The solitary Execution Rocks Lighthouse in the Long Island Sound guards the way to mansions which inspired The Great Gatsby, but also hides a macabre history of murder.
In the middle of Long Island Sound, equidistant from New Rochelle and Port Washington, stands a lighthouse built in the 1850s. The tiny rocky island on which it was constructed was known as the Execution Rocks. Legend has is that during their occupation of Long Island during the Revolutionary War, British redcoats would chain Colonial prisoners to the rocks, and execute them by allowing the doomed souls to drown in high tide.
The island’s gruesome history added a new chapter in the 1920s, when famed serial killer Carl Panzram confessed to luring sailors away from bars, murdering them, and dumping their bodies at the island. When the last lighthouse keeper retired in the 1970s, the lighthouse turned fully automatic. But some visitors still report unusual sounds, apparitions and footsteps, ghostly reminders of the island’s troubled past.
Tours are available in the summer through the Lighthouse Restorations organization, and water taxis from Port Washington go near the island, passing by the gold coast mansions that were the inspiration for Gatsby’s house in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. (You can book an overnight stay directly through the nonprofit.) With grisly murder and literary prestige, what more could one ask for in a lighthouse?
Know Before You Go
Water taxi run by Manhasset Bay Harbor Tours, out of Port Washington. Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday only.