The Keepers Behind Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses

What is it about lighthouses that keeps spirits lingering, long after the lights have been extinguished? Perhaps it is an undying passion for these beloved beacons or maybe it is a tragic loss of loved ones that ties these ghosts to these hallowed grounds. With more lighthouses than any other state, many of Michigan’s nearly 120 lights remain home to the restless souls of their former keepers. Guest blogger Dianna Stampfler gives the story behind a few keepers of Michigan’s haunted lighthouses.

Photo of James Donahue

James Donahue, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Captain James S. Donahue was a wounded Civil War soldier when he was appointed the keeper of the South Haven Lighthouse in 1874. Having lost a leg in battle, the physical demands of tending were even more taxing for him. Yet, during his 35 years of service, he is credit with saving more than a dozen lives. Today, the keeper’s residence sits perched atop a bluff overlooking the Black River and out to Lake Michigan and the 35-foot red tower. The Michigan Maritime Museum uses the building as an archive and research facility, and many have reported sounds they attribute to Donahue. Footsteps, self-opening doors and eerie sounds are among the unexplainable occurrences.

Some may argue that the White River Light Station in Whitehall might never have been built had it not been for Captain William Robinson, who moved to the area in 1860s with his wife, Sarah, and seven of their eventually 13 children. A thriving lumbering industry brought them there from England, and Robinson had hoped he would be able to find work to support his growing family. With the amount of traffic traveling in and out of the White River, Robinson was surprised there was no light to guide their safe passage.

He began petitioning the lighthouse service to have a beacon built, and in the interim would hang a lantern on a pole at the end of the channel every night to aid the passing ships. When the light was constructed and lit in 1875, the Robinsons were appointed the first keepers. For nearly 50 years, the Robinson faithfully kept his light shining—passing away there in 1919 at the age of 87. Yet, he and Sarah are still said to be the permanent residents of the home. While Bill prefers to walk up the spiral staircase to lantern room, Sarah finds peace in an upstairs bedroom where her youngest children slept.

Photo of Captain Townsend

Captain Townsend, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Visitors to Seul Choix Point Lighthouse in Gulliver, south of US2 in the Upper Peninsula, have been documenting strange activities there for decades. From the pungent odor of cigar smoke, to hazy faces in bedroom mirrors and moving furniture, the antics of Captain Joseph Willie Townsend are never-ending. Appointed in 1902, his tenure was cut short after he passed away in 1910.

Given the remote locale and the time period, the Captain’s body was embalmed in the basement of the light and his body lay in state in the parlor for nearly three weeks to allow family the time they needed to trek to the U.P. to pay their respects. Perhaps that is why Townsend lingers on. Members of the historical society who maintain the lighthouse complex have collected countless reports, photographs, videos and other “evidence” of the keeper’s presence. There’s even a book, “Spirits at Seul Choix Pointe” by Marilyn S. Fischer, which features many of the more noteworthy ghost stories.

Seul Choix Lighthouse

Seul Choix, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Spending the night in a haunted lighthouse may be more than you bargained for, but it’s what you get at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse B&B located northwest of Marquette. Set along the shores of Lake Superior, the first keeper at this 1896 light was H. William Prior. About five years into his service, he enlisted the official help of his son, George, as an assistant keeper. However, that arrangement was short lived for both of them.

George had an accident, which eventually lead to his death. The grief-stricken father was last seen headed into the woods. It was a year later, in 1902, when a hunter found Prior’s skeleton hanging in a nearby tree. Innkeepers attribute the slamming of cupboard doors in the kitchen to an angry Prior, yet according to reports from paranormal teams who have visited the light, as many as five spirits are present.

Big Bay

Big Bay, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

When Saginaw River Range Lighthouse keeper Peter Brawn became disabled and bedridden shortly after his appointment in 1864, his wife Julia was quick to step in and fill his shoes as the acting keeper. Following his death in 1873, she remained in the head position in an official capacity and her son, DeWitt, became her assistant. Within a short period of time, Julia married a man named George Way and she was subsequently demoted while her new husband took the helm. He ended up dying at the lighthouse in 1883, after which Julia and her son left lighthouse service. Today, the property is private and under restoration but those who have had access report hearing footsteps, voices and other interesting sounds that may be attributed to the two keepers (and husbands of Julia) who died there.

Photo of Julia Tobey Brawn Way

Julia Tobey Brawn Way, Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler

Have you visited one of these? Share your experience in the comments, spooky or not!

Dianna Stampfler lives in Petoskey and is the president of Promote Michigan. She has been researching Michigan’s lighthouses for nearly 20 years, presenting “Michigan’s Ghostly Beacons” and “Ladies of the Lights” to groups around the state.

5 Ways to Enjoy Cocktail Week Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids launched Cocktail Week GR last year – and the response was so great, the city is gearing up for a second go-round, November 9-20, 2016.

Sip local! Bebidas Estilo GR!

Logo for Grand Rapids Cocktail Week

Cocktail Week Grand Rapids was created to celebrate Michigan-made spirits and the art of the craft cocktail. New distilleries are popping up all over Grand Rapids and throughout the state, and Cocktail Week GR is a great opportunity to taste their handiwork in delicious drinks created by West Michigan’s best mixologists.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of this spirited event.

1. Pair and Share. Participating bars and restaurants are offering a special food-drink pairing deal – get two Michigan cocktails and a shared-plate appetizer for $25 or less. Chefs and mixologists have collaborated to create pairings that perfectly complement each other, adding balance and depth to your gustatory experience. Last year, a crowd pleaser was, The Drapple – made with Beer Barrel Bourbon from New Holland Brewing – which was paired with Duck Confit Leg at Reserve Wine & Food.

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

2. Go the Extra Glass. Enjoy enticing extras to enhance Cocktail Week GR including local events. Check for this year’s schedule.

3. Get in the Mix. Learn how to create your own delicious drinks at a Downtown Market cooking class. “Thanksgiving Cocktails and Desserts: Beyond the Pie” takes over the Teaching Kitchen on Wednesday, November 16.

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

4. Take a Tour. Long Road Distillers, established in 2015 and already the winner of multiple international awards, offers tours of its facility on November 11, 12, 18 and 19. You’ll learn how Long Road uses local grains and fruits to craft vodka, whisky, rum and more.

5. Think Global. Attend the International Wine, Beer & Food Festival (November 17-19) to sample spirits – plus wines, beers and ciders – from around the world. More than 1,500 beverages will be featured, along with gourmet foods, workshops, seminars and more. It’s billed as “Michigan’s premier tasting event,” so bring your appetite!

“Flowers in the Window” is a cocktail made especially for Cocktail Week GR by Zac Williams from Six.One.Six.

What is your favorite place to enjoy a cocktail in Grand Rapids? Let us know in the comments below!

Here’s How to Eat Your Way Through Detroit in One Day

Detroit is a food mecca with an abundance of options. When you plan on visiting the city, it can be hard to choose a restaurant due to the wide variety. Read more below as guest blogger Dan Fuoco from Visit Detroit provides a few tried-and-true food spots known for delicious fare. 


It may be hard to get out of bed but eating breakfast at one of these Detroit locations will help anyone rise and shine!

Mercury Burger & Bar: Once you get passed the fact that it say “burger” in the name, you’ll actually find amazing breakfast entries. Mercury serves gastro pub style food which means that their dishes will tingle every taste bud!


Photo Courtesy of Visit Detroit

The Whitney: This mansion and the food in it are absolutely top notch. The best part of breakfast at The Whitney is the ambiance. From the decorated walls to the fine furniture to the marble and exquisite staircase, taking in the scenes are… breathtaking. Side Dish:This mansion located off of Woodward in Detroit’s Midtown was once the home to David Whitney, a lumber baron. There are reports of his wife’s spirit visiting the house.


After a morning of wandering about Detroit, you’ll need a spot that will fill your tank.

7 Greens Detroit Salad Co.

7 Greens Detroit Salad Co. prides itself as a fresh destination for “healthful, great tasting food” to enjoy in a “fun, fast, casual and gourmet way” which means that it is possible to eat healthy, fast food. It’s a custom-created-salad shop with a checklist of items to add to your bowl, proving that salad creation can be fun and different – every time!

Detroit Vegan Soul

“Soul food made from whole food” is how they describe themselves. They offer vegan sandwiches, soups, salads, smoothies and sweets and will show you that vegan food can be healthy while tasting good.

vegan soul

Green Dot Stables

This is slider haven! Green Dot Stables has an assortment of sliders – 20 to be exact! Beef, chicken, lamb and more. Go with a friend or a group and remember, it’s normal to order at least 3-5 sliders per visit.

Slows Bar BQ

This corner bar made international headlines when Travel Channel’s Adam Richman featured the Yardbird on his “Best Sandwich in America” list. Slows Bar BQ is mixes southern style BBQ with some Detroit flare. They’ve made their own style and it’s no mistake that Adam visited – when you do, you’ll see why that sandwich – and others – are worthy of these titles.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Detroit

Photo Courtesy of Visit Detroit

Jolly Pumpkin

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama visited Detroit for the North American International Auto Show and visited Jolly Pumpkin for a spontaneous lunch. Best known for its pizza and beer, Jolly Pumpkin on West Canfield has become quite a popular destination for lunch, so much that President Barack Obama even dined here this winter.


Relax and mingle with friends at these restaurants after hours hangouts.

Buddy’s Pizza

When in Detroit, you need to try Detroit-style pizza from the style’s creator: Buddy’s Pizza. Buddy’s has been in Detroit for 70 years and created Detroit style pizza shortly after. It’s a unique combination which includes a chewy dough. Deep dish and thin crust are good but if you’ve never tried Detroit-style, you’re missing out!

Roma Cafe

Detroit’s oldest Italian restaurant brings old-world flavor to the Motor City. The sauce is fresh and every dish tastes like it was air delivered that day from Italy! Make no mistake, this isn’t a “cafe” in the American diction – it’s an upscale, sit-down restaurant with speedy waiters who know you are there to eat, not network. So from the moment you sit down, it’s clear that they are there to serve.

Central Kitchen + Bar

Another gastro pub that sits in Detroit’s First National Building and serves upscale bar food – and liquid nitrogen ice cream – is Central Kitchen +Bar. The scene is trendy with Edison lighting and earthy toned decor. For lunch and dinner, it can be loud but the food is exceptional and the experience is memorable.

Bonus: Dessert

Astoria Pastry Shop

If you’re in Detroit’s Greektown, you have to stop in and grab a dessert from Astoria. This pastry shop has an assortment of traditional American sweets mixed with Greek favorites. The best part? It’s open until 11:00 P.M. which means you can indulge into the late hours of the night.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Detroit

Photo Courtesy of Visit Detroit

Detroit Water Ice Factory

Have you ever tried water ice? Think: lemon ice with multiple flavors. Each flavor is Motown-inspired and all proceeds are donated to S.A.Y. Detroit, a local charity.

Where do you love to grub in Detroit? Share in the comments!