For years, curators at the Fairport Harbor lighthouse museum swore they saw a ghost of a cat, skittering across the kitchen floor or jumping on the bed.
Then, they found one. During renovations in 2001, workers installing air conditioning vents discovered the mummified remains of a cat in a crawl space.
Was it Sentinel, the gray cat beloved by Mary Babcock, the wife of the first lighthouse keeper?
In 1871, Civil War veteran Capt. Joseph Babcock moved his wife and young daughter, Hattie, to become the first keeper of the new lighthouse. The couple had two more sons. But in 1889, 14-year-old Robbie died, according to Cynthia Turk, a Lake County research genealogist.
Other sources put his age at 5, and say he died from smallpox.
In 1901, the Painesville Telegraph wrote, “After his years of experience in the light house and on the lakes, Captain Babcock is perfectly familiar with his present duties and no more efficient keeper could be secured. The Fairport light is one of the best on the lakes and the distance at which the light can be seen is estimated at eighteen miles in clear weather.”
Mary Babcock fell critically ill shortly after Robbie’s death. Bedridden in the keeper’s quarters, she kept cats to help pass the long days. Sentinel, a gray cat her husband found in the lighthouse basement, became her constant companion. After Babcock died, the gray cat disappeared.
Since the remains of the cat were found, six cable TV shows have shot episodes at the lighthouse, now part of the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum, which reopens to the public in May. The cat’s leathery remains are kept at the museum.
And the story is celebrated every Halloween with scary stories a moonlight climb to the top of the Lake County tower.
The Ohio Researchers of Banded Spirits in 2009 spent the night in the lighthouse investigating paranormal activity and recorded what they said was a “meow.”
“A lot of people don’t believe in ghosts,” former lighthouse curator Pamela Brent told the Plain Dealer in 2001. “But I do. Lighthouses are magnets for ghosts. They are an area for safety for spirits.”