The old lighthouses of the Great Lakes are believed to hold the unsettled spirits of those who kept them, and those who met tragic, untimely deaths.
The Great Lakes region was once a major hub for the shipping industry, with hundreds of ships traveling through their waters. Lighthouses were constructed in all five lakes to aid in the safe passage for the ships and their crews. But, at these often remote lighthouses, tragic, untimely deaths meant keepers and crew remained even after they died. These 11 lighthouses from Michigan to New York hold tales of unsettled spirits that can make any ghost hunter’s hair stand on end.
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Big Bay Point Lighthouse
WHERE: Marquette, Michigan (Lake Superior)
Big Bay Point Lighthouse guides ships past the rugged coastline of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Its first keeper, H. William Prior, appointed his teenage son George as his assistant. Tragedy struck 15 months later when George fell down the stairs and slashed his leg open to the bone. He would later succumb to his injuries and pass away in the hospital. After losing his son, William became depressed and disappeared into the woods. It would be 18 months before he was seen again, as a skeleton, hanging from a tree. Those who stayed at the lighthouse after his death reported cabinets slamming and seeing a spirit walking the grounds in Prior’s U.S. Life Saving service uniform.
INSIDER TIPToday, Big Bay Point Lighthouse is a Bed & Breakfast. However, you don’t need to be a guest to visit. Tours operate from June through September through the keeper’s house and lantern area.
Whitefish Point Lighthouse
WHERE: Paradise, Michigan (Lake Superior)
Located on the very end of Whitefish Point, all ships entering and leaving Lake Superior have to pass by Whitefish Point Lighthouse. Not only does Whitefish Point serve as the entry and exit point to the largest of the Great Lakes, but it is also located on a treacherous coastline that has claimed nearly 200 ships and as many as 100 lives. The souls of these sailors are said to be in limbo, taking up residence in the lighthouse. Those who stay at the lighthouse have reported doors opening on their own, the sensation of a gentle stroke, and items mysteriously moving.
INSIDER TIPThe lighthouse is located on the campus of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, where you can book a night at the crew’s quarters, meticulously restored to their original glory, from April through October.
Point Iroquois Lighthouse
WHERE: Brimley, Michigan (Lake Superior)
Point Iroquois Lighthouse is named after a 1662 battle wherein the local Ojibwa defended themselves against an Iroquois war party. The fighting occurred on the beach near where the lighthouse now stands. Local lore says that the restless spirits of the Iroquois, who lost the battle, still haunt the grounds, which are named in the native Algonkian as Nadouenigoning, meaning “Iroquois bones.”
But these restless souls aren’t the only spirits haunting the lighthouse. In 1919, a steamer ship sank just off the coast in the freezing waters of Lake Superior. The lighthouse keeper at the time, Elmer Byrnes, gathered the bodies as they washed ashore. The sailor’s souls are also said to wander the grounds of the lighthouse.
INSIDER TIPThe Point Iroquois Lighthouse is located in the Hiawatha National Forest where there are tons of outdoor recreation opportunities. The best time of year to visit is the autumn when there are less fewer biting flies.
WHERE: Mackinac Straits (Lake Michigan)
Located in the treacherous Straits of Mackinac sits the Waugoshance Shoal Lighthouse. It was the first lighthouse in the Great Lakes built completely surrounded by water. In the 1800s, the lighthouse was kept by a man named John Herman who was known as a drunk and a prankster. Legend says that one night, after too many drinks, he played a practical joke on his assistant by locking him in the lantern rooms. When the assistant finally made it out, John Herman was nowhere to be found. Many believe he fell into the lake and drowned. Those brave enough to keep the light after his death shared tales of chairs getting kicked out from under them and unexplained noises throughout the light.
Shepler’s Ferry from Mackinaw City runs lighthouse cruises that get you close to Waugoshance. Expert guides from the Lighthouse Keeper’s Association narrate the cruise with lighthouse history and lore.
White River Light Station
WHERE: Whitehall, Michigan (Lake Michigan)
The dedicated first keepers of the White River Light Station, William “Bill” Robinson III and his wife Sarah Cooper Robinson, still look out for the lighthouse even in death. The lighthouse exists thanks to Bill, who wanted to keep lumber ships safe as they navigated from Lake Michigan into White Lake to access a sawmill. Bill and Sarah were diligent keepers at the lighthouse for more than 40 years. Today, those who look after the lighthouse have told stories of Sarah dusting and doing house chores while Bill, with his unique gait thanks to the use of a cane in his later life, can be heard climbing the stairs to light the lantern.
INSIDER TIPBe sure to climb the stairs to the top of the tower for a view of the beautiful coast and sand dunes that drew tourists to the area from Chicago during the late 1800s.
