Ghost Light on Graveyard Shoal is the twenty-first History Mystery.


  • Rhoda Midyette
  • Miz Midyette
  • Tom Midyette
  • Harlan Swanson
  • Margaret Midyette
  • Pauline Midyette
  • Thelma Midyette
  • Pearl Kimball
  • Willie McGheen
  • Jake Piggott
  • George Kimball
  • Old Ma' Kimball
  • Doc Folb
  • Erskine Piggott

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Chapter One: Shipwreck!

Rhoda Midyette is waken up by her mother in the middle of the night. Rhoda immediately fears for her father, thinking that he would be the only reason for waking her up. Her father is the keeper of the surfmen, men who were like a lifeguard in 1895 along the coast. However, her father is alright. Apparently, there is a very bad shipwreck, and Harlan Swanson, another surfman has come by to say that the survivors have been clinging to wreckage for a while, and the Rhoda and Mama need to leave for the station to help them there. Rhoda asks about her sisters, Margaret, Pauline, and Thelma, but is reassured by her mother. Mama and Rhoda quickly dress, and head for the station. The two head for the beach, and Rhoda sees how horrible the storm is. She looks for the boat, and finally spots them on the crest of a wave. However, soon they dip down into the trough, and Rhoda starts worrying. But, Mama points out the work that has to be done, and they quickly speed towards the beach, where they meet Harlan and Willie McGheen, "the least experienced of the crew[. They] stayed onshore during surfboat rescues to help launch and recover the surfboat and to aid the wreck survivors." Jake Piggott arrives on scene. Mr. Piggott has a salvage business, like many of the island men, however he is the sole person for salvaging to be his only job. Rhoda sees the men rowing towards shore, but is horrified when she sees a giant wave approaching the surfboat. The wave collapses on the boat, capsizing it, and flinging the occupants out.

Chapter Two: Pearl

Rhoda and Mama run towards the beach. The group of men on the beach and idle and worried. No one can swim out because of the ferocity, but everyone wants to do something. When the rescue crew and survivors start being pulled out by the current, Willie swims out to help them, despite the warnings and alarm. Harlan immediately remembers the Lyle gun, which sends out pieces of floating driftwood to the survivors to cling to, and the men can reel them back in. After a few tries, Harlan and Jake start pulling. Harlan bitterly mumbles that they could use Willie at this moment, and Mama and Rhoda help. After reeling in two sailors, another line is launched. The crew starts arriving onto shore, carrying the sailors. Rhoda is relieved, and is extremely proud of Harlan, but Mama beckons Rhoda, and the two travel towards the station to cook. The ship was the Anna Ebener. The sailors can't communicate well because they are Norwegian, but all eat. Rhoda wishes for the men to hurry, as she needs to ask Mr. Kimball about something, who is talking to Daddy. Mr. Kimball is very reliable, and Daddy's best friend. He's first on the team, as he's the most skilled. The conversation finally ceases, and Rhoda jumps at the opportunity. She asks about Pearl Kimball, her best friend. Mr. Kimball says she's not doing great, and invites Rhoda over to cheer her up. When Rhoda arrives, she is surprised to find how pale and thin Pearl has become. Pearl normally is feisty and energetic, and Rhoda is disturbed. But, the visit goes well. Pearl tells Rhoda that she walked all the way to the beach and back, but barely made it back to her bed. Rhoda scolds, but is relieved that Pearl is still spunky. However, Pearl is resigns, and tells Rhoda that she could die.

