Even ghosts seem to love these majestic lighthouses. Take a tour of the spooky beacons or spend the night—if you dare.
Owls Head Light State Park, open year-round, provides lovely views of Penobscot Bay. The pretty little lighthouse and keeper's residence are part of the park but not accessible, though that doesn't prevent a ghost from trespassing. The 3-year-old daughter of previous keepers once awakened her parents and announced, "Fog's rolling in! Time to put the foghorn on!" They discovered she had an "imaginary friend" who resembled an old sea captain. Current residents recognize his footprints in the snow and welcome his services―polished brass and frugally lowered thermostats; 207/941-4014 or lighthouse.cc/owls. In nearby Rockland, the Maine Lighthouse Museum displays the country's largest collection of Fresnel lenses; 207/594-3301 or mainelighthousemuseum.com.
Aficionados of the paranormal consider this the most haunted lighthouse in America. Male and female apparitions materialize
and then vanish. Doors open and close without visible reason. People hear voices, footsteps, even snoring, but no one is there.
So why does it rank only ninth? Because the beam at this modest, house-style structure went dark more than 45 years ago. A
lighthouse without its light appears so forlorn. Then again, a hospital and a prison camp for Confederate soldiers existed
here during the Civil War, so perhaps an unlit lighthouse represents an appropriate memorial to such a mournful heritage.
Today, visitors enjoy the much more pleasant surroundings of a state park; 301/872-5688 or dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/pointlookout.html.
To find out more about the preservation of the lighthouses, visit pllps.org.
Overlooking Lake Michigan from Seul Choix Point, this 78-foot tower went into service in 1892. One of its keepers, Captain Joseph Townsend, is said to still haunt the lighthouse and museum to this day. Townsend died in the keeper's house in the early 1900s. For months they could not bury his body because of the winter weather, so his body was kept in the basement. Maybe it's because his body was not laid to rest for so long that today visitors and staff alike have reported the strong stench of cigars (he was an avid cigar smoker) throughout the buildings. Staff at the museum have seen the place settings and chairs in the museum’s kitchen disturbed, and some have even reported seeing a man peering through the windows. You can visit the museum and take a tower tour daily from Memorial Day through mid-October; 906/283-3183 or greatlakelighthouse.com.
Above the waves at this quiet beachfront on the southern tip of St. Simons Island, you may still hear the echoes of a decades-old killing. In 1880, an argument between head keeper Frederick Osborne and assistant John Stevens ended with a fatal gunshot. John, never charged in the case, continued to tend the light. But legend says he often heard the accusing sound of Frederick's footsteps at night in the vacant tower. Over the years, many others have claimed to hear the footfalls. The tower invites climbing the 129-step spiral staircase―if you dare; 912/638-4666 or saintsimonslighthouse.org.
Who wouldn't want to linger at such a lovely location? Maybe that explains the gentleman in the 19th-century keeper's uniform seen inside the visitors center. Point Sur's beacon has shone since 1889 atop a massive volcanic rock just offshore in the amazingly scenic Big Sur area. Non-spectral beings can visit during scheduled tours―weekends and Wednesdays year-round. For the most deliciously spooky atmosphere, take a "moonlight tour;" 831/625-4419 or pointsur.org.
Here on the north shore of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, William Prior, who became this station's inaugural keeper in 1896, finally may have given up his duties. Surveying Lake Superior from atop a 60-foot bluff, the light station now operates as a romantic bed-and-breakfast with fireplaces and even spa services. William, dead these past 105 years, apparently still insisted on "helping"―until innkeeper Linda Gamble angrily told him off when his slamming of kitchen cabinet doors awakened her one night a few years ago. Neither William nor the other five resident ghosts have been heard from since. Well, so far, anyway; 906/345-9957 or bigbaylighthouse.com.
This desolate lighthouse, which is Maine's tallest and second oldest, is the site of a gruesome story. A keeper who had recently married moved to the island 3 miles off the coast to tend the light with his wife. To help with his wife's boredom in the winter, the keeper bought her a piano. It only came with the sheet music for one song. Unable to get new sheet music since the island was locked in ice, the wife played the same song over and over again eventually driving the keeper insane. He took an axe to the piano, and then to his wife. Afterwards he took his own life. The ghost of the keeper has been spotted in the house, and sometimes on quiet night you can hear the tinkling of a piano. The island is only accessible via boat or helicopter; 207/443-4808 or seguinisland.org.
The scent of cigar smoke is sometimes detectable in the oil-house building. Records show no fatal oil-house explosions, but any ghost who smokes around flammable liquids must not be the brightest bulb in the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Tour guides claim to hear someone climbing the tower steps, but the footfalls fade away, and no one appears at the top of the tower. This lighthouse's collection of spirits also apparently includes a prankish girl in the keeper's dwelling, a tall man in the basement, and a merchandise-disturbing poltergeist in the gift shop. The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum doesn't exactly encourage these spooky speculations, but its website does at least acknowledge their existence. It also provides a factual history of the seven people known to have died on the lighthouse grounds; 904/829-0745 or staugustinelighthouse.com.
