By Brian E. Clark
Who hasn’t heard something strange go bump in the middle of the night?
Usually it’s just the sound of a house settling, or perhaps a raccoon or squirrel in the attic. But up in Door County, three of that peninsula’s lighthouses are said to be haunted.
“No one knows for sure,” says John Moga, curator of the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay. “My point of view is that there is a lot out there that we don’t understand or even perceive,” says Moga.
“Many people believe ghosts are the residual energy that people left behind. Why, there is one lighthouse on Lake Erie that’s said to be haunted by a cat,” he says.
And up at a lighthouse near the Canadian city of Toronto, a keeper was allegedly killed and chopped up by several drunken soldiers back in the 1800s. To this day, the sound of moaning can be heard on misty nights and some claim to see an apparition of the murdered man wandering the grounds.
“We don’t have anything creepy like that in Door County,” says Moga. “No screaming or blood on the walls. Just some reports of a shaking bed at one lighthouse. “But footsteps and strange voices do add another degree of fascination to lovely buildings that already attract a lot of interest their beautiful settings and historical significance.”
Below is a rundown on Door County’s three spooky lighthouses and the spirits that dwell in them. In addition, Door County Trolley also offers three haunted Ghost Tours of Door County.
Sherwood Point Lighthouse
The Sherwood Point Lighthouse was built in 1883 at the Green Bay entrance to Sturgeon Bay. The site consists of a one-and-one-half story house made of red brick with a square tower. In 1889, keeper William Cochems married Minnie Hesh. She was later named an assistant keeper, one of the few women to hold such a post. In 1928, she suffered a stroke and died while getting out of bed in an upstairs bedroom. William stayed at Sherwood Point until he retired in 1933.
Residents and visitors have reported hearing noises at night, including voices and the clinking of teacups. Others have seen a “presence” on the staircase. Robert Cochems (a descendant), took a photograph of the lighthouse about 1984 and the photograph shows a human form in one of the windows.
Could Minnie be haunting the lighthouse? Maybe – the ghost seems to be a friendly sort. Alas, the lighthouse is not open to the public. It’s now used by the Coast Guard as a retreat.
Chambers Island Lighthouse
Chambers Island Lighthouse is located on Chambers Island about 7 miles northwest of Fish Creek in Green Bay, it was built in 1868 and its brick lighthouse tower has a circular stairway from the basement to the lantern deck. The first keeper was Lewis S. Williams who remained there until 1889.
The first haunting of the lighthouse occurred in the spring of 1976, when a caretaker reported a loud noise that sounded like footsteps coming down the tower’s staircase, continuing through the living room, kitchen, and ending with a “click” as the kitchen door closed. In the summer of 1979, during the renovation process, tools began disappearing and ending up in unlikely places. Visitors who spent the night said their beds would sometimes shake as if by a mighty unseen pair of hands. Many believe this was the ghost of keeper Williams.
The lighthouse is open to the public by special arrangement. It is reachable by private boat and there is limited access by excursion boat.
The Pottawatomie Lighthouse is located on Rock Island, off the northern tip of Door County, is the state’s oldest lighthouse. It was built in 1836 and was replaced in 1858. The original keeper was David Corbin, who is buried on the island. In 1994, a renovation project was completed. The lighthouse has been restored as a live-in museum to what it was in 1910. Docents live in the lighthouse from Memorial Day through Columbus Day each year, giving daily tours.
Visitors have reported voices, odd shapes flickering over graves and unusual noises at a Native American cemetery. Similarly, the ghosts of small children have been reported playing in and around a graveyard where Scandinavian settlers are buried.
In addition, strange noises have been noted in the lighthouse, as well as doors opening and closing and things going “thump.” Some believe the spirit of keeper Corbin sometimes tromps around on the second floor. There are also reports of children playing on the grounds around the lighthouse. Perhaps the nine children of Emily and keeper William Betz, plus the students she taught in the island school.