Seul Choix Pointe Lighthouse
WHERE: Gulliver, Michigan (Lake Michigan)
Regarded as Michigan’s most haunted lighthouse, the Gulliver Historical Society has logged hundreds of ghost stories at Seul Choix Point Lighthouse. While it is believed there are up to five spirits that haunt it, there is one ghost who is the most prominent, the ghost of John Joseph Willie Townshend. Townshend was an avid cigar smoker in his life, though his wife Ruth didn’t allow him to smoke indoors. However, it seems Townshend is taking full advantage of smoking indoors in death as fresh cigar smoke can be smelled in the bedroom on the upper floor. Townshend would eventually pass away at the lighthouse, which is perhaps why his ghost still looks after it to this day.
INSIDER TIPWhen visiting, be sure to take a walk around the beautiful grounds and look for the miniature Seul Choix Lighthouse replica functioning as a birdhouse.
South Manitou Island Lighthouse
WHERE: South Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (Lake Michigan)
In the mid-1800s, South Manitou Island was a popular stopping point for ships traveling through the Straits of Mackinac, so the South Manitou Island Lighthouse was constructed. Life on a remote island for the lightkeepers required semi-frequent trips to the mainland to gather supplies. One fateful day in 1878, the first lightkeeper, Aaron Sheridan, and his wife, Julia, made the journey on a small fishing boat with their infant son. Upon return, the boat capsized and Aaron, Julia, and their son all drowned. Over the years, echoing voices, unexplained noises, and the sounds of footsteps believed to belong to the Sheridans have been reported at the lighthouse.
INSIDER TIPThe lighthouse is a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that was voted “The Most Beautiful Place in America” in 2011 by Good Morning America. Be sure to climb to the top of the tower to see the stunning vista.
Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse
WHERE: Port Hope, Michigan (Lake Huron)
The first keeper of the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse, Peter Shook, drowned after only a year of service. After Peter’s passing, the U.S. Lighthouse Service offered his position to Catherine, his widow, making her Michigan’s first female lightkeeper. However, her husband’s untimely death wasn’t her only misfortune. A few months later, the keeper’s house burned. Though it was quickly restored, Catherine resigned only a few years later and died nine years after that. Due to a short life filled with misfortunes, it’s believed her ghost still haunts the lighthouse. Reports of a mourning woman in all black are not uncommon, and many claim to have seen her in the second-story window.
INSIDER TIPWhen visiting in the summer, check the dates for the annual Heritage Festival. Each year the lighthouse grounds come alive with vendors, local bands, new museum exhibits, and more to raise money for the preservation of the lighthouse.
Fairport Harbor Lighthouse
WHERE: Fairport Harbor, Ohio (Lake Erie)
Just outside of Cleveland sits the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse that’s haunted by an unusual spirit. In the 1870s, the lightkeeper’s wife became bedridden. Numerous cats were brought in to keep her company during her final days, and when she died all but one gray cat disappeared. Years later, keepers told stories of seeing a ghost cat playing in the old family quarters. One keeper even claims to have felt a cat’s presence and weight on her chest while lying in bed. When the time (and technology) came to put in an air conditioner, the worker installing it found the mummified remains of that gray cat in the basement crawl space.
INSIDER TIPYou can see Sentinel, the ghost cat, on display in the lighthouse museum. Visit before September 20th, or make an appointment for a tour (offered year-round) with a small group to catch a glimpse of him.
West Pierhead Lighthouse
WHERE: Oswego, New York (Lake Ontario)
Storms on the Great Lakes can quickly turn deadly, as was the case in 1942 when a storm with hurricane-strength winds battered the West Pierhead Lighthouse. The lightkeeper at the time had been stuck in the lighthouse for four days without adequate food and supplies. When the storm quieted for a moment, the Coast Guard decided to launch a rescue attempt. Unfortunately, the mission ended in tragedy when the boat was slammed against the rocks by the waves killing six of the eight men on board. Today, during fierce Lake Ontario storms, people claim to hear the screams of those men who lost their lives on that fateful night.
INSIDER TIPThe lighthouse is available for tours and is accessible by boat (if you dare to make the same journey as the rescue team). Be sure to wear flat, rubber-soled shoes so you don’t slip!
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
WHERE: Toronto, Ontario CA (Lake Ontario)
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the Great Lakes region and one of the oldest buildings in Toronto, is haunted by its first keeper, John Paul Radelmüller. He is rumored to have been brutally murdered in 1815 by drunken sailors looking for bootlegged beer. The sailors allegedly tried to conceal their crimes by chopping up the corpse and hiding the remains. On misty evenings, it is said that ghostly moanings from Radelmüller can be heard on the lighthouse grounds.
INSIDER TIPThe Lighthouse is located on the Toronto Islands which have has plenty of things to do and see. Check out one of the pristine swimming beaches or rent a bike to cycle around the island after you visit the lighthouse.