Execution Rocks Lighthouse
by Kathryn Keiserman
The Execution Rocks Lighthouse, located in the middle of the Long Island Sound on the border of New Rochelle and Sands Point, has been a part of Port Washington’s landscape since construction was completed in 1849. The lighthouse, which stands at 55ft tall, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Execution Rocks is set apart from other historic lighthouses by its dark history.
The grisly history of the Execution Rocks began before the building of the lighthouse, during the Revolutionary War. According to legend, during the war British soldiers executed prisoners by chaining them to the rocks at low tide and allowing them to drown during high tide. Other sources claim that slaves and/or criminals were executed on the rocks in the same way. Whatever the real story is, it was this legend which gave the island, and the lighthouse built on it, its name.
The dark history of Execution Rocks doesn’t end with the American Revolution. In his 1920 autobiography, serial killer Carl Panzram admitted to dumping the bodies of ten of his victims in the water surrounding the lighthouse. Panzram claims that after committing the murders, he chained rocks to the bodies and dumped them in the water only 100 yards away from the Lighthouse.
These grisly tales, as well as the proximity to the Sands Point mansions which inspired The Great Gatsby, have made the Lighthouse a tourist attraction. During the summer, the Lighthouse Restoration Organization gives tours of the Lighthouse, and water taxis from Port Washington pass the island year-round. Although the Lighthouse has been uninhabited since it was fully automated in 1979, some guests claim to hear unusual sounds and footsteps, and a few have even seen apparitions. As a result of these sightings, in 2009 the lighthouse was featured on the Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures.
Illustration by Ann Marie Colton