Waves crashed against the shoreline below the Old Point Loma Lighthouse as Dudley Scarborough led a small group on a tour of the San Diego landmark.
“It was opened in 1855, then closed up in 1891,” he said. “And that wadn’t no surprise, ‘cause the Fog was as thick as pea soup, and ships had trouble seein’ the light from the tower. Then it wadn’t used for much more ‘n storage after that until it were renovated in 1963.”
Dudley had worked at the lighthouse since 1975. He started as a handyman, but a few years back, hung up his tool belt to lead tours for the thousands of vacationers who visited the area each year.
This was Dudley’s last tour of the day, and he was eager to get to Pete’s Tavern for his nightly scotch and steak dinner.
“Well, that’s it, folks, thanks fer comin’.”
The group stood in a small hallway that led to an old padlocked storage room. Laura, age eight, asked, “What’s this?”
“Was once the second bedroom,” Dudley said. “But now it’s just fer storage.”
“Can we see inside?” Laura asked.
“No can do, little lady. Employees only.”
If someone was looking at Dudley closely, they would’ve seen him shiver slightly. Just being near the room gave him the chills, and he did his best to never go inside. But if you asked him after his shift, and plied him with a few glasses of his favorite scotch, he just might tell you the real reason why that room was padlocked.
“It wadn’t the fog that caused the lighthouse to close,” he’d say, enjoying the smoothness of the scotch as it went down. “The real reason it closed is inside that old storage room.”
The day was overcast, but before Dudley could shut the doors of the old lighthouse, a bright bolt of lightning streaked across the gray sky and struck a large branch on the huge cedar tree in back. It fell, then ricocheted off the lighthouse, banging against the storage room.
Ancient items that hadn’t been used in decades were tossed about the room, tumbling to the floor. A doll with the name “Rose” stitched on the bib of her soiled blue satin dress was pinned beneath an old faded red Victorian settee. Her eyes were closed the way they were designed to be if she were placed on her back. Unfortunately, this made it look as if she’d been killed by the sofa.
And if you had the misfortune of being in that musty storage room just then, and if you also had the misfortune of seeing Rose’s face in the dim light from the window, you just might have had the distinct displeasure of seeing her closed eyes open up all on their own.
Lettie Daniels stood and watched the waves crash against the shoreline just below the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. These days, she rarely left her daughter Rose’s room. It had become her only place of solace since the eight-year-old died two weeks before.
“You should eat something dear,” her husband Edwin said from the doorway.
“I’m fine, Edwin … I’m fine.”
Then Edwin saw the catalog in Lettie’s lap. He tried not to be angry with her, but couldn’t help himself. Edwin marched in and snatched it from her. “You will not do this, Lettie. I won’t allow that thing in my house.”
Edwin realized he was being too harsh with his wife, and softened his voice. “I miss her too, Lettie, so very much.”
But Lettie just stood up, glared at her husband, and left the room without uttering a word.
Parents burying young children was all too common in the late nineteenth century, and there were many unscrupulous businesses who thought of ways to capitalize on that grief. One such company was the East Haven Mercantile Company, who, for the exorbitant fee of $10, would make a doll that looked exactly like your deceased child.
Edwin, of course, was against getting one, but Lettie couldn’t be dissuaded and purchased the doll against her husband’s wishes.
The package came almost a year to the date of Rose’s death. Lettie opened it and held it up for Edwin to see. He tried not to wince, but the look of it sickened him.
“Don’t do that,” Lettie said. “She’ll think you don’t want her here.”
“It’s a doll, Lettie,” he said.
“It is no such thing!” Lettie shrieked. “This is our Rose.”
Edwin woke late one night to the sounds of his wife’s cries.
“No!” Lettie said. “Don’t ask me to do that.” She was in Rose’s old room screaming at the doll.
“Lettie, what in god’s name are you doing?”
“Nothing. Leave us alone,” she said, grabbing the doll and running up the narrow stairway that led to the lighthouse tower.
Edwin ran up after her, breathing heavily as he reached the top.
“Don’t come near me, Edwin. This is what I have to do.”
“What do you mean, Lettie?” Edwin sounded concerned.
Lettie was on the metal walkway that wrapped around the tower. Edwin often stood there with his eyeglass, looking for ships scheduled to come into port.
“I told her not to come up here,” Lettie said quietly. “But Rose never listened to me.” She laughed bitterly. “The height scared her and she was afraid to come back down on her own. She asked me for help, but I wanted to teach her a lesson. The last thing she said to me was, ‘Mama, I’m scared.’ Then there was nothing.”
“Oh, Lettie,” Edwin said, “it was an accident.”
“One I could’ve prevented!” Lettie screamed. “Rose is right. I have to pay for what I’ve done.”
She turned, closed her eyes and leaned over the railing, but Edwin grabbed her before she fell to the rocky ground below.
He held her. “I love you, Lettie. Rose loved you too, and she would never want you to hurt yourself.”
Edwin took Lettie’s hand and she dropped the doll as they made their way down the steep stairwell.
Edwin never spoke publicly about that night. There was only his recorded statement from the inquest, which read, “It all happened so fast. One minute the doll was behind us; the next it was as if it jumped on top of Lettie. She lost her balance and fell over the railing before I could do anything. I know I sound like a madman, but this really happened to my Lettie. I saw it with my own eyes.”
Witnesses testified that Lettie Daniels was depressed after her daughter’s death, and in hearing this, the three-man panel exonerated Edwin from any wrongdoing, thinking he was simply a distraught husband who couldn’t accept that his wife committed suicide.
Edwin Daniels never recovered from his wife’s death, and the funny thing was, he died later that year in a similar fall.
It was after this that the lighthouse was closed for good. And Rose was locked away in the old storage room with all the other forgotten items of the day.
Eight-year-old Laura wandered off from the group, which was outside with Dudley surveying the damage from the fallen branch.
She was sitting in front of the storage room door playing with her My Little Ponies when she heard a voice from inside.
“Can you help me?” the voice said.
Surprised, Laura said, “Mr. Dudley told us no one’s supposed to be in there. I’m gonna go get him.”
But then the door creaked open. And what eight-year-old could resist seeing what was in a room they were forbidden to go into?
“Oh, hello,” Laura said, and walked inside.
Laura was never found. Police thought she wandered down to the shoreline and was carried away by a large swell. No one thought to look in the storage room because … well, because it was still padlocked shut.
To this day, there is usually someone on the tour who swears they can hear two little girls laughing behind the closed storage room door.