Haunted Lighthouses: Scary Tales of the Great Lakes

Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state and about 40 of those are rumored to be haunted by the spirits of former keepers, mariners and others with ties to these historic beacons.

Inside the pages of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, long-time researcher, writer and promoter of all things Michigan, Dianna Stampfler, shares stories of those who dedicated their lives — and afterlives — to protecting the Great Lakes’ shoreline. Her second book, Death & Lighthouse on the Great Lakes, Stampfler delves into the historic true crime cold case files that have baffled lighthouse lovers for as many as two centuries.

Throughout the fall season, Stampfler will be speaking at libraries around the state, sharing her lively and upbeat presentation about these lights. Copies of her books will be available for purchase and signing at every program.

Sun, Oct 9, 2022
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Elk Rapids District Library, Elk Rapids, MI
Tue, Oct 11, 2022
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Rauchholz Memorial Library, Hemlock, MI
Wed, Oct 12, 2022
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Northville District Library, Northville, MI
Wed, Oct 19, 2022
6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Reese Unity District Library, Reese, MI
Thu, Oct 20, 2022
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Otsego District Library, Otsego, MI
Sun, Oct 23, 2022
3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Sanilac County Historic Village & Museum, Port Sanilac, MI
Wed, Nov 2, 2022
6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes
St. Clair County Library – Main Branch, Port Huron, MI

For the complete schedule of upcoming events (including other topics beyond lighthouses), visit the Promote Michigan Speaker’s Bureau online.

About Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses

Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state, with more than 120 dotting its expansive Great Lakes shoreline. Many of these lighthouses lay claim to haunted happenings. Former keepers like the cigar-smoking Captain Townshend at Seul Choix Point and prankster John Herman at Waugoshance Shoal near Mackinaw City maintain their watch long after death ended their duties. At White River Light Station in Whitehall, Sarah Robinson still keeps a clean and tidy house, and a mysterious young girl at the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse seeks out other children and female companions. Countless spirits remain between Whitefish Point and Point Iroquois in an area well known for its many tragic shipwrecks.

About Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes

Losing one’s life while tending to a Great Lakes lighthouse — or any navigational beacon anywhere in the world for that matter — sadly wasn’t such an unusual occurrence. The likelihood of drowning while at sea or becoming injured while on the job ultimately leading to death were somewhat common back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Death by murder, suicide or other unnatural and tragic causes, while rare, are not unheard of. In fact, more than dozen lighthouse keepers around the Great Lakes met their maker at the hands of others – by fire, poisoning, bludgeoning and other unknown means. A handful of these keepers, either because of depression or sheer loneliness, took their own lives. A few we may never know the true story, as the deaths now 100 or more years ago, weren’t subjected to the forensic scrutiny that such crimes are given today.

In the pages of Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes: A History of Misfortune & Murder, you’ll find an amalgamation of true crime details, media coverage and historical research which brings the stories to life…despite the deaths of those featured.

Stampfler has been professionally writing and broadcasting since high school. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English with emphasis in Community Journalism and Communications with emphasis in radio broadcasting from Western Michigan University. She is a member of the Midwest Travel Journalists Association, Historical Society of Michigan, Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, Great Lakes Maritime Museum, Association for Great Lake Maritime History, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, Michigan Maritime Museum, Friends of Pilot & Plum Island Lighthouse, National Museum of the Great Lakes and West Michigan Tourist Association.

Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes

Great Lakes Lighthouse: Death, true crime, suicides, and murder.

         Combining an intense interest in both true crime and maritime history, Dianna Higgs Stampfler’s latest book, Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes: A History of Misfortune & Murder (History Press 2022), recounts the darker stories of  the fascinating lighthouses lining the shores of the Great Lake states.

         Stampfler, whose previous book was Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, first started researching lighthouses 25 years ago while working for the West Michigan Tourist Association and continued after starting her own business, Promote Michigan. But even she made new discoveries

         “Many of the locales, lights, and keepers were new to me, as were their stories,” says Stampfler, who is a member of many maritime and lighthouse organizations. “Some of the stories were so tragic that newspaper coverage was significant. Many stories even appeared in papers throughout the country, which emphasizes their scope.”

         Take the story of head keeper, George Genry, and his assistant, Edward Morrison who both disappeared from their posts on Grand Island in June of 1908.

         “They just vanished,” says Stampfler. “Everything was left at this remote lighthouse including provisions on the dock, coats on the hook, and food on the stove. A month later, what was determined to be Morrison’s battered and decomposed body was found floating in a boat near the shore. A month later, the remains of what they determined to be Genry were found on a nearby beach. There are several theories about how the two men died, some more nefarious or controversial than others, but the exact truth will never be known.”

