The Great Lakes of Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie form most of the northern border of the Midwest, and have greatly influenced its history and culture. From picturesque towns on the lakefront, to historic lighthouses, museums, and parks, the Great Lakes offer many unique gems. At Mysterious Heartland, we have found that many legends and ghost stories have grown up along their shores. As Gordon Lightfoot sang, “Superior, they said, never gives up the dead…” Which location will prove to be most haunted of them all?
10. Ashtabula County District Library
The Ashtabula County District Library was built in 1903 in grand Greek Revival style. An austere, grandmotherly woman named Ethel McDowell served as its first librarian. She served in that position for over six decades, and her ghost is now believed to haunt the building. Among other strange incidents, librarians have reported finding books and magazines on the floor. According to a librarian interviewed by John B. Kachuba in his book Ghosthunting Ohio, the magazines had to have been physically lifted off the racks for them to fall. In the children’s section, books have flown off the shelves, and in the reference section certain titles will go missing and then turn up again without any explanation. Ethel McDowell, it is said, disapproves of those books.
9. Indiana Dunes State Park
Located along the shores of Lake Michigan east of Gary, Indiana, the Indiana Dunes are home to one of Indiana’s most popular and enduring legends. The sand dunes were formed thousands of years ago by the retreating waters of Lake Michigan after the last Ice Age. Every summer, visitors flock to the dunes, nature center, hiking trails, and beaches to enjoy the scenery. Since the 1920s, however, a legend has circulated about a wild woman who lived in an abandoned cabin near the beach and would frequently be spotted skinny dipping in the chilly waters of Lake Michigan. She is known as “Diana of the Dunes,” and her ghost has been spotted wandering the shoreline for decades. A woman named Alice Mabel Gray, who moved to the dunes in 1915 to escape from city life, was the historic basis for the legend. For many years, she shared her cabin with a fellow recluse named Paul Wilson. Alice died of uremic poisoning in 1925 at the age of 45. She is honored to this day by the “Diana of the Dunes Festival and Pageant” in Chestertown.
8. Calvary Cemetery
This picturesque resting ground along the shore of Lake Michigan is home to the tale of “the Aviator,” or as he is sometimes affectionately known, “Seaweed Charlie.” In May 1951, Lt. Laverne F. Nabours, a WW2 veteran and an instructor at Glenview Naval Airbase, suffered engine failure on his FH-1 Phantom and careened into Lake Michigan. The plane did not sink right away, rather, Laverne climbed on top of the wing and began waving for help. He then tried to swim ashore, but succumbed to the powerful waves. In the late 1950s and 1960s, some passersby were treated to the alarming sight of a man drowning far out of reach in the icy waters. Even more startling was what came next. Instead of disappearing under the waves to a watery grave, the man, usually disheveled but sometimes covered in seaweed, emerged from the lake and crawled over the rocks toward the gate of Calvary Cemetery before ultimately vanishing. Sporadic sightings continued into the late ‘90s.
7. Black Woods Restaurant
Two Harbors, Minnesota
Located at the corner of 7th Avenue and 6th Street in Two Harbors, Minnesota on Lake Superior, Black Woods Restaurant is reportedly haunted by a mysterious woman in white. The first Black Woods Restaurant opened in Two Harbors in 1994 and has since expanded to several other locations in northern Minnesota. Locally owned and operated, Black Woods takes pride in purchasing ingredients, supplies, and equipment from local regional markets. Since opening, employees at the original location in Two Harbors report encountering the ghost of a young woman dressed in a long white gown. No one knows who this mysterious lady is, but her footsteps have been heard throughout the restaurant, and waitresses have reportedly felt an icy breath on their neck. At least one former employee believes the ghost followed her home one evening when her husband felt an unseen presence sitting on their bed.
6. Presque Isle Lighthouse and Museum
Presque Isle, Michigan
Presque Isle Lighthouse and Museum sits at the tip of a small peninsula in Lake Huron, off East Grand Lake Road, in far northeastern Michigan. It is located north of Grand Lake in the community of Presque Isle. First lit in 1840, the lighthouse guided ships along the coast of Lake Huron until 1897, when it was decommissioned and sold to a private owner. The State of Michigan purchased it in 1995 and opened it as a museum and park. A man named George Parris, who served as a caretaker of the Presque Isle Lighthouse from 1977 until his death in 1992, is popularly believed to haunt the grounds. Despite missing parts critical to its operation, visitors report seeing the lamp illuminated in the lighthouse tower. The light is said to flash briefly before going dark. In the nearby cabin where George and his wife Lorraine lived, volunteers have found the bedsheets ruffled and caught the smell of breakfast cooking in the kitchen. One young woman even reported having a conversation with “the old innkeeper in the tower.”
5. Brumder Mansion Bed & Breakfast
Billed as “Milwaukee’s most romantic inn,” Brumder Mansion Bed & Breakfast is located at the northeast corner of West Wisconsin Avenue and North 31st Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Concordia neighborhood. George Brumder built this home in 1910 for his eldest son in a curious blend of Victorian, Gothic, and English Arts & Crafts styles. It has gone through many owners over the intervening century. The basement theater was once a coffee house and music venue called The Catacombs, and the home was opened as a bed and breakfast in 1998. The Gold Suite is the most haunted room in Brumder Mansion. According to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, the owner once found fresh blood in the Gold Suite bathtub, although the room had not been occupied for days. Dog owners who occupy that room report having dreams of a lady who chastises them for bringing their dog. The ghost of a lady dressed in an old green dress has also been seen in the basement theater.
4. Maple Grove Cemetery
Maple Grove Cemetery is a small, rural graveyard located off Mason Road, south of Vermilion in north-central Ohio. Until recently, this cemetery was home to an infamous statue locals believed was possessed by the spirit of a woman named Alice, who was crazed with grief after murdering her child. The statue, variously referred to as the “Dark Angel” or “Death Angel,” was dedicated to Alice and Lydia Fischer. Lydia’s daughter, Betty, is also buried there. She died in 1918, before her first birthday. These facts form the basis of the legend, which quickly departs from reality. According to legend, Alice, not Lydia, was the child’s mother. After Alice died, blood began to appear on the hands and mouth of the angel statue placed over her grave. Locals began to believe the statue had come to life and was responsible for a string of mysterious livestock deaths. They cut off the statue’s hands and clipped its wings, so that it could not do any more damage. Over time, vandalism took its toll and the angel’s head was knocked off as well. Cemetery officials recently removed the statue from the cemetery altogether, to prevent further mischief.
3. Fairlawn Mansion and Museum
Fairlawn Mansion, located at 906 East 2nd Street in Superior, Wisconsin, is currently home to the Victorian House Museum. Built in 1891 by lumber and mining baron Martin Pattison, construction on the mansion cost $150,000. It is a beautiful example of Queen Anne Victorian architecture, complete with 42 rooms and a four-story turret with a widow’s watch overlooking Barker’s Island on Superior Bay. It features ornate marble and tile fireplaces and stained glass windows. From 1920 to 1962, the mansion served as an orphanage and was home to as many as 2,000 children during that time. Though the current owner of the mansion, Superior Public Museums, Inc., denies it is haunted, many legends have circulated. A cold damp chill is said to accompany the apparition of a servant girl who was murdered by her husband, and who returned to the mansion in the afterlife. A figure has also been seen in the tower, and the ghosts of two orphaned children appear to play around the basement swimming pool, although the pool was closed at the time Fairlawn Mansion served as an orphanage.
2. Rock Island State Park
Door County, Wisconsin
Rock Island State Park is located off Washington Island at the remote tip of Door Peninsula in northeastern Wisconsin, near Green Bay. To get there, visitors must travel by boat or take a ferry to Washington Island and then another ferry to Rock Island. No cars or other wheeled vehicles are allowed on the island. It is famously home to Pottawatomie Lighthouse, Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse. The original lighthouse at that site was built in 1836, and the current structure replaced it in 1858. Today, the Pottawatomie Lighthouse is a museum and open to visitors. Frequent shipwrecks in the area gave it the name Porte de Morts, or “Death’s Door.” According to legend, David E. Corbin, the original lighthouse keeper, committed suicide after he failed to prevent a wreck that killed several seamen. His ghost still haunts the lighthouse to this day. Corbin, however, died of natural causes in 1852. Two cemeteries on the island are also believed to be haunted.
1. Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast
Big Bay, Michigan
The Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast sits at the end of Lighthouse Road, at the tip of a small peninsula north of Lake Independence in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula region. From 1896 to 1944, when its light was removed from the tower, Big Bay Point guided ships along the coast of Lake Superior. Tragedy came early to this lighthouse. In 1901, the lighthouse keeper’s son George injured his leg and was not able to see a doctor for two months. He died of an infection and his father, William Prior, wandered into the woods with a gun. Over a year later, a hunter discovered William’s remains hanging from a tree. In 1984, Norman and Marilyn Gotschall purchased the old lighthouse and converted it into a bed and breakfast. Since then, guests have experienced a variety of strange phenomenon, including faucets turning on and off, doors opening and closing, banging and scraping sounds, and phantom footsteps. The ghost of a red-haired man has also been seen. Coastal Living magazine once named Big Bay Point one of the most haunted lighthouses in the country.