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Illuminating “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” Just in Time for Halloween

Every fall, a growing interest in the paranormal means that people around Michigan (and beyond) begin talking about the state’s many spirited sites…most notably, it’s historic lighthouses. Of the more than 125 lighthouses in the state, 30 or so are also rumored to be haunted…and 13 of those are included in the pages of the best-selling book Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” by Dianna Stampfler.

“If you’re going to talk about a specific number of haunted sites, 13 seems like the appropriate number don’t you think?” questions Stampfler. “I’ve been gathering these tales since the late 1990s and its funny that people never tire of hearing about the disembodied voices, unexplained sounds and other activity attributed to ghosts – many of them former keepers who have chosen to remain on the job so to speak, even after death.” 

Seul Choix Point Lighthouse in Gulliver, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has the highest number of ghost stories collected over the years. And while as many as five spirits are believed to reside at this remote light on the northern Lake Michigan shoreline, the most noted is that of former Keeper Joseph Willie Townshend. This seasoned keeper died in 1910 of what they suspect of lung cancer and even today, visitors to this lighthouse museum report smelling the pungent odor of his cigars as they walk throughout the home.

One would expect many lost spirits along the Lake Superior shoreline near Whitefish Point, where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in November 1975. It is one of more than 240 shipwrecks in this dangerous stretch known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes.” Yet, paranormal investigators have captured the apparition of a young girl inside the lighthouse and they believe it is Bertha Endress – granddaughter of one-time keeper Robert Carlson – who lived into her 90s and was helpful in restoration efforts here with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

Fort Gratiot in Port Huron is Michigan’s oldest lighthouse, dating back to 1825. Several spirits reside here as well – including former Keeper Frank Kimball. Public and private investigations over the years have produced a series of interesting photos, videos and audio recordings attributed to him and others who have ties to this Lake Huron lighthouse.

“We participated in one of these investigations ourselves in October 2018,” Stampfler says. “We witnessed bizarre flashlight activities, voices coming through the spirit box and even have a few intriguing photographs on our phones which we can’t explain. Even other ghost hunters are having trouble determining how these images came to be.”

Other lighthouses featured in the book include the keeper’s residence in South Haven, White River Light Station, South Manitou Island Lighthouse, Waugoshance Shoal Light, Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, Point Iroquois, Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, Saginaw River Rear Range Lighthouse and Point aux Barques.

Stampfler has been researching Michigan’s lighthouses since 1997 when she worked for the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA) in Grand Rapids. Her public presentations — full of tidbits, images and lore — soon followed. In recent years, her casual interest in the ghost stories have turned into a full-fledged interest in the investigative side of things. “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouse” is her first book, published in March 2019 by The History Press.

 In 2004, Stampfler left WMTA to launch her own consulting company called Promote Michigan. A writer since childhood growing up Plainwell, Michigan (now residing in Walloon Lake), she holds a bachelor’s degree in English with emphasis in Community Journalism and Communications with emphasis in radio broadcasting from Western Michigan University. Stampfler is a member of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, Great Lakes Maritime Museum, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, Historical Society of Michigan, Michigan Maritime Museum and National Museum of the Great Lakes.