Chapter Three: Mystery Light on the Cape

Rhoda is appalled, and asks Pearl why she thinks that. Pearl tells her of a hospital in Norfolk that could help her, but that the cost of staying, the doctor bills, and the transportation is extremely expensive. At this point, Pearl says she doesn't want to talk about the sickness, and Rhoda tells the story of the Mangled Mariner, a ghost story that is very popular in the island. In the story, a wrecker lures a ship to shore, and purposefully wrecks it on the bar. The wrecker then kills all of the remaining crew, so as there is no inquiries about the things he steals. Rhoda ends the folk tale with the thought that his ghost roams the shore, looking for the wrecker. Pearl asks for another story, and Rhoda tells her of their fathers' pact. When they were young, they made a pact to always help each other. They each found a perfect whelk shell, and carved it so it would make a great whistle that could be heard all over the island. One time, Mr. Kimball got stuck up in a tree when a wild hog escaped. He called for help, three long whistles, and throws rocks at the hog until it leaves. Pearl starts laughing, soon has a coughing fit. Rhoda consoles her, but her eye is caught by a strange light on the beach, swaying back and forth. She is scared, fearing the mangled mariner, but remembers it is only a story. Then, the light disappears.

Chapter Four: Footprints in the Sand

Rhoda hurries home, planning on going back to the beach in the morning. She struggles with this decision, knowing she will get two hand whips for being late for school, but ends up tricking her sisters. Thinking their sister is grabbing an essay, Rhoda races for the beach, and finds footprints and the markings from a mule and cart. She is shocked to figure that the mysterious light must be a wrecker. A wrecker would tie a lantern to the mule's neck so to make ships think it is another ship in a harbor. But, when the ship tries to sail into the harbor, it capsizes on one of the treacherous bars.

Chapter Five: Wrecker!

Rhoda is greatly disturbed, thinking that someone she could know would purposefully trying to wreck ships, possibly even being responsible for others' deaths. When Rhoda examines the beach for more clues, she finds a very unusual whelk shell, with a hole at the top. She assumes this could be a whistle, and blows it, scaring away the birds. She laughs, and thinks how great a present this would be for Pearl. She hides it in the hollow of a tree, growing in the nearby forest. Though the whips sting her hand, Rhoda is extremely excited about the shell. Thelma, Pauline, and Margaret plead to go with her to Pearl's but are sent home. Pearl is reading a magazine, wishing for a certain green velvet dress for her stay at Norfolk. Rhoda is ecstatic to hear Pearl will get the treatment, but Pearl is worried about leaving, stating she'd rather die among family than in a strange hospital far away. Worrying, Rhoda distracts her with the thought of the shell, and promises to bring it to her as soon as she polishes it. She then tells her about her theory of the wrecker. Old Ma shuffles in, scolding the girls for their assumptions and false accusations. She reprimands them, saying the only case of a wrecker that was proven, was when the mangled mariner wrecked. The girls are in awe, and even more so, when Old Ma stated she'd seen him herself.

Chapter Six: The Ghost of the Mangled Mariner

After Old Ma's retelling of the story, except with more detail, the girls discuss wreckers for a few more minutes. Pearl starts falling asleep and Rhoda takes her leave. On her way home, Rhoda tries to make light of the story, and stands at the spot where she sees the light, at the top of Graveyard Shoal and wonders about the mystery so far.

Chapter Seven: Bad Winds Blowing

Rhoda runs home, looking for her father. Daddy just left for the station, and when Rhoda arrives, she sees them practicing a drill. She tries to speak to her father, but loses her courage, and Daddy gets really mad, saying that she shouldn't be selfish and interrupt him just to see him. Rhoda starts crying and runs towards the stable. She strokes the stations' horse, Sadie, who hauls equipment down to the beach during an emergency. When she enters the stable, she smells a strong smell, like something burning. Harlan is raking out hay, and treats it lightly, but both Harlan and Rhoda look around. Rhoda finds that the smell is very strong about Sadie, but Harlan consoles her. Rhoda tells Harlan about how she never sees her father anymore and how he thinks of her as a child. Harlan comforts her, and Rhoda races towards the beach. In the dim light of the setting sun, she sees a light coming toward her.

Chapter Eight: A Heap of Money

It starts raining, and Rhoda bolts for home. She finds a lone, friendly mutt on her porch, and assumes it's the Piggott's dog. She finds an empty pouch around his neck, and returns the dog to Erskine Piggott, a young boy. Erskine insists that his father, Jake Piggott, gave the dog to Harlan, but Rhoda doesn't believe him, and tells him to make sure to give the pouch to his father.

