Why Fire Island and Why The Madonna Ghost

By Linda Maria Frank
One of the first questions anyone asks me about the book is why I chose the title, The Madonna Ghost. Some readers think that it is a reference to the singer, Madonna. It is not. The original meaning of the word, Madonna, is an Italian formal form of address for a woman, meaning literally, my lady. It has come to refer to the Mother of Christ in the Christian religion as illustrated by many works of art. So, a Madonna figure is a mother figure, most commonly a mother with child.

The Madonna Ghost is just that. She is a woman wandering the earth, unable to achieve peace because of a broken heart over the fate of her child. She and her child are ship-wrecked off the coast of Long Island and, for over one hundred years she has been sited by members of the United States Life Saving Service, beach combers and even parapsychologists who study sightings of people who should have gone to their final reward some time in the past. The description of the ghost is, of course, the fiction found in the book.

Fire Island has a history of piracy, bootlegging, smuggling and otherwise illegal events as well as your basic abnormal and spooky goings-on. When Annie Tillery, our curious young detective goes to Fire Island on vacation and tells her hosts, Doc Egan and his very hot nephew, Ty Egan, that she loves ghost stories, the “fun” begins. Ty has done odd jobs for Alice D’Elia, a neighbor of Ty’s and Doc’s, and an island historian. Alice also has a flair for the “paranormal” or events that seem to exist in another dimension, like ghosts. Together, Ty, Alice and Annie plan to see if the ghost will appear at the next new moon. You are in for a treat with this story if you are intrigued by ghosts.

Let me tell you about my very own unsettling Fire Island story. A few years ago I did volunteer work at the lighthouse on Fire Island. One of my jobs was to take visitors to the top of the lighthouse, about 180 steps up a circular staircase. At the top there is an observation deck where you can walk out and go around the cylindrical frame of the light house to get a view in all directions.

One day a very pleasant young man arrived at the lighthouse and requested the tower tour. I don’t remember his name. It was a quiet day at the lighthouse, not too many visitors. We proceeded alone to the top huffing and puffing (well I huffed and puffed). At the top he looked out over the Great South Bay to three little dumplings of islands and let out a sigh, “I just wanted to see this place. That’s where my friend, Ty, died.”

At the sound of that name I froze and asked him the details of his friend’s life and death. He told me that Ty, who was in his thirties and a talented artist, liked to get on his boat and anchor off the little islands to get some peace and inspiration. One night he was anchored out and he must have gone to check the anchor or heard a strange noise. They surmised that he tripped, fell over-board and hit his head. They found him floating in the bay.

I knew a Ty when he was a teenager, a budding artist, and a bit of a rebel. I asked my companion what Ty’s last name was. When he told me my heart flip-flopped. It was the same Ty. The sky had clouded over by then, giving a chill to the air, the ever-present breeze moaning as it entered the cylindrical shaft of the lighthouse. I gasped thinking how heart broken his parents whom I used to see often, must have been. It took me a few hours to shake off the very eerie feeling this experience had given me, and still does. Ty Egan, Annie’s boy friend, is named after the Ty who drowned in sight of the lighthouse. It made me wonder about the many other weird things that have happened on Fire Island.

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* The Madonna Ghost has earned the distinct “Rising Star–Editor’s Choice” award from Barnes & Noble book stores. To learn more about the book or to purchase through their site, please visit

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