths. Another theory is that MacArthur went insane, attacked the men during their meal time and left the lighthouse, throwing their bodies into the sea. He then went back to lock everything up and jumped over the cliff to his own death. This would explain why he didn’t take his coat and why the chair and meal were placed at the scene.
Flannan Isles Mystery Theories
However, there are also more paranormal theories that range from all manner of things. The Doctor Who episode ‘Horror Of Fang Rock’ uses the incident as an inspiration and says that they may have been abducted by aliens.
Some believe that a giant serpent or a bird attacked the island whilst others theorize that they had been taken away by foreign spies. Some believe that they faked their own deaths in order to start a new life and The 2018 The Vanishing states that the men ended up accidentally killing people who drifted ashore in a wreck and covered this up, lying about the weather conditions in order to mask their disappearances and steal their cargo.
None of these explanations have ever brought any comfort to the families left behind by the keepers and James Ducat left behind a widow and four children, whilst Donald MacArthur left behind a widow and two.
Their disappearances have cast a long shadow over lighthouse keeping over one hundred years and it is unlikely that we will ever get to the bottom of exactly what happened. No doubt the theories will continue to come from whoever hears about the tale but as of yet, we have no real evidence that confirms anything.
The Lighthouse Explained
This is why the Lighthouse is such fascinating as a film, it is massively open to interpretation and many of the events that happen in it can be seen to be part of the character’s imaginations or something supernatural that is happening to them. The Flannan Lighthouse stands as a strong reminder that the world is a very strange place and The Lighthouse exemplifies this perfectly in every single aspect. It’s why it’s one of my favorite horrors of the year and if you haven’t seen it and this video has piqued your interest then I highly recommend that you seek it out and give it a try.
The acting is superb and there is a real atmosphere to the entire piece that makes it an instant classic and definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of horror movies that have a dark sense of humor.
Obviously I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Flannan Lighthouse disappearance and if you have any theories make sure you leave them in the comments section below.