by Dianna Stampfler
Surrounded by the majestic blue waters of the Great Lakes, Michigan is notably home to more lighthouses than any other state (120+) and more miles of freshwater coastline (3,288). Many of these lighthouses operate as historical museums and popular tourist attractions–and more than three dozen are even rumored to be haunted.
A handful of those beacons are open for group tours, with advanced reservations, for those wishing to do a bit of ghost hunting of their own.
Historic Fishtown in Leland, in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is home to the ferry that transports visitors to the North and South Manitou Islands–the latter offering a nice day trip excursion option including tours of the 100-foot tall South Manitou Island Lighthouse. Built in 1871, it was here that Aaron and Julia Sheridan worked, lived and raised their six sons.
Tragedy struck on March 15, 1878, when Aaron, Julia and their infant son, Robert, drowned when their ship went down right off the island’s coast. Rumors of hauntings at this light are often attributed to these three souls who perished that cold late winter day. For the ferry schedule, visit ManitouIslandTransit.com, or for details about the island and lighthouse, visit NPS.gov/slbe.
As many as five spirits are believed to exist at Seul Choix Point Lighthouse in Gulliver on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–the most dominant is that of Captain Joseph Willie Townshend, who died at the light of lung cancer in 1910. His body was embalmed in the basement of the Lake Michigan lighthouse and his body lay in state in the intimate parlor for about three weeks while his family made their way to the remote locale to pay their final respects. For decades, visitors to this museum have reported smelling the odor of his cigar smoke, among other strange activities. For museum information, visit GreatLakesLighthouse.com.
Perched up on a bluff overlooking the rocky shores of Lake Superior sits the current Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, constructed in 1866. Today’s museum staff and volunteers say that the bright red light is haunted by the spirit of a young girl from the early 1900s whom they call Jesse. Guided tours of the light are offered on a limited schedule (Tuesday through Sunday at 11:30 am, 1:00 pm and 2:30 pm). Visit MqtMaritimeMuseum.com for additional details.
Lake Superior’s “Graveyard of the Great Lakes” is home to more than 200 shipwrecks along a treacherous 80-mile stretch between Whitefish Point and Munising, including the well-known Edmund Fitzgerald that went down during the gales of November 1975. With so many lost souls at sea, one would expect this area to be riddled with spirits both at the US Coast Guard Station and Whitefish Point Light Station, both home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. Several paranormal groups have conducted investigations at this sight, with some interesting results. For information about tours, visit ShipwreckMuseum.com.
Just down the shore about 45 miles from Whitefish Point is Point Iroquois Lighthouse, along the beach where a major Native American massacre took place in the 1600s. Some suspect the spirits at this light may belong to the Iroquois warriors who were slaughtered on the beach during that battle with the Ojibwe.
Others say the ghosts are the men of the SS Myron, which sank in 1919 with all but the captain dying in the frigid November waters. For tour information, visit fs.usda.gov and search “Point Iroquois.”
Along the northeastern coast of Lake Huron sits the Old Presque Isle lighthouse, which was decommissioned in 1870 and replaced by a new taller light just up the road. Both are open for tours and both are said to be haunted.
The spirits of two different men have been seen here over the years–Don S. Olds, who was friends with the owner in the 1930s, and George Parris, who ran the museum and gift shop with his wife, Lorraine, from 1972 until his death in 1992. A phantom light has also been documented by passing ships, as well as by people in the nearby marina. For information on touring both the old and new light, visit PresqueIsleLighthouses.org for details.
At the tip of Michigan’s thumb, the current Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse is the second to stand in this area. For years, people have reported seeing the spirit of a woman dressed in a long white flowing gown walking the stairway inside the light. Most likely it is the ghost of Catherine Shook who tended the light from 1849 to 1851 as the first female keeper in Michigan after her husband, Peter, died during a boating accident. For tour information, visit PointeAuxBarquesLighthouse.org.
As Michigan’s oldest active lighthouse, Fort Gratiot has stood proudly along the southeastern shore of Lake Huron in Port Huron since 1828. For the past several years, the Motor City Ghost Hunters have offered public investigations of this haunted light in October. Over the course of six hours, participants move from building to building utilizing high-tech equipment such as EVP readers, spirit boxes and other paranormal paraphernalia to call out the entities who are believed to still reside here.
For tour information, visit PHMuseum.org or for information about the annual paranormal investigation, visit MotorCityGhostHunters.com.
Stories from 13 of these spirited lighthouses are featured in the new best-selling book from Arcadia Publishing/The History Press called Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses. To purchase an autographed copy for $19.99 plus shipping and handling, visit MiHauntedLighthouses.com.
— Dianna Stampfler is president of Promote Michigan.