Last week Compass told the story of Point Lookout Lighthouse and the ghost stories surrounding the historic building. Today we bring you the story of the Indian River Life-Saving Station. Do you think it is haunted? Read on and decide for yourself…
Written by Nora Chidlow, Coast Guard Historian’s Office
On a rainy afternoon in March 2005, a volunteer was sitting on the floor of the mess room at Indian River Life-Saving Station accessioning silverware with her back to the door. She was in the building alone and it was closed to the public. She had a radio playing low and the silverware spread out on a cloth on the floor in front of her.
At one point, she heard the door open behind her. Thinking it was just her coworkers saying hello, she called out a greeting but kept working. She didn’t hear any voices or footsteps so she turned around to check the door. As she turned around, the door slowly closed on its own and latched shut. She checked the door to make sure it was really closed, but didn’t think much of it and worked a little while longer.
Eventually she packed things up and headed next door to the administration building. When she mentioned the incident to her co-workers, she discovered that because of the weather, no one had left the administration building all day.
Could it have been the ghost of one of the station’s previous keepers?
Indian River had three keepers in its time as a life-saving station. One of the keepers was Washington A. Vickers who served for 24 years starting in 1886. Born in Seaford, Del., in 1842, he fought with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Somehow evading Union capture, he made his way to a hospital in Richmond, Va. Declared unfit for further front-line duty due to an injury, Vickers was put on hospital patrol and worked as a nurse for the remainder of the war.
After the war, Vickers was granted amnesty, and enlisted in the United States Life-Saving Service in 1878. By 1883, he had risen through the ranks and was promoted keeper of Indian River. In his years there, he proved himself a man of great caliber, dedicated to hard work and devoted to his men; his trademark was his long white beard. His wife Henrietta and their four children lived across Rehoboth Bay in Frankford. Since Vickers was required to remain at the station year-round, this meant he lived apart from his family, with only occasional visits home. In 1907, Henrietta passed away, and Vickers transferred to the newly built Bethany Beach station in 1908 to serve as keeper there.
In January 1915 Vickers retired – the same day legislation was enacted merging the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and the Life-Saving Service into the modern Coast Guard. He was 72 and served 37 of the entire 44 years that the Life-Saving Service had been in existence.
Was it his ghost checking in on the volunteer that cold, windy March day? Or was it just an act of nature? You decide…