A Death in the Tower

Tue, Oct 24, 2023 at 3:40PM

A Death in the Tower

The recorded career of Joseph B. Davis with the Light-House Establishment began as a second assistant keeper at the Hillsboro Lighthouse, possibly as early as 1912. Davis resigned from that position in 1914, but he was soon working again as a second assistant keeper at the Mosquito (Ponce) Inlet Light Station, where he served from 1914-1916. Since transferring from one post to another was the typical way lighthouse keepers could gain promotions, find better working conditions, or get a boost in pay, Mr. Davis accepted a transfer in 1916 to the Jupiter Inlet Light Station, once again as a second assistant. Often on the move, Davis, still a second assistant, was transferred back to Hillsboro from 1917-1918. In 1918, he at last moved up in rank to first assistant, thanks to an opportunity to return to Mosquito Inlet where he had previously served under Principal Keeper John Lindquist. 

When Joseph Davis moved to Mosquito Inlet for the second time, his photograph reveals that he was no spring chicken. Possibly in his mid-to-late 50s, he was replacing First Assistant Pinckney Whiteley, a man who had been struggling with severe health problems. Keeper's log notes confirm that Davis had health problems of his own that were serious enough to require hospitalization for two weeks in Daytona. Benjamin Franklin Stone, a young man who would go on to a long career with the Lighthouse Service and the Coast Guard, had just come to the lighthouse as the second assistant keeper, affording both Principal Keeper Lindquist and Joseph Davis with some badly needed help.

At 5:30 pm on the evening of October 26, 1919, Joseph Davis climbed the tower steps to light the lamp. He was quite probably carrying a large brass fuel can, filled to the brim with kerosene and weighing about 40 pounds. Davis died of a heart attack midway up the tower. When the tower lamp did not come on, Second Assistant Keeper Ben Stone went to investigate and had the sad task of carrying the body of his colleague down from the tower. Davis' funeral was held on October 29, and according to the Daytona Morning-Journal, he was interred at Coronado Beach.

We are often asked if the light station and the tower are haunted by ghosts. No credible ghostly activities have ever been reported by the light station's past residents or by the museum's staff. The blame for this lack of haunting must fall squarely on the shoulders of Joseph Davis. If he wasn't willing to haunt the place, the next likely candidate might be the site's first chief engineer Orville Babcock. Babcock tragically drowned in the inlet in 1884, but neither he nor any other deceased person connected with this lighthouse has ever chosen to make him or herself known. Likewise, we do not permit ghost tours, ghost hunters, or similar activities, as it is our wish to allow the departed to rest in peace in a policy of mutual respect and consideration.

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