         The earliest story in her book dates back to the beginning of the 19th century at Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in Toronto – the earliest and longest standing lighthouse on the Great Lakes. In 1809, John Paul “J.P.” Radelmüller, a German immigrant, was appointed as lighthouse keeper for Gibraltar Point. Radelmüller had an interesting history, having worked as a servant for the Duke of Gloucester before moving to Upper Canada.

         “Much of his early history is documented by J.P. himself,” says Stampfler noting that a seven-page handwritten letter he wrote is cataloged at the Library and Archives Canada. “Some believe J.P. was a homebrewer or bootlegger, and that it was through these activities that his murder occurred. Two men from a local military outpost were charged with his 1815 death, but they were acquitted of all charges.”

         Stampfler discovered this story through a chat board where another historic lighthouse enthusiast, Eamonn O’Keeffe has been extensively researching Radelmüller, Indeed, her own research encompassed Googling, old newspaper archives, local libraries, maritime based historical societies, and genealogical sites.

She also visited island lighthouses such as Grand, South Bass, and the many in Door County, Wisconsin.

         “I went not only to do research but also to walk the grounds and see the lights,” she says. “That really helped me connect to them.”

         Autographed copies of Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes for $21.99 (plus shipping/handling and tax)are available at PromoteMichigan.com. The book is also available through online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as in local bookstores.

         For Stampfler’s upcoming book events, visit promotemichigan.com/speakers-bureau

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

“I live just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and I’m not sure I would have move back to Wisconsin after living in Utah and Idaho after college if it the lake wasn’t here,” says Dan Egan, a senior water policy fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences. “Milwaukee wouldn’t be Milwaukee without Lake Michigan.”

“The Great Lakes are a trove of freshwater like nowhere else,” says Dan Egan, author of the New York Times bestseller The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. “They contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, and there are about 40 million people who live in the Great Lakes basin. The lakes matter to us for many reasons—economically, culturally and, for me, emotionally.”

Dan Egan

              Indeed, for Egan, a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who has covered the Great Lakes for over a decade, it’s not just a job or the realization that these bodies of water are important for commerce but also because they define a region.

              “I live just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and I’m not sure I would have move back to Wisconsin after living in Utah and Idaho after college if it the lake wasn’t here,” says Egan, a senior water policy fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences. “Milwaukee wouldn’t be Milwaukee without Lake Michigan.”

              For those of us who grew up in Northwest Indiana, that same feeling prevails. Lake Michigan is part of our history and our present from the industries that lined its shores and made this area a powerhouse in manufacturing and shipping to the beauty of the dunes and beaches and all the recreational opportunities they offers, it’s all encompassing. But Egan sees the Great Lakes as being more fragile than we realize.

              “When you look out at the lake, you see this beautiful body of water but there’s so much going on that you don’t see,” he says.

              From the alewives that plagued the beaches back in the 1970s to new dangers, Egan says many of the difficulties with the Great Lakes began when they were opened up to the ocean by building the St. Lawrence Seaway, allowing large ships to bring in such invasive organisms as zebra and quagga mussels. Each year, it costs millions of dollars to remove these mussels from water intake plants.  

              “No one had ever heard of these before 2000,” he says, noting that while the shipping industry has taken steps to eliminate these unwelcome passengers, the technology is not enough to completely stop them from hitching a ride into our waters.

              In ways, it’s been one crisis after another. The Clean Water Act of 1972 helped clean up the pollution that industries and cities were dumping into the water by holding them accountable. But then came the invasive species.

              “Lake Erie, the smallest of the lakes, is probably in the worse shape,” says Egan, “because of its algae blooms and dead zones. But all the lakes are vulnerable.”

              Interestingly, Egan says that global shipping accounts for less than 5% of the traffic on the Great Lakes which he describes as being equivalent one train a day, yet they are the major cause of the problems impacting the lakes’ ecosystems.

Egan thinks it’s important for people to know the issues putting the lakes in jeopardy.

              “An informed public is an empowered public,” he says. “I hope this book gives a baseline knowledge about these glorious lakes.”

Ifyougo:

What: Dan Egan talk and book signing

When: Wednesday, January 15 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., Chicago, IL 60605

Cost: Free; seating is first come, first served. Books are available for purchase and Egan will be autographing books at the end of the program.

FY: 312-747-4300; chipublib.org

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