Chapter Nine: An Illicit Deal

Saturday, Market Day, finally arrives. Mama lets each child pick out one sweet. Lucy Piggott, rude and bossy, gloats over at Rhoda, saying she got two beautiful dresses. Rhoda ignores her comments, but wonders where Jake got the money. Rhoda, despite her mother's strict rule, eavesdrops on a group of surfmen near the counter. She learns of the Mary Bradshaw, which wrecked recently. A mother and her child were lost, as well as some of the crew and other passengers. Rhoda is sadden by the loss, but is interrupted by her mother calling her. They leave the store, after Rhoda purchases a green velvet ribbon for Pearl that will match her dress for her trip to Norfolk. She sees Mr. Kimball and runs up to him, but realizes he is having an extremely important conversation with Jake Piggott. Mr. Kimball is distracted, and Jake is angry at her interruption. Mr. Kimball absentmindedly is surprised about Rhoda's knowledge of Norfolk, and says it depends on circumstances, still gazing at Jake walking away. Rhoda is greatly disturbed by Mr. Kimball's suspicious behavior, and leaves. She realizes she forgot to give him the ribbon. Later that day, after a visit with Pearl, Rhoda leaves to go home, late at night. She pass Mr. Kimball's shed and hears voices inside that she recognizes as Mr. Kimball and Mr. Piggott. They are arguing about a certain amount of money, and Mr. Piggott says, "Either you take my price, Kimball, or I go to Tom Midyette and blow the whistle on you. So, you see, you ain't got a choice." She wonders if Mr. Kimball is the wrecker.

Chapter Ten: Showdown in the Fish Shack

Rhoda gasps, and almost gets caught, but manages to hide in the shadows. She worries about Pearl, and tells herself that if Pearl finds out, she might die. She has a hard time sleeping when she gets home, and then hears a dog howling. She is surprised as no dogs live on her side of the island, but in the morning, she finds Jake Piggott's hound tied in a thicket. She realizes that the dog is Harlan's, thinking he hides him here because he is lonely, and can't house him in the station. When Rhoda sees the pouch on his collar, she thinks that Harlan must have gone to a lot of trouble to retrieve it. Later that day, Rhoda ventures out to Mr. Kimball's fish shack. Inside she finds a giant thing covered in white canvas. When she pulls it off, she sees a giant lantern, perfect for wrecking. She is in shock, but manages to say that she needs to tell her father. Pearl walks up behind her, and asks Rhoda what she means. Surprised, Rhoda asks Pearl what the lantern is for, and learns it is railway equipment, with the name stamped on the side. Rhoda accidentally implies her father stole it, and Pearl storms away, furious. However, she only gets so far, and then collapses to the ground, unconscious.

Chapter Eleven: Emergency!

Rhoda carries her to the shack and leaves her in the care of Old Ma. Racing to the station, Rhoda finds Mr. Kimball, after interrupting the fire drill, to her father's chagrin. Rhoda realizes this might be the only time to talk to her father about the wrecker, however when she asks to talk to him privately, Daddy becomes very angry, and she runs into the stable, crying. Surprised to find Harlan in the stable, he comforts her by telling her father is busy, but still loves her. With confidence, Rhoda confides in Harlan all her suspicions about the wrecker. Harlan leaves to talk with Daddy, and Rhoda finishes Sadie's stall. However, Rhoda starts worrying if this is a coincidence or not. She realizes that she can find out how. Racing up to her father's private quarters, Rhoda finds the log books and looks up the person on shift when she saw the light. She finds Mr. Kimball was on shift at the time, and is about to check the next time she saw the light, when she hears Daddy coming up the stairs.