Rue (such a perfect name for a ghost!) doesn't like changes. She's been blamed for setting off a fire alarm and moving random objects during work on the keeper's house, which is now a bed-and-breakfast. Overall, though, the "Gray Lady" (so nicknamed because of her sometimes-wispy appearance) comes across as rather benign. She supposedly manifested herself to one worker in the attic, scaring him badly. He refused to re-enter the room, even to clean up the glass from a window he broke while working outside. Another worker investigated and found the glass swept into a neat pile; 866/547-3696 or hecetalighthouse.com.
This Lake Huron lighthouse was only operational for 31 years, but it is well-known for its ghosts. Many say you can hear a woman's screams some nights from the ghost of a keeper's wife who was locked away in the tower long ago. But it's the ghost of George Parris that is the most talked about. He and his wife moved into the keeper's cottage in the 1990s to run the museum and give tours. Since George died, the light in the lighthouse comes on at dusk and goes off at dawn every night. This may not seem that odd for any other lighthouse, but this one’s light had been permanently disabled. Air National Guard pilots have even reported seeing the light, and the Coast Guard has gone so far as to remove the old light from the tower—but it still shines. The building and grounds are open daily to the public from mid-May through mid-October; 989/595-6979 or michigan.org.
The lighthouse sits near downtown on a little peninsula (or, if the tide's in, on a little island; one should plan carefully unless one wishes to swim back to shore). Perhaps the resident phantom feels safe here, since the sturdy building with the light on top survived the 1964 tsunami that destroyed much of Crescent City. The spirit seems playful, setting a rocking chair in motion and moving a caretaker's bedroom slippers in the middle of the night. However, the caretakers' cats react warily to its presence. Slippers, cats … could it be the ghost of a dog? The lighthouse is open Wednesday-Sunday, April through September. During the off-season, visitors can wander the grounds; 707/464-3089 or delnortehistory.org/lighthouse.
Not only is this lighthouse haunted, but also the entire 7,000-acre island is said to be haunted as well. Built in 1874 in the ornate Victorian style of the time, the Southeast Light helped ships clear the dangerous shoals and ledges of the “stumbling block” of the New England coast. Legend has it that in the 1900s a keeper murdered his wife by pushing her down the steps. Her spirit never left her home. It is said she harasses men only—by shaking them, lifting their beds, or even locking them in a closet or out of rooms. Many have reported sightings of ghosts elsewhere on the island. Phantom pirate ships have been spotted and so have the spirits of the dead who could not be buried until the ground thawed at the end of winter. You can visit Block Island via ferry; 401/466-5009 or lighthouse.cc/blockisoutheast.
One ghost here apparently likes to help with the dusting. Oh, that we all could be so haunted! This Great Lakes lighthouse was deactivated in 1960, though its lens remains in the museum that now inhabits the limestone tower and keeper's quarters. Captain William Robinson, the light's first keeper, served for 47 years and died in the building. Some think the mysterious pacing sounds heard upstairs indicate that he still tends his beloved lighthouse. Meanwhile, the museum curator reports that if she leaves a dust rag near a certain display case, she returns to find the rag moved and the case dusted. The supernatural suspect: William's wife, Sarah. The museum is open June-October, and by appointment during the other months; 231/894-8265 or whiteriverlightstation.org.
This lighthouse and the assistant keeper's dwelling stand on a sunny Gulf of Mexico beach near Fort Myers. A museum in the lighthouse building and the surrounding Gasparilla Island State Park make the island's southern tip a nice place to visit―by day. By night, as one worker put it, one might encounter "some things that are a little bit weird." A young girl, presumably the ghost of a keeper's daughter who died in the building, can be heard giggling and playing upstairs. More ominously, the headless body of Josefa, a Spanish princess decapitated by a pirate, wanders the sand; 941/964-0060 or barrierislandparkssociety.org.
It is believed that the two Saginaw River Lighthouses are the first range lights built on the Great Lakes. Range lights allowed mariners to line up the lights, one behind the other, to safely navigate through the center of the river's shipping channel. Members of the Coast Guard who stayed there reported hearing heavy footsteps on the iron staircase of the Rear Range Light's tower. When they investigated the noise, no one was ever found. It is unknown who is haunting the tower, but the lights were deactivated in the 1970s and no one has occupied the building since. The tower is not open to tours but you can still view the lighthouse by boat, and maybe you can be the first to spot the ghost through the windows that peer out over the river; 989/684-7943 or saginawriver.com.