If by day you dare to visit Michigan haunted lighthouses, by night you’re sure to crave the warmth and security of a quality-assured bed and breakfast.
The following updated pairings of outstanding bed and breakfasts and Michigan haunted lighthouses are inspired by Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, a 2019 book by Michigan author Dianna Higgs Stampfler, who has been promoting the state’s tourism industry for more than two decades.
Some dismiss stories of ghostly happenings at Michigan lighthouses as the product of overactive imaginations. Others over the years have been adamant in their belief that they experienced otherworldly phenomena at a Michigan lighthouse that cannot be explained in any logical way.
“Nearly one-fifth of all the lights in the state, past and present, have a ghostly story to be told,” the author says in her introduction to the book.
Michigan has more than 120 lighthouses, more than any other state. (How many have you checked off your list?)
Except where noted, the historical facts, paranormal speculations, and quotations in this article are drawn from Stampfler’s excellent book.
Keeper’s Dwelling, South Haven
Make an appointment in advance if you want to visit the one-time keeper’s residence for the South Haven Light. Owned by the City of South Haven, it now houses the Michigan Maritime Museum, a library and research facility. If you lack a reservation to visit the keeper’s quarters, you can still walk out on the pier to view the red lighthouse, which marks the entrance to the Black River from Lake Michigan.
Haunted? People who have spent time in the keeper’s dwelling “have long shared accounts of mysterious goings-on inside the home, from the creaking of floorboards upstairs when no one was there to opening and closing of doors,” according to Stampfler’s book.
Resident spirit: Probably James Samuel Donahue, late 1800s keeper who had lost a leg in the Civil War. Imagine how challenging it must have been for him to ascend the narrow stairs of the tower multiple times per day carrying a cast-iron pail of kerosene while using crutches or walking on a wooden peg leg.
Stay: Victoria Resort and Bed & Breakfast in South Haven.
White River Light Station, Whitehall
The heyday of cargo vessels passing between Lake Michigan and White River occurred during the lumbering and railroad building era in the latter half of the 1800s.
Haunted? Long before anyone even thought of building the White River Light, William Robinson III was on duty. Each night in the shipping season, he carried a lantern out to the entrance of the White River and waved it for approaching ships. When the lighthouse was completed in 1876, Robinson became the keeper, a job he held for more than 40 years.
A woman who served as curator and lived at the lighthouse for 29 years, said she sometimes heard footsteps — Robinson’s? –on the stairs leading to the lantern room and found it a reassuring presence. She also experienced a spirit who helped with the dusting. (It’s all in the book.)
South Manitou Island Lighthouse
Take a ferry from Leland in season to visit. This Lake Michigan island once was known for the purity of its seed crops as well as for fishing and lumber, but today it is part of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. (Ferry service was not available in 2020 but is expected to be restored in 2021.)
Not only the lighthouse but also the former lifesaving stations and, for that matter, the entire island have long been the subject of ghost stories.
Encounter: Excerpt from a 2003 article by Christina Campbell in the Glen Arbor Sun: “A female ranger was in the shower when she heard sounds of a sudden bustle and strange male voices yelling, ‘Hurry up! Hurry up.’ Yet she knew she was the only person in the building.”
Stay: Innisfaire B&B, close to Suttons Bay or Glen Arbor B&B and Cottages in Glen Arbor. Or, Leland is a scenic 40-minute drive from either Cottonwood Inn B&B, Empire, or from downtown area B&Bs in Traverse City.
Seul Choix Point Lighthouse, Gulliver
According to Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, Seul Choix (sis-SHWAH) is “often regarded as one of Michigan’s most haunted lighthouses” with “as many as five ghosts” hanging around the lighthouse, located on the south shore of the Upper Peninsula.
Cigar-smoking spirit? Nearly 110 years after the death of keeper John Joseph Willie Townshend, his spirit rearranges place settings on the kitchen table before the next day’s tour groups arrive and pulls back curtains as if to see who’s outside.
If you go there, you may get a sniff of Townshend’s cigar. A historian and ghost hunter wrote that on one occasion he “was overwhelmed” not only by the aroma of old smoke, which had been reported by many others, “but also the distinct smell of a fresh cigar passing right under my nose.”
Stay: Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast is 80 minutes west in Gladstone. US-2, a popular east-west route in the UP, goes right through Gulliver, the closest town to Seul Choix Point.
Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Big Bay
This lighthouse overlooking Lake Superior — shown at sunset in the large photo atop this article — is the exact place to stay while you decide if it’s haunted. Why? Because it has been welcoming B&B guests since 1980s, and some have reported paranormal encounters.
When MBBA queried Nick Korstad, Big Bay Point Lighthouse B&B’s owner, he said that previous owners “had quite a bit of paranormal encounters, but since I’ve been here, I haven’t really noticed much. My first week, I had an invisible person walk up the basement stairs, through the kitchen, behind me in the dining room, and out the front door. That was the last I heard.” He added, “My last lighthouse was haunted, so maybe I’m immune.”
Korstad, an experienced innkeeper and lighthouse preservationist, has made major upgrades to the accommodations and the property since acquiring the lighthouse in the spring of 2018.
Marquette Harbor Lighthouse
Visit this haunted lighthouse while staying at Big Bay Point Lighthouse B&B 31 miles northwest.
Boy? Girl? More than one child? Taylor Adams, who worked at the Marquette Maritime Museum, said in a TV interview that at the lighthouse she would sometimes see a little girl, red hair, green eyes, barefoot. “And she wears like a little Sunday’s best dress. It looks like from about the nineteen-teens or so…. Lots of times you’ll hear her skipping around the lighthouse and hear giggles and nobody’s there. She’s a really nice spirit.”
Adams called the child “Jesse,” but that doesn’t match up with the names, gender or ages of children associated with the lighthouse’s history. Still, it stirs the imagination.
Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, Presque Isle
The Old Presque Isle Light served Lake Huron mariners for only 30 years before it was replaced in 1871. It had been deemed too short and in the wrong location, and it had begun to deteriorate. Various private owners had ideas for the lighthouse, but little follow-through until the 1960s, when an owner saw the potential of attracting tourists with a museum and tours.
In 1972, George and Lorraine Parris became live-in caretakers and curators.
Strange lights… George?: After George Parris died in 1992, Lorraine and many others, including people on ships, began periodically seeing — from a distance — a glow emanating from the top of where the lighthouse stands. And yet power to the top of the lighthouse was cut off decades earlier.
Stay: Presque Isle Lodge, a Bed and Breakfast Inn three miles away, offers a classic, seasonal, Michigan lodge experience. Couples often wed at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse (or the nearby New Presque Isle Lighthouse) and hold their reception at Presque Isle Lodge.
Laurie Spencer, whose family owns Presque Isle Lodge, told MBBA: “The stories are true of the light appearing, as I have seen it myself.”
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Port Huron
Since 1825, Michigan’s oldest lighthouse has signaled to southbound mariners the transition from Lake Huron to the St. Clair River. For many years the Blue Water Bridges linking the U.S. and Canada have served as a prominent landmark, but that was not available during the light station’s first century.
Haunted? In the past decade, the Motor City Ghost Hunters have made several paranormal investigations of the lighthouse and associated buildings on the property and have documented multiple encounters with spirits.
Stay: Adventure Inn B&B in Burtchville Township, on Lake Huron 12 miles north of the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse.
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses by Dianna Higgs Stampfler was published by The History Press, in March 2019. It is available here.