"The Phantom Lighthouse" was a story printed in the first issue of The Twilight Zone comic published by Dell.
Dan Ridder and his son Chip were setting out to do some ice fishing on a wintry day when they came upon an elderly wanderer trudging through the snow. The Ridders stopped to help the man, and after loaning him a lantern, the old man promptly disappeared. Little did the father and son know that this brief encounter would change their lives...and possibly save them.
Cast of characters
- fisherman #1
- fisherman #2
- fisherman #3
- fisherman #4
"The time: now! The place: A lonely, icebound shore of the Great Lakes...The man: Dan Ridder, a devoted father. The boy: his son Chip."
Story summaryOne night, Dan Ridder and his son Chip were traveling to Beaver Point along the shore of one of the Great Lakes to do some ice fishing. It was the boy's first time visiting the ice shanty where his father set out his line and as dawn approached, he had grown more and more anxious. At the same time, Chip was also growing a little nervous. The two travelers had not seen another human being for hours, but his dad reassured him that once they reached Beaver Point and the sun rose, they would see plenty of other fishermen. As if on cue, the travelers spotted a man in a cap and long jacket wading through the snow, headed in the same direction as them. Dan had no intention of offering the man a ride in their jeep, but after they noticed that the hiker is a haggard old man, Chip convinced his dad to stop to see if he needed help.
As the old-timer approached them, they heard him urgently wheeze, "Please! I'm looking for my boat! I've got to find it! I'll be needed when the big storm hits!" The weathered man's tone disturbed Dan Ridder. The stranger seemed certain but Dan had not heard anything about a storm and the sky was clear. The old man was insistent, however, and Dan started to doubt his elder's sanity. He would have liked to take his son far away from the man but Chip was determined to help find the lost boat. He gave the old mariner one of their oil lanterns and, after blessing the youngster for his assistance, the elderly man resumed his frantic search.
Dan was glad to see the man leave but was irritated with his son for giving away one of their lamps to a possibly deranged man. He explained to the boy that even if the man could find his boat, it would serve little use as the ice had frozen solid miles from the shore. The two looked around for the stranger but could no longer see any sign of him. More determined than ever that the old-timer had been a fraud, Dan lit his other lantern and set out to follow the man's tracks in the snow in order to retrieve the donated lamp. He did not get far—the old man's tracks had disappeared!
Clearly disturbed, both father and son jumped back into their vehicle and made a quick getaway from the weird happening. An hour later they reached the fishing grounds and were pleased to see several other fishermen walking around the ice shanties. The pair spent the next few hours reeling in fish after fish, forgetting completely about the strange encounter that had happened that morning. Until, that is, late in the afternoon, when the sky darkenedand it began to snow. Before long, all of the other fishermen at Beaver Point began to climb into their vehicles and leave the ice. As one fisherman drove by, he warned the Ridders that they should leave, too. If the wind grew stronger and the snow fell harder, it might shatter the ice. Dan thanked the man but dismissed the suggestion and urged his son to continue fishing. They had not traveled all that way to return home again so soon.
The fishing went on for some time, when abruptly the shanty began to shake. The wooden shack tilted from one side to the other before it could no longer remain standing and fell over! The father and son managed to pull themselves from underneath the splinters and began to make their way back to the safety of their jeep before they noticed the ice had begun to buckle. The jeep plunged through the ice into the cold, murky water below and began to take Chip along with it!
Fortunately for the boy, his father managed to pull him to safety onto a large, newly-adrift chunk of ice. Dan used his hatchet to build a windbreaker out of snow and ice to help shield them both from the increasingly furious storm. Wrapped up as warmly as possible, the two watched in horror as the ice floe was driven by the howling wind farther out into the lake. Hours passed and night fell, father and son still drifting farther from shore. Dan hadnoticed that the chunk of ice they had been riding upon had slowly begun to break apart due to the savage wind. He realized time was running out. It was only a matter of time before they were both dumped into the icy cold water.
Then the vigilant father spotted a nearby island. He knew that he could swim the distance but doubted whether Chip, who had become feverish since his dip into the lake, could do the same. Suddenly, an eerie glow appeared nearby! As the floe drew closer, Dan made out that the light was coming from a lighthouse on another island. Miraculously, the floe was headed straight for the lighthouse!
Chip's condition had worsened. The boy had lost consciousmess. Dan Ridder gathered up his son, wrapped snugly in a heavy blanket, and leaped onto the rocky shore just beneath the lighthouse. Dan decided the boy's only help might lie within the spooky lighthouse and he boldly rushed toward the door. Just then, the door burst open and an elderly gentleman greeted Dan and invited him inside. Oddly, he mentioned to Dan that he had been expecting them. Dan took a second look—it was the old man that they had encountered that morning in the woods!
The man introduced himself as Jabez Klune, the keeper of the Stormy Rock Lighthouse. He explained that he had been in such a panic to find his boat because he knew that he would be needed out on the island that night. They could use the boat to take the boy to shore and have him treated by a doctor—knowing, if they didn't, he might die. The storm waged worse than ever, but the lighthouse keeper assured the concerned father that he could escort them back to shore safely and Dan didn't see any other option than to trust the old man.To Dan's amazement, the man rowed with an intense vigor and the small wooden boat made headway through the heaving waves. He was becoming convinced that the old man would keep his promise when suddenly an ice flow lunged upward toward the tiny vessel, threatening to break it in two. Somehow, however, the boat and its occupants passed right through the immense chunk of ice as it were not even there!
Ridder watched in disbelief, as the three of them reached the shore in safety. The old man instructed Dan to take his ill child a mile down the shore road, where Mountain View Hospital stood, and with that, he turned and walked back to his boat. Dan had many questions as the old man again wandered away, but he knew there was no time to be wasted. There would be time for questions later.
By dawn, the boy was resting in a hospital bed, under treatment by a doctor for pneumonia. The physician admitted to Dan that if his son had remained out in the elements even one hour more there would have been very little chance of recovery. Ridder explained to the doctor that he could not have saved his son if it was not for the kind intervention of the keeper of the Stormy Rock Lighthouse. The doctor's face contorted with bewilderment. He asserted that Dan must be mistaken, but Dan attested that he was telling the truth: it was the lighthouse that had saved the two of them. It was then that the doctor made a stunning admission: the Stormy Rock Lighthouse had been destroyed during a storm nearly a half century before! The lighthouse was no longer anything more than a heap of stone ruins!
Dan refused to believe that what he had experienced had not been real; he needed proof. The doctor led him to his office and handed the confused father a pair of binoculars. Through the clear morning air, Dan saw the island he had been on and realized that the physician had not been lying. The only structure visisble on the island was the broken remainder of a foundation, weathered and snowcapped.
Dan could not understand how it could be. His mind raced until he thought he had found his proof. He asked the doctor how it could have been that he came to know the lighthouse keeper's name was Jabez Klune if he had not met the man himself. Neither of the Ridders was from the area and Dan had never heard the story of the old lighthouse or its keeper. Again, the healer was taken aback. He went on to share with Ridder that Klune was indeed the lighthouse keeper at Stormy Rock, but he had died in the very storm that had destroyed the lighthouse in an attempt to row back to the island from shore. He felt his place was at the top of the lighthouse, making certain that no one came to harm during a storm and he would be there, no matter what danger lie in store for himself.
By this time both men were as confused as they were intrigued. They decided to trek back down to the shore to see they would be able to find marks in the sand where Klune's boat had brought the Ridders ashore. They found the beach undisturbed. A more detailed search, however, revealed the wreckage of a wooden boat from the Stormy Rock Lighthouse. The doctor felt that the heap must be what remained of the boat after it had washed up on shore fifty years prior. Dan felt it was possible, but then he spotted the lantern that Chip had given to Mr. Klune the day before close by. He knew that what he had experienced had to be the truth and that he owed his life and that of his son to the lighthouse keeper. Even in death, Jabez Klune was on duty, keeping the lake safe.
"A puzzle without an answer? Every puzzle has an answer. The answer to this one will be found...somewhere in the Twilight Zone."
Response and analysis
One's good deed for another may in the end help oneself.
Notes and annotations
- The Rocky Storm Lighthouse bears a resemblance to other real world Great Lakes lighthouses, notably Charlotte-Genesee Light on Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York and Stannard Rock Light on Lake Superior in Marquette County, Michigan, but no lighthouse on the Great Lakes exist with the fictional structure's name.
- Tales of hauntings, ghost ships and haunted lighthouses are fairly common in the region of the Great Lakes. The Saginaw River Light, the Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Whitefish Point, the Seul Choix Point Light, the Presque Isle Light and the Thunder Bay Island lighthouse are all examples of lighthouses reputed to be haunted, typically by their keepers. 
- Originally published in color
- Printed on newsprint, 10 pages
- Cover story for The Twilight Zone (Dell) 01 and The Twilight Zone (Gold Key) 25
- Reprinted in The Twilight Zone (Gold Key) 25; page three is absent in the reprinted story
Notes and references
- ↑ William A. Britten. "Charlotte-Genesee Light." Lighthouse Getaway! Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- ↑ William A. Britten. "Stannard Rock Light." Lighthouse Getaway! Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- ↑ Troy Taylor. "Haunted Lighthouses: Shores of Michigan." Ghosts of the Prairie. 1998. Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- ↑ Crewmember. "True Lighthouse Hauntings review." Great Lakes Freighters. Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- Bob Klein and Mike Tiefenbacher. "Four Color 1173 (1942 series)." Grand Comics Database. Retrieved: July 14, 2009.