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The Real Horror That Inspired The Lighthouse (2019)

My personal distrust of the sea may have come up in past articles. There are few places on Earth where humans were not supposed to go. Islands, far out to sea, feature prominently on that list.

It isn't fear of mythological sea serpents, mermaids, and sirens that should prohibit us. Not even the menagerie of real monsters like giant squid, sharks, or homicidal whales prove the biggest impediment.

The sea itself is an unwelcoming place, for humans. Storms can get wild out there. Psychologically speaking, it is fertile ground for cultivating madness. That's why Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse, works so well.

Pure isolation can be hard to achieve. Snow, sea, and sand are great for this. Watching Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe slowly go insane while tending to the remote lighthouse, was brilliant.

You might be shocked, if you didn't read the title of this article for some reason, to find out that the surreal events of The Lighthouse were based on a true story.

The Smalls Lighthouse

20 miles (32.19 km) off of the coast of St. David's Peninsula in the UK, a craggy rock thrusts itself up from the unholy depths of the ocean. Upon this rock, humans dared build a lighthouse.

The Smalls Lighthouse was built on oak pillars in 1775. These pillars allowed the occupants some safety from the sea's fury. While they tended to the light, the waves crashed beneath their weary feet.

2 Men occupied the Smalls Lighthouse at a time. In 1801, those men were Thomas Griffith and Thomas Howell. Both Thomas' were accustomed to life at the lighthouse, and were prepared for their lengthy stay.

Thomas and Thomas didn't get along. They were known for arguing vehemently. Luckily they were stuck together in the small room underneath the lighthouse. The only escape being the top of the lighthouse itself.

Griffith fell ill a few weeks in. Howell tried sending out distress signals, but no help came. Soon enough, Griffith passed away in the tiny living quarters. This wasn't an ideal situation for Howell.

Knowing that their history would likely lead people to believe Griffith's death to be a murder, Howell opted to keep the body on hand. If you've ever held onto cheese for too long, you'll have a good idea of exactly how this went.

Griffith proved to be disagreeable in death as in life. Howell tried living with the slowly putrefying body for a while. Soon though, he couldn't take it anymore. Eating and sleeping near an open corpse isn't fun.

Howell built a makeshift coffin out of scraps. He dumped Griffith in the coffin and lashed the box to the railings on the side of the Smalls Lighthouse. For a time, the coffin held firm.

Eventually, the sea winds and the waves cracked the coffin open. Howell, as well as several passing boats, reported that Griffith's hand flopped out of the coffin. The dead man's hand was very active, flapping in the wind. This created the illusion that Griffith was waving from his watery hell.

Howell toiled on the island of horror for weeks before a boat came to relieve him. According to reports, his hair had gone white from the stress. His family and friends on the mainland struggled to recognize the shell of the man that returned to them from the Smalls Lighthouse.