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The Ghost Infested Island of Lake Huron

There are many allegedly haunted places in the world. Yet, most of the time these are solitary places of spookiness, anomalous locations that stand on their own; a house, a building, perhaps a hospital or even a wood among other things, all existing alone and in contrast to their surroundings as something other. There may be one ghostly presence or even several, but they still remain relatively secluded and sparsely inhabited places that lurk in the corners of the dark world we don’t yet understand. However, there is one island right off shore on Lake Huron in the great lakes where almost every square inch seems to be haunted by something or other. A popular summer tourist spot, this is a bustling, well-travelled island that nevertheless seems to be as crowded with ghosts as it is with visitors, so much so that it is often said that the dead outnumber the living here. Let us take a look at this deeply haunted mysterious island, a place absolutely brimming with the paranormal and which harbors more hauntings and ghosts per square mile than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

Mackinac Island is a 3.8 square-mile island that lies tucked away on the western tip of Lake Huron at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, in the U.S. state of Michigan. Lying right off shore from the base of Michigan’s upper peninsula, just a 20-minute ferry ride from the city of Ignace, the island has a year-round population of only around 492. However, during the summer months the island is deluged with tourists, who come to see the abundant nature offered by Mackinac Island State Park, which covers over 80% of the land here and is the nation’s second oldest state park after Yellowstone, as well as the numerous immaculately preserved, renovated, and restored historical spots and buildings, with the island being listed as a National Historic Landmark. With its ordinances enacted by The Mackinac Island State Park Commission that require landowners to preserve the Victorian look of the buildings on their land as well as a ban imposed since 1898 on all motorized vehicles except snowmobiles in winter and emergency or construction vehicles, Mackinac Island has managed to maintain its quaint, charming historic look and appears very much today as it would have back during early European settlement of the island.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island

Yet beneath this serene veneer of a quiet island frozen in time, there is a rather tumultuous and violent history that seems to lend itself to spooky stories of hauntings. Findings of various archeological artifacts such as pottery, arrowheads, and fishhooks have shown that Native Americans inhabited the island since around 900AD, or around 700 years before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century. The name Mackinac in fact came from these early tribes, with their word Mish-la-mack-in-naw meaning “Great Turtle,” which they thought the rocky island resembled. The island was a highly sacred place thought by the local Anishinaabe tribes to be the home of Gitche Manitou, or the “Great Spirit,” and many burial grounds were established on the island for top ranking members of the tribe, the locations of which have not been completely determined and some of which likely remain out there underfoot somewhere.

By the time early European explorers arrived in the mid-1600s, Mackinac Island had been mysteriously deserted, the tribes that once held the land in revered awe leaving behind only the bones of their tribal chiefs within the earth. The island was used extensively by the French as a strategic trade position on Lake Huron, with the Straits of Mackinac considered a valuable location for the fur trade. The island would be acquired by the British during the French and Indian War and go on to become a British stronghold during the Revolutionary War. It would then pass into American hands with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and later would be the scene of numerous bloody battles between British and American Forces during the War of 1812, