By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Ghosts in the Upper Peninsula don’t limit their hauntings to Halloween.
Not the ghost of 19th-century actress Madame Helene Modjeska at the ornate Calumet Theatre on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Not the ghost of lighthouse keeper William Prior at Big Bay Point Lighthouse on Lake Superior. And not the ghost of a mysterious, unidentified young girl at Seul Choix Point on the shore of northern Lake Michigan near Gulliver.
“For the most part, ghosts haunt private places,” writes Dan Asfar, author of the new “Ghost Stories of Michigan” (Ghost House Publishing, $10.95). But, he continues, “there are those that have no qualms sharing their supernatural foibles with the general population.”
At Northern Michigan University, there have been reports of ghostly sightings at two buildings. The best known is the Thomas Fine Arts Building, where a jovial custodian named Perry died of a heart attack in the elevator.
“One of his students came to work one morning and didn’t see Perry,” said Mike McKinney, a longtime custodian at the university. “He pressed the elevator button. When the door opened, there was Perry laying on the floor.
“It spooked the kid,” McKinney said.
Since then, employees, theatergoers and other visitors have heard Perry’s familiar whistling late at night and the elevator sometimes opens and closes by itself. “The elevator is still strange. There are people who get strange feelings and even today there are people leery about it,” McKinney said.
As for the historic Calumet Theatre, Asfar opens his account with the story of actress Adysse Lane, who forgot her lines during a 1958 performance of William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Suddenly Lane spotted a “striking female apparition” hovering above her and heard the ghostly figure whisper the words.
The face, Lane realized later that night, belonged to Modjeska, who had performed there in the 1800s and whose portrait hung in the lobby.
Since then patrons and employees have reported seeing Modjeska’s ethereal figure from time to time in the theater, according to Asfar.
At Big Bay Point, owners and guests at the lighthouse — which has been converted to a bed-and-breakfast — have spotted a bearded man in an old Lighthouse Service uniform walking silently around the grounds or wandering inside. That, believers say, is the ghost of the first lightkeeper, Prior, who committed suicide in 1901 after his son died.
According to Asfar’s version, Prior was riddled with guilt because he was too busy to take the son for medical care until too late.
At Seul Choix Point, ghostly activities have been reported at a house near a Native American graveyard and at the lighthouse. Some accounts involve a vanishing girl with an expressionless stare.
Who was she? Although her name is unknown, her presence may be attributed to what was found when a hidden trap door in one house was opened, revealing an underground chamber: “Partly imbedded in the sand floor of the sealed cellar, the homeowners discovered the skeleton of a young girl,” Asfar wrote. “When a worker was laying the foundation for a
barn just outside, he dug up what looked like two tin coffin plates, one reading `Our Darling’ and the other engaged with `Our Loved One.’ “Digging a little deeper, the man found what remained of a girl’s shoe.”
The nearby Seul Choix Point Lighthouse, now a museum, has a ghost of its own. It belongs to Capt. William Townshend, a keeper who died there in 1910.
People have reported hearing his plodding footsteps, smelling his strong cigar smoke, and finding sheet music by his piano and silverware in his dining room inexplicably rearranged. They’ve also told about the mirror in the bedroom where Townshend died being surrounded with vapor and taking the shape of a grinning skull.
There are many other haunted spots in the U.P., according to the Michigan Organization of Paranormal Activity Research. For example, its roster of hauntings includes a spot north of Eagle River where a phantom hitchhiker disappears if drivers try to pick him up.
At North Bluff Cemetery in Gladstone, people have seen a woman in a wedding dress walking through the cemetery searching for the people who murdered her husband, the group says.
Asfar also tells about Stannard Rock Light, built on a reef in Lake Superior north of Marquette. In the 20th century, two lonely lighthouse keepers reportedly went mad there. And shortly before the light was automated in 1961, an explosion wounded three members of the crew and killed the fourth.
Since then, Coast Guard maintenance workers who check the light have told of sensing that they aren’t alone.
“Deserted ever since the explosion, the lighthouse still stands. The automated beacon still comes on at night, warning surrounding ships of the rocky danger just beneath the water,” Asfar wrote. “Yet more than the physical threat of the reef itself, seamen claim a dark, intangible presence warns ships away from the place.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ERIC FREEDMAN