This is the last article in my series of “Haunted Lighthouses of America.” This article covers the ghostly hauntings of the America’s northern coast.
Big Bay Point Lighthouse in Michigan seems to hold a keeper who insists on still doing his job. William Prior – – the house’s first keeper – – was so happy in his lighthouse home that he seems unwilling to vacate it some 105 years later.
The beautiful lighthouse, which sits atop a 60-foot bluff, is now a popular bed and breakfast operated by Linda Gamble. For years, Linda willingly shared the house with her spirit friend. But eventually she grew tired of the slamming doors and cupboards and the repositioning of furniture and other items. So a few years ago, she went on a rampage and demanded that William get out. He hasn’t been heard from since.
Old Presque Isle Lighthouse of Michigan was decommissioned in 1870 because ship captains kept reporting that the light could barely be seen even on clear nights. The lighthouse was left to rot until a family named Stebbins bought it from the U.S. government in the early 1900’s. They rebuilt the facility as their summer home, eventually opening the restored keeper’s dwelling and lighthouse to tourists.
George Stebbins loved showing visitors around the property. He wove wonderful fantasies for the crowds about the lonely, desolate lives led by lighthouse keepers. Locals and visitors alike adored him. They flocked to the property to hear his newest tales.
In 1992, George died. His wife, Lorraine was inconsolable and spent quite a bit of time away from the cottage. However, one night, returning from a long drive, Lorraine spotted a light in the tower window. She couldn’t believe her eyes because her husband had removed the light bulb and wiring to years before, since it was illegal to display a light in a lighthouse no longer serving in that capacity.
The next morning she visited the tower room to make certain that someone had not reconstructed the light. The room was empty and the light bulb was no where to be found.
Soon other nearby residents also began reporting a light in the tower. Even the Coast Guard, who flew night mission over the peninsula, reported seeing the yellowish cast of what appeared to be a lit oil lamp. The problem was that there was no such lantern anywhere in the house.
The final clue was a little girl, who upon visiting the lighthouse, made a startling report. She said that she saw a man at the top of the stairs that led to the lantern room. She gave a detail description of him as a tall, lanky man with a snow-white beard. She even remembered that he wore glasses. When Lorraine showed the little girl a picture of her husband, the child confirmed it was indeed the man she had seen.
Over the years people continued to report seeing George’s light on dark, stormy nights, guiding them safely through the fog on a dangerous stretch of road near the lighthouse. Several credited the light for saving their lives. The Coast Guard confirms the phenomenon as well, characterizing it as “unidentified.”
Seul Choix Point Light, Michigan, remains an operating lighthouse, although the Coast Guard automated it in the 70’s. A former keeper who lost his brother and his own life there supposedly haunts it.
James Townsend a sea captain often visited his brother Joseph Townsend at the lighthouse that he tended. However, in his mid-sixties the captain took ill and moved in so that his brother could care for him. His was housed in a room at the top of the tower. Whatever illness plagued Joseph, he was apparently in terrible pain and could be heard screaming in agony both day and night until is death in August of 1910. His brother was inconsolable over the loss of his brother and began smoking cigars even more heavily than he had before.
Today, visitors to the lighthouse report the smell of heavy cigar smoke, even when there is no one around smoking anything at all. They also report the sound of footsteps throughout the facility, but particularly in the upper tower. One such report involved a carpenter who said he heard footsteps whenever he was hammering. When he stopped, so would the footsteps at first. Soon, however, the footsteps continued even when he stopped hammering. Frightened, the construction work left without completing the job.
Other guests report that the captain likes to play pranks like turning the hat on a mannequin dressed in lightkeeper’s garb backwards. Sometimes, cigars appear in the breast pocket of the mannequin, even though no cigars are available anywhere on site. On other occasions the captain has supposedly turned the silverware upside down on the table; something he always did when he was alive. Other times, he seems to close the Bible that is part of a nearby display.
A few visitors even claim to have caught a glimpse of the keeper out of the corner of their eye. Others say they have seen his reflection in mirrors and glass. None felt frightened or threatened in any way; just a warm feeling of being welcomed into a home.
White River Lighthouse of Lake Michigan owed its construction to the heroism of Captain William Robinson. The town had petitioned more than once for a lighthouse but was repeatedly turned down. Therefore, Robinson took it upon himself to warn people night-after-night by waving his lantern in the air. Finally, a lighthouse was granted to the area in 1875 and Robinson became its first keeper. It is reported that he and his wife Sarah were very happy there.
In 1919, Robinson was forced to retire after watching his wife die prematurely and his grandchildren grow up and leave the area. The thought of abandoning his post broke the keeper’s heart and he died the night before he was scheduled to give up his post.
However, Karen McDonnell, the curator for the museum now housed there, doesn’t believe that Robinson or his wife ever left. She reports that one day, she left a dust rag near a certain display case to attend to a problem. When she returned, she found that the rag had been moved and that the case had been beautifully dusted. She also claims finding portraits moved on the walls even when no one else was in the facility.
Visitors report sounds emanating from the tower and lighthouse steps; sounds that sound suspciously like someone walking with a cane. William Robinson walked with such a cane. Most believe that Sarah and William continue to inhabit the home where they were so happy; remaining together in death as they had in life.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts is irrelevant. What is interesting is the many unique and strange stories that have sprung up over hundreds of years with regard to America’s lighthouses. Can every observer be wrong? Is everyone a liar? That seems unlikely and the truth is “there is more to heaven and earth than can be dreamt of. . .”