There were a lot of things that scared me when I was a kid. Quicksand, tsetse flies, cemeteries, spiders, leeches, cobras, witch doctors, voodoo dolls, to name just a few.
There was also The Lighthouse Man.
The first time I saw him was in the early 1970s, in one of those Ripley’s Believe It Or Not paperbacks. I knew right away he was going to give me nightmares. According to the book, The Lighthouse Man “bored a hole in his head and wears a lighted candle in it.” The copy in the Ripley’s books was full of sentences that disregarded the basic rules of grammar. But somehow the word “wears” instead of “wore” made me believe that The Lighthouse Man was still alive, still walking the streets of Chungking, China, still letting that stubby candle illuminate his terrible rotten-toothed grin.
Why did he bore a hole in his head? Like so much in the Ripley’s books, it wasn’t explained. Was it a birth defect? A head injury? A trephining operation gone awry? Whatever caused it, The Lighthouse Man chose not to cover the hole with a hat or a wig. Instead, he inserted a burning candle in it, then offered his services as a nocturnal tour guide around the streets of Chungking. Or so the story went.
I guess because many of Ripley’s oddities were not documented with photographs, they illustrated them in the book with drawings. Or maybe it was cheaper to produce a book without photos. Whatever the case, the illustration of The Lighthouse Man was pure horror. It made him look like a cross between a skeleton and a clown (both of which were on my list of scary things). Those crazy eyes, one sliding left, the other right. Those tufts of greasy hair sprouting behind his ears. And that awful death’s head grin that made me imagine the raspy, hysterical laugh that would surely accompany it.
Whenever my brother and I pulled out the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not book, I tried to avoid looking at The Lighthouse Man. But I couldn’t help it. I was hypnotized. I probably did have a few bad dreams about him, though thankfully, I don’t remember them.
But now that I’ve found him again after all these years, I have to admit that he still gives me the creeps.
Don’t be surprised if this post is deleted at any minute.