The Spirit of Michigan’s Lighthouses

Michigan proudly boasts more miles of freshwater coastline than any other state, so it makes sense that the Great Lakes State also has the highest number of lighthouses in the country…at more than 120. Dating back to the 1820s, these lighthouses have protected the shoreline and guided vessels that supported a multitude of industries from iron ore mining to lumbering, fishing to agriculture and tourism from the early days of steamships to today’s recreational vessels.

And while today these lights are all electrified and automated, that wasn’t the case in the early days. Throughout the 1800s and into the mid-1900s, these beacons were tended by a dedicated group of individuals known as lighthouse keepers. Some moved around the region from light to light, while others served decades at one dedicated light. Racking up twenty, thirty and even forty years, it was more than just a job to these
individuals – it was their life’s passion. Even after death in some cases, the spirits of these keepers remain permanent residents within their stately beacons.

In all, more than 40 of Michigan’s lighthouses have some type of ghost story attached to them. And among the pages of Dianna Higgs Stampfler’s best-selling book “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses,” the tales of 13 different lights are shared in historic and haunting detail.

From the one-legged keeper James Samuel Donahue who tended the South Haven Lighthouse for 35 years to William Robinson who helped build the White River Light Station in Whitehall before being named its keeper for 44 years, the stories are rich with fact and lore. Did Keeper John Herman really die by falling over the edge of the Waugoshance Shoal Lighthouse near Mackinaw City on October 14, 1900 after locking his assistant keeper in the tower? And what about the cigar smoking Joseph Willie Townshend at Seul Choix Point Lighthouse in Gulliver?

Do you dare spend the night at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse, northwest of Marquette…it has operated as a bed-and-breakfast since the 1980s but don’t be surprised if former keeper William Prior makes a visit to your room in the middle of the night. As many as five spirits are known at Whitefish Point Light Station – home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. You can also spend the night in their Coast Guard Station – but again, be prepared for overnight guests not of this world.

On Lake Huron, people have reported seeing the light shining off and on at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse – but the light has been inactive since 1870, so the source of the ghost light can’t be explained. Most think it is the work of former caretaker George Parris who died in 1992. In Port Huron, the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse has the distinction of being the oldest operating light in the state – complete with a handful of spirits like former keeper Frank Kimball and one-time museum volunteer Lighthouse Bob Sanford.

Throughout the coming weeks, presentations of “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” will be hosted at libraries around Michigan. This lively, historic and haunting program brings the stories from the book to live and is sure to entertain audiences of all ages. Visit Promote Michigan for a speaking schedule.

Those interested in more spirited history about these and other Michigan beacons can purchase an autographed copy of “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” at for $19.99 plus tax, shipping/handling.

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