His heart was beating and his mind filled with fear. Joseph Moore hurried to the Eilean Mor lighthouse and shouted desperately at the names of his fellow lighthouse keepers whom he expected to greet him.
But the only answer came from the seagulls and petrels screaming in the sky above the small, lonely island in the Outer Hebrides.
It was late afternoon on December 26, 1900. After celebrating Boxing Day on the Isle of Lewis, about 20 miles away, assistant keeper Moore was aboard the steamboat Hesperus, a supply ship that took him to his next six-week week. Eilean brought Mor. duty.
The three missing men – from left to right – Thomas Marshall, Donald MacArthur and James Ducat – pose outside Flannan Lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides a week before disappearing into mysterious circumstances in 1900
Married with two young children, 28-year-old Moore was happy that his last period of leave on shore coincided with Christmas.
But the casual timing went beyond that – it probably saved his life. A hair-raising new movie, The Vanishing, starring Gerard Butler, is based on the true story of how the three men Moore had said goodbye to Eilean Mor had disappeared without trace two weeks earlier.
They had no boat and no bodies were found, so some suggested that supernatural forces were at work in the Flannan Islands, the group of seven islands to which Eilean Mor, barely 500 feet, belongs.
The Flannans were much feared by sailors – and with good reason. Countless ships had fallen apart on their ruthless coastlines, often hidden by thick fog. In the aftermath, the bodies and bones of victims had littered the coast.
Scottish film star Gerard Butler plays missing lighthouse keeper James Ducat in new thriller The Vanishing
For centuries the only signs of human occupation were the ruins of a chapel dedicated to St Flann, an Irish monk who lived there in the 7th century. In death he would consider Eilean Mor to be his – a sinister, vigilant presence that frightened the shepherds who transported their sheep to graze there, but who never spent the night.
When a lighthouse was built in December 1899 to guide ships through one of the wildest regions of the North Atlantic, the local population warned that the burglary would unleash the rage of St. Flann.
So these doubts came true exactly one year later, when the lighthouse keepers went missing?
This maritime mystery is just as intriguing as the Marie Celeste's, and it remains unanswered to this day. The first sign that something was wrong was when the SS Archtor, a freighter on his way from Philadelphia, passed Eilean Mor around midnight on December 15. The captain noticed that the lighthouse was dark.
He reported this when mooring in Leith, near Edinburgh, three days later. But for some reason the information did not reach the Northern Lighthouse Board.
And so when Joseph Moore left Lewis to join his fellow keepers, he expected a warm welcome and more Christmas parties.
But when Hezperus approached Eilean Mor, he felt the first feelings of fear. The winter afternoon was dark but no light came out. Something was wrong.
Even when the captain rang the steamer's horn and sent an emergency flare to attract attention, there was no response from anyone in the lighthouse. There seemed to be little choice but to send Moore to investigate. He climbed onto the jetty and hurried up the long wooden staircase that saw zig over the rock face.
He saw that the gate to the lighthouse was closed, just like the door to the tower. Then he looked up and saw three giant black birds above. They seemed to follow his entire course.
The remote Eilean Mor lighthouse on the Flannan Islands in the Outer Hebrides. Legend has it that when it was built in December 1899 to guide ships through one of the wildest regions of the North Atlantic, the local population warned that the burglary would unleash the rage of St Flann
Moore went to the quiet lighthouse, first to the kitchen, which was normally the cozy center of lighthouse life. But the room had a fatal chill about it. The clock was stopped and the ashes in the grid were cold. A poem about the incident, written by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson in 1912, describes an untouched meal on the table – there was cold meat, pickles, and potatoes. A kitchen chair lay on its side and the only sign of life was the canoeists' canary, half starving on its perch.
It is not known if this was correct, but what Moore saw made him terrified. As he stepped back to the jetty, he begged the Hesperus crew to help him search the small island. They found nothing.
Reluctantly, Moore agreed to stay to provide the light. It is not hard to imagine how frightening the nights that followed were for him alone in the bright room, listening to the wind that blows everywhere as the rotating lamp casts shadows. The Northern Lighthouse Board superintendent, Robert Muirhead, arrived three days later to investigate and described Moore as being in a state of & # 39; nervousness & # 39 ;.
He may have heard voices and mentioned the names of the three missing men – a claim made later by others.
While goalkeeper Thomas Marshall was single, the other two – James Ducat and Donald MacArthur – were married, with six children in between. The task of reporting the news to their widows had fallen with Muirhead, who knew their families well.
Actors Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan and Connor Swindells play the lead role as the three men who mysteriously disappeared from the Eilean Mor lighthouse in the Flannan Islands in 1900
He had last seen the guards on December 7, when he went on a routine check of his employees. & # 39; I have the melancholy reminder that I was the last person to shake hands with them and adieu to them, & he said.
The last record the men left was on the morning of December 15, limed on the slate where they recorded the weather conditions and their daily activities, including trimming the lighthouse lamp, filling the oil fountain and cleaning the gigantic lenses.
Nothing wrong was said, but the fact that the lighthouse had not been operational that night meant that this was the day they disappeared.
Regarding the cause, Muirhead noted that the landing platform on the western side of the island had suffered severe storm damage, with twisted iron railings and a block of stone, estimated to be a ton of roads, moved along the path. He concluded that the men went to repair the damage and were swept away by a wave.
The problem with this theory is that while the boots, capes and oil skins that belonged to Ducat and Marshall were missing, Donald MacArthur & # 39; s was still inside. It seems unlikely that in freezing weather he would have left the lighthouse with only shirt sleeves and sandals with a rope sole.
It was, of course, possible that Ducat and Marshall had run into trouble at the dock and that MacArthur, when they heard their cries for help, had rushed to their help before he himself was washed away.
But if he had left the lighthouse in a panic, why would he have wasted precious time closing both the entrance door and the gate to the garden? And why have their bodies never washed up?
It was not logical at all and in the coming years there was speculation about the fate of the guards. One of the more imaginative explanations was a claim by the locals that the guards had turned into those three giant birds that Moore had seen when landing.
Others said they had been kidnapped by a foreign power after seeing something they shouldn't have had – perhaps a secret warship? Or did one of them kill the other two – MacArthur would have a fleeting temper – and throw himself off the rocks in an act of regret?
Or was the American author Vincent Hayes Gaddis – who specialized in sensational stories about the paranormal – precisely suggesting that in the days before the trio disappeared, they were harassed by a storm so violent that it must have been caused by a supernatural dark force ?
In a book written in 1965, Gaddis cited entries supposedly written in the lighthouse log by Thomas Marshall. & # 39; Never seen such a storm & # 39; n, "he is certain as written on December 12. & # 39; Quietly. MacArthur is crying. "He added the following day: & # 39; Storm went through the night. Gray daylight. I, Ducat and MacArthur prayed. & # 39;
Since then, it has been suggested that Gaddis may have made up these submissions. But we just don't know, because the original logbook disappeared after the incident.
That in itself can be considered suspicious. Has this official document really been lost or has it been intentionally destroyed?
If the disturbing reports Gaddis cited were authentic, it would certainly not have helped the authorities to recruit other guards for Eilean Mor, and not only to replace the three men who had disappeared, but also Moore. It took him another three months before he demanded a transfer of mail.
The island is now home to an automated lighthouse that continues to illuminate a safe passage for seafarers. But to this day it has failed to shed light on the fate of its caretakers, whose existence was simply erased on that fateful day of more than a century ago.
The disappearance is now in British cinemas.