By KELSEY LESTER
Capital News Service
LANSING — The smell of cigar smoke lingers as visitors walk through the dark living quarters of Gulliver’s Seul Choix Point Lighthouse.
They’d think someone was there because of the smell. But no. Instead, it’s the smoking spirits that inhabit the 1895 lighthouse on the Upper Peninsula shore of Lake Michigan.
Kat Tedsen, the coauthor of the book series “Haunted Travels of Michigan,” has investigated over 350 potentially paranormal sites around the state.
While Tedsen is sometimes asked to investigate residences, most of her work involves logically debunking or proving a place is haunted.
The Seul Choix Point Lighthouse is the only lighthouse where Tedsen found paranormal evidence that couldn’t be explained.
East of Manistique, the lighthouse is open to visitors during the summertime and offers tours, a gift shop and a museum.
“I never really recorded or experienced anything at any lighthouse except for one. I’ve been in a lot of lighthouses — walked up way too many circular stairs,” Tedsen said. “It was the most compelling investigation I’ve done in any lighthouse.”
In 1886, construction of the lighthouse was commissioned, according to America’s Haunted Road. Work wasn’t completed until 1895.
As the legend has it, Capt. Joseph Willie Townsend is the lighthouse’s paranormal keeper. According to Pure Michigan, the state’s tourism promotion agency, it has been experiencing documented strange activity for decades.
Townsend, also known as Capt. Willie, was appointed keeper in 1902. He had a short tenure because he died in 1910.
His cause of death isn’t conclusively known, but because of his heavy cigar smoking, visitors assume he died from lung disease.
Because his death occurred in harsh winter, relatives weren’t able to bury him and instead embalmed the body within the cold walls of the lighthouse cellar.
His body allegedly stayed there for three weeks, and his soul is said to have stayed behind.
“He had this big, bushy white beard and hair. There have been reports of things like dishes in the kitchen going askew. And there’s a mirror on the second floor that they say is a portal to the other side,” Tedsen said.
“These are all ghost stories,” she said. “I didn’t find any of that.”
Although she didn’t experience any of the lighthouse’s reputed paranormal phenomena, Tedsen said she came across something even more chilling.
“I didn’t get in contact with Capt. Willie, but what I did encounter is something nobody told us about. We found something connected to another lightkeeper — a guy by the name of William Blanchard,” she said.
“He held the position for 31 years. His wife, Amanda, was a midwife and Amanda’s mother, a lady by the name of Mary Pebble, unfortunately had cancer,” she said
Back in those days, treatment options for cancer were scarce and Pebble grew weaker and died after a great storm hit the lighthouse in February 1919.
“One of those extreme storms that come off Lake Michigan — huge winds. It twisted the trees like they were fields of wheat. The ice pellets and the snow actually broke some of the windows on the upper floor, and the floor started filling with snow,” Tedsen said
“Poor Mary passed away,” she said.
Pebble’s family wanted to take the body to the mainland but couldn’t leave or bury her outdoors because of the ice.
As happened with Capt. Willie’s corpse, Pebble’s relatives put her body in the first-floor bathroom to freeze.
Tedsen didn’t know the history of the bathroom when she set up an audio recorder and started asking questions aloud.
“I’m just asking general names like ‘what is your name? What happened to you while you were here?’ I didn’t hear anything at the time, but when I was listening to the audio later, I found a response,” she said.
“It clearly said, when I asked for her name, the response was ‘Mary.’” In response to another question she replied that she “died in snow,” Tedsen said.
Although she experienced many paranormal happenings in the lighthouse, Tedsen said she isn’t always convinced by what she finds.
“Believe it or not, I am and will always be a skeptic. When people don’t believe in it, I totally understand,” Tedsen said. “But what that also tells me is they’ve never had a paranormal experience.”
“The minute you have a paranormal experience that first time it’s going to change your life,” she said.
Paranormal happenings bring a lot of tourism to Seul Choix Point Lighthouse and other haunted attractions around Michigan. Pure Michigan promotes them as travel destinations on its website.
“There are so many public ghost towns,” Tedsen said. “But to me, paranormal is very important — it begs the question ‘is there life after death?’”