The Spektor Island Historical Society
History of Spektor Island
1755 Cape Ann Earthquake
Spektor Island, technically Spektor eyot, is believed to have been formed by the entanglement of basalt magma drifting from the source of the 1755 Cape Ann earthquake with an existing underwater rock formation. It was first documented by Thomas Paine III, who had been searching the area for the sunken pirate ship, the Whydah, which he believed might be underwater in the location with the original rock formation. Mr. Paine built a small hut on the island to use as shelter for his wife Malatiah and daughter Mary Paine in case of smallpox outbreak.
After his death, Thomas Paine III’s children sold the eyot to eager buyers who believed that the Whydah might be nearby. There are even unverified accounts of unwitting buyers tricked into purchase by the strategic placement of a few hexagonal gold trinkets on the shore on the day of appraisal. It is during this time that the island got its current name, a shortened version of Speculator Rock, as it was known up until the early 1860s.
The Ghost of Spektor Island
Rumors of the island’s haunting by the ghost of the cook on board the Whydah became prominent. It was said that he chased away the living with a cleaver in hand to protect the lost gold. Most believed that this was simply a myth to keep treasure hunters away, but there were several deaths resulting from slipping off the island cliffs and other unexplained phenomena.
After the failure of countless treasure-hunting expeditions staged from the edges of Spektor Island, an anonymous buyer purchased the island in 1861, paying with hexagonal gold pieces. The buyer claimed to wish to use the island as a painter’s resort. He wrote that he wished to provide a safe and peaceful locale for painters to create works inspired by the Cape’s beauty.
The cover was soon blown, however, when it became clear that the small island was to be used for staging important meetings during the Civil War. A modest military fort was quickly erected and some believe that high-level prisoners were brought to Spektor Island for torture and interrogation.
A minor hurricane, on October 30, 1866 destroyed most of the shoddily constructed fort. The island is thought to have been abandoned from late 1866 until 1888, when construction of a lavish mansion, publicly named the Babirusa mansion, began. The owner of the island remained unknown, but it is believed that Ex-President Grover Cleveland stayed at the mansion in 1889 during his visit to the Provincetown area.
"The Spektor Island Massacre"
For most of the 20th century, parents would warn their children that if they were bad, they would be forced to spend the night with the ghost of the Whydah cook, often simply referred to as The Butcher, on Spektor Island. Apart from populating children’s nightmares, there was little activity or talk about the island until 1972.
The island’s ownership had changed in 1971, though again, the owner remained anonymous and made the purchase using gold ducats. There were plans to turn the island mansion into a haunted house resort. This fact, however, did not come to light until December 1972, when there were reports of helicopters, coast guard boats, and uniformed personnel surrounding the island. The event, dubbed the Spektor Island Massacre, resulted in the deaths of 9 women and 3 men.
To this day, the events that transpired in December 1972 are unexplained. Conspiracy theorists claim everything from alien invasion to Government medical or radiation testing, but the most common explanation was naturally that the Butcher was behind the deaths of the 12 people.
The Sinking of Spektor Island
Two big twists in the story came in the 1980s. The wreck of the Whydah was discovered, far away from Spektor Island, in 1984 by underwater explorer Barry Clifford. This diminished the public association between the island and the sunken treasure enough that plans were drafted to reopen the island to historical tourism in 1987, coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the “Spektor Island Massacre.”
The final twist came, however, in September 1985 when Hurricane Gloria not only ravaged the mansion, but caused a split between the eroding basalt layer and the underlying rocks, forever submerging the rock underwater.
The Spektor Island Historical Society seeks to preserve the memory of this important piece of Cape Cod’s history by working to recover any artifacts associated with the island and by collecting stories of those who experienced its past wonder.
The Society has been in talks with everyone from The Cousteau Society to James Cameron’s diving team to work out an arrangement to recover all that is left of Spektor Island and to celebrate its place in New England History.
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