Michigan Haunted Lighthouses

The aroma of cigar smoke drifting through the Seul Choix Point Lighthouse in Gulliver, a small fishing village in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is to be expected. After all Lighthouse Keeper Joseph Willie Townshend loved his stogies.

The only problem for those visiting today, Townshend died back in April 1910, his body embalmed in the lighthouse’s basement where in then lay in state in the upstairs parlor for three weeks as his family traveled to pay respects. Then, because the ground was frozen solid—after all the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a cold place in the winter—his body was returned to the basement until spring.

George and Sarah Sheridan. When George was young, he and his siblings watched in horror from the South Manitou Lighthouse where their father was keeper, watched as their parents disappeared during a storm along with their baby brother as they were trying to reach the mainland. The children walked the beaches for days hoping to discover their parents’ bodies but they were never recovered. George would later commit suicide.

“No wonder he haunts the place, right?” asks Dianna Stampfler, author of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses (Arcadia Publishing), noting that over the decades there have been dozens reports of the smell. “The keeper is clearly enjoying a stogie in the afterlife.”

Michigan, surrounded by water on three sides, has about 125 lighthouses and of those, 40 or more have a ghost story tied to them are said to be haunted.

White River Light. Photo courtesy of Chris Light.

Stampfler, President of Promote Michigan, an independent consulting company specializing in media & public relations, social media and event planning in the hospitality, tourism, entertainment, and culinary industries in Michigan tells the stories of 13 in her book.

Keeper Bill Robinson served 44 years as keeper at the White River Light Station and after dying his ghost remained, frequently walking up the tower steps to tend his light just as he had done in life. Nearly 100 years after his death Sarah Robinson’s ghost joined her husband—and no we don’t know what she was doing during all those years.

Aaron Sheridan.

“The curator of the museum there was dusting in a second story display room when she had to run downstairs to answer the phone,” says Stampfler. “When she returned, her dusting spray and rag had moved from one side of the display case to the other and the dust–which had been there when she left was gone. Now, I don’t want to live with a ghost – but the idea of one that cleans house is interesting.”

Stampfler began researching back in the late 1990s impressed about the stories she was hearing not only for their paranormal factors but also because they were unique stories about the keepers who dedicated their lives to the lighthouses.

” I should note that while the book has many ghost stories, it really is an historical work. There are dates and details about keepers and their families, shipwrecks, local industry and other things going on in the world at the time,” she says. “It’s also been popular with readers of all ages.”

Old Presque Isle. Photo courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

She also has some advice for those visiting Michigan lighthouses.

“Some people get nervous about haunted places – but let me assure you this isn’t like visiting the house from ‘Amityville Horror’ or ‘The Exorcist’,” says Stampfler. “The paranormal activity at our lighthouses really is really very mild. Footsteps, voices, things moving around without explanation. Really I think it is the keepers who were so dedicated to their jobs that they can’t leave. They love their light so much it will always be their home. Or, for those who died tragically in or near the lights, it may provide the only safe space to them.”

Seul Choix Point Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Carol Highsmith.

Autographed copies of Stampfler’s book can be purchased online at: www.MiHauntedLighthouses.com

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