Chapter Twelve: A Rat in a Trap

Rhoda is caught by her father for sneaking into his quarters, but he doesn't see the logbook. Daddy tries to apologize, and after tears all around, they hug. Rhoda wants to talk about Mr. Kimball, but worries her Dad will find her snooping. That night, Harlan stops by. When Rhoda mentions she saw the light on the night of the wreck of the Mary Bradshaw, Harlan says that Mr. Kimball asked to trade shifts with him. Rhoda asks to tell Daddy, before any more lives are claimed, but Harlan says they don't have enough evidence, and that it will be hard, since Daddy and Mr. Kimball are such close friends. They devise a trap. Rhoda will hide in Mr. Kimball's fish shack, waiting for Mr. Kimball to grab the lantern. Harlan will be on the beach, waiting for the wrecker, and will fetch Daddy.

Chapter Thirteen: Mr. Kimball's Confession

After school, Rhoda visits Pearl. Pearl at first accuses Rhoda of accusing her father, and when Rhoda tries to apologize, she only explains, making Pearl madder. In the end, they agree to not talk about it. After running to the shack, she hides inside, but is shocked to find Pearl behind her. Rhoda hears voices, and the two hide, though Pearl has no idea why. They hear Mr. Kimball and Jake Piggott talking about the nice profit both will make when the deal is finished. Mr. Kimball is antsy, and asks Jake if the buyer will honestly have no idea where the lot is from. "Didn't I tell you so on Saturday? Don't worry, Kimball. Your dirty secret is safe." Mr. Kimball only says, "It had better be." Jake uses this as an opportunity to tease him, saying if he's worried about getting in trouble with the patrol. Pearl starts trembling. The two exchange more guilty remarks. Soon, Rhoda finds this deal has nothing to do with ships, but with the railway equipment. Pearl runs after the two men outside, and asks what's going on. Mr. Kimball is shocked, and Jake starts swearing at the girls. Mr. Kimball picks him up and shakes him, saying "You're talking about my daughter and the daughter of my best friend, Piggott. If you know what's good for you, you'll watch your tongue." After Jake slinks away with the wagon, Mr. Kimball explains that after he was fired from his job at the railway company, he stole some equipment because he was mad. He had tried to hide it, but is selling it to pay for Pearl's visit to Norfolk. Both start crying, and hugging, and Pearl forgives him. But, when Mr. Kimball says that Harlan is on beach patrol, Rhoda is shocked and realizes that nothing is adding up. She wonders if she even saw the light, but then sees the light coming right towards her.

Chapter Fourteen: Treachery

Rhoda sees Harlan as the wrecker, and realizes a ship is about to wreck. She runs towards the forest. Grabbing the whelk shell, she gives it three long blasts, signaling trouble. Harlan looks up and sees her, Sadie rears and runs away, and Mr. Kimball hears the signal and comes running. Harlan chases after Rhoda, trying to hurt her, and Rhoda runs towards Mr. Kimball. Shouts sound from the lower end of the beach, and Harlan runs into the woods. Mr. Kimball is proud of Rhoda, but hurries to the station. When the two arrive, they are shocked to find Mr. Piggott reporting a ship sinking, the very ship sinking Rhoda had saved. She realizes that once Harlan wrecks a ship, he uses the dog to signal Jake, who tells Daddy. However, Jake think only that the ship sank, and doesn't know about Harlan's wrecking. Daddy immediately blames himself, saying that Harlan had a bad attitude, and was trouble. Rhoda is surprised at the flattery heaped on her, and says she was scared. She is surprised by Daddy's telling her that even he is scared when they go out for a rescue. The two hug, and Rhoda realizes that her father loved her all along, even if sometimes he forgot to show it.


The epilogue is a letter written to Pearl from Rhoda. Rhoda is ecstatic that Pearl will be home by September and is already feeling better. When Mr. Kimball told Daddy the story, Daddy wouldn't let Mr. Kimball resign, and he is still a surfsman. The fate of Harlan is slightly ironic. His ship wrecked trying to head for the mainland, not knowing how treacherous the waters are in a storm. Rhoda confides in Pearl that now, she feels stronger and braver, and though she won't ever be the same, she will always be Pearl's friend.

A Peek Into the Past

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