American archaeologist Arthur Kinglsey Porter vanished from an Irish island in 1933, beginning a mystery that still captures the imagination to this day.
The July 8 disappearance of the Harvard university academic from the remote Atlantic island of Inishbofin even made the front page of the New York Times, with the headline that read ‘archaeologist lost from boat in storm.’
The inquest into his vanishing, the first to be held in Ireland without the discovery of a body, concluded that Porter had stumbled from a cliff while out for a walk, and washed out to sea.
Many locals, however, have a different theory: He faked his own death.
Now, almost 90 years later, Irish language channel TG4 will make a new attempt to find the truth in its documentary Ar Iarraidh (Missing).
American archaeologist Arthur Kinglsey Porter (pictured left with his wife Lucy) vanished from an Irish island in 1933, beginning a mystery that still captures the imagination to this day
The mystery surrounding Porter’s disappearance has entered into the folklore of the island, with people believing one of three things.
One theory is that he did in-fact suffer a fateful accident, and fell into the waters. This was his wife’s description that was accepted at the inquest.
A second theory says he committed suicide as he felt as if his life was falling apart around him, and a third is that – in order to escape – he faked his death and fled.
A fourth theory, involving the supernatural, involves a sarcophagus. In 1926 Porter removed the lid off the 11th-century Spanish tomb of Alfonso Ansúrez, and took it back with him to Harvard, where it was displayed in the Fogg Museum.
The lid was returned to Spain on July 8, 1933 – the day Porter vanished. Some suggest Porter’s death was a supernatural punishment for taking the lid.
Inishbofin’s cliffs are less cliffs and more rocky slopes, meaning anyone falling down them is unlikely to be killed. Because of this, few believe it was an accident that killed Porter. The other second and third theories are considered the most likely.
Porter was born into a wealthy New England family, and owned Glenveagh Castle in Co Donegal, the northwest of Ireland, around 12 miles south-east from Inishbofin – having purchased it for around £5,000 in 1929.
In addition to the stunning estate – which sits in Glenveagh National Park and on Lough Beagh – he also owned a cottage on Inishbofin, where he lived with his devoted wife Lucy – who travelled Europe with him for his research.
He was also a highly respected academic. He was chair of Harvard’s art history department, and was a renowned scholar of romanesque architecture.
But despite giving the outward appearance of living a perfect life, he was also deeply troubled. He was secretly gay, and took a young lover – Alan Campbell.
The July 8 disappearance of the Harvard university academic from the remote Atlantic island of Inishbofin (pictured) even made the front page of the New York Times, with the headline that read ‘archaeologist lost from boat in storm’
Porter was born into a wealthy New England family, and owned Glenveagh Castle (pictured) in the northwest of Ireland and around 12 miles south-east from Inishbofin
Lucy knew about his extramarital relationship, but Porter was terrified that Harvard may find out about his sexuality – a scandal which at the time would likely have put an end to his career. Meanwhile, Porter was also worried about his fortune that was running out amid the economic depression of the 1930s.
Author Lucy Costigan, who wrote a 2012 book ‘Glenveagh Mystery: the Life, Work and Disappearance of Arthur Kingsley Porter,’ told The Guardian that she inclines more to the theory of suicide.
Porter’s mother died when he was young, and his widower father scandalised Connecticut high society by chasing after much younger women. Because of this, Costigan said Porter was terrified of the prospect of a sexual scandal himself.
His marriage to Lucy hid his sexuality, but suspicion grew when he hired Campbell as an assistant at Boston’s Harvard University. Campbell was outwardly gay, and Harvard had a history of expelling gay people.
Campbell later left him, with Costigan telling The Guardian that Porter grew increasingly introverted as his fears of being ostracised grew.
Costigan, who has also co-authored a book about understanding suicide, believes his personal struggles led him to suicide. However, she said she would like to believe he faked his death.
Porter’s marriage to Lucy hid his sexuality, but suspicion grew when he hired Campbell as an assistant at Boston’s Harvard University. Campbell was outwardly gay, and Harvard had a history of expelling gay people. Pictured: Harvard is seen in 1943, a year after Porter vanished
‘The romantic version is that Porter continued with his travels,’ she said. ‘He would be free of Harvard and his marriage, that constrained him in some ways.
‘It would be lovely to think he got away and escaped it all and continued with his archaeology work under an assumed name, that he did find some peace.’
The TG4 documentary leans towards the theory that Porter was able to slip away from the island, pointing to the fact that he amended his will making Lucy his sole beneficiary three months before he vanished on July 8, 1933.
It also reports that no thorough search was done of the island after he disappeared, and Lucy behaved strangely in the immediate aftermath.
Just a few hours after he left, she began to write letter – that she never send – declaring that her husband had vanished, The Guardian says.
That same evening she travelled to the Irish mainland and told a friend: ‘Kingsley will not return tonight. Kingsley will never return.’
The documentary – which sees journalist Kevin Magee delving into the story – also highlights a fishing boat that was on the island the night before porter vanished, never mentioned at the inquest.
It also says the American was also fascinated with the Irish medieval monk Saint Columba – who sailed to exile in Scotland in the 500s. Porter also wrote a poem that uses the word free 21 times, the documentary points out.
TG4’s documentary includes interviews with Inishbofin locals who claim they saw Porter in Paris, Marseille, Spain and in India – suggesting he did continue his travels.
His grand nephew Scott Arneill has no doubts: ‘What I believe happened, to put it simply as possible, is that he faked his own death,’ he told the documentary.
Almost 90 years later, Irish language channel TG4 will make a new attempt to find the truth in its documentary Ar Iarraidh (Missing). Pictured: A still from the documentary