Digest>Archives> October 1998

A Light Mystery


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Michigan's Old Presque Isle Light Station looks ...
Photo by: Timothy Harrison

There is nothing to make a lighthouse more complete than a ghost story or an unexplained mystery or two; and the best time of the year to relate to these unexplained phenomena is the month of October.

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Although the light is off in the tower, a ghostly ...

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Lorraine Parris is shown here in 1997 in front of ...

If you close your eyes and let your mind drift to the lonely secluded lighthouse on a dark tree shrouded coast, with the wind blowing and rustling through the leaves, the human mind can conjure up just about anything.

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Old Presque Isle Light, Presque Isle, Michigan, ...
Photo by: Judy Locke of Ripon, Wisconsin.

If you frighten easily, or are scared of ghosts, then I wouldn't recommend that you visit Michigan's Old Presque Isle on a dark windy night. Instead make your visit to the grand old beacon on a bright sunny afternoon.

If there was ever a lighthouse that could be haunted, Old Presque Isle Lighthouse on Lake Huron, about 20 miles south of Rogers City, Michigan is it. Visit it someday at dusk, and you'll know just what I'm talking about. But, keep your car keys handy, you might want to leave quickly.

Built back in 1840, the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse guided ships into Presque Isle Harbor for 30 years, until it was replaced by the nearby New Presque Isle Lighthouse, the tallest light on the Great Lakes.

Since the old station was no longer needed, it was declared excess property by the U.S. Government and eventually came under the private ownership of Jim Stebbins. After the Stebbins family restored the station, Lorraine and George Parris moved in as the caretakers of this historic monument to another time and another era.

Lorraine and George enjoyed their years at Old Presque Isle. It was a happy time for them, spending their retirement years caring for an important part of American history and greeting the many visitors that came to visit and photograph the lighthouse.

It was on a pleasant evening in May of 1992 that Lorraine was returning from a nice evening supper at her daugh-ter's house. Driving down the road, she thought how nice it would have been if George had been with them at supper. However, that was not possible, George had passed away suddenly, earlier that year.

And, that's when she saw it! She thought to herself, this is impossible, but there it was, just like it would have looked 122 years ago. Yes, the light in the tower was on! She couldn't believe what she was seeing, she knew for a fact the light had been permanently disconnected back in 1979. It was her husband George and the Coast Guard who disconnected everything that year after the light had been accidently turned on at that time.

She didn't tell anyone. She figured they would think she was imagining it. But, there it was . . . every night the light would shine from the lantern room. But, it was never visible from the grounds of the station, it was only visible from across the harbor. There was really no reason for her to keep it a secret, because within days, everyone was seeing it. The story spread like wildfire drawing lots of spectators to see the light that wasn't.

The Coast Guard came to check it out. They couldn't explain it. Pleasure boaters saw it, passing freighters saw it, planes flying overhead saw it, but no one could explain it. They took the ornamental light out, but still the light glowed form the tower. The skeptics said it must be from car lights reflecting from somewhere, but the light was still there when there were no cars around.

Lorraine said it must be her deceased husband. After all, it was George who had shut the light off back in 1979 and he would be the only one who would know how to turn it back on. Could it be? Had he returned to let her know he was all right? Had he come back to watch over her and the light? Or was he just being a little mischievous? The other possibility was the last keeper of the light, Patrick Garrity who turned it off in 1870 when the station was discontinued. Did he return to make things right? Lots of people had reported seeing a figure of a person in the lantern room, when no one was there, that was common.

But Lorraine was convinced it was George coming back to keep on eye on things and let her know he was all right

Then there were some of the other unexplained things that happened. Like the three women who came to visit the light and locked their keys in the car. Mysteriously, the car unlocked itself. When they got in to leave and turned the ignition on, the dome lights turned on and the radio came on at full blast.

Or how about the times that Lorraine woke up to the smell of breakfast being made? George loved to make breakfast. Or another time, when a metal lawn chair was pushed up against the door and Lorraine couldn't open the door. She said it was like someone was sitting in the chair, but no one was. Even more strange was the fact that the other lawn chair was facing it, like two people were sitting there facing each other and carrying on a conversation. The strangest part was yet to come. Seconds later lightning struck near the lighthouse, right were Lorraine would have been had she been able to open that door and leave the building. Minutes later, the door moved easily and the chair simply slid across the cement. Was George there? Did he push the chair against the door so that she wouldn't be able to get out and do her errand?

Did George sit in the chair to prevent her from leaving, knowing full well that lighting was going to strike the spot she would have been standing in? Did George's spirit save her life?

Finally, the local Harbor Masters thought they had solved the mystery of the light from the tower. They figured that one or more of the harbor dock lights were reflecting off the panes of the glass in the lantern room. They draped the panes in the lantern room facing the shore. And sure enough the light from the lantern room was gone. Mystery solved? Maybe yes, maybe no.

What the two Harbor Masters did not do was check to see if the light was still visible from across the water after they draped the window panes.

Are the Harbour Masters going to ever finish their investigation? Their answer is, No. Why? It seems they figure that even if they were able to explain the mystery of the light, the skeptics would never believe them anyway. Besides, it's wonderful for tourism and makes a great lighthouse story.

We couldn't agree more!

This story appeared in the October 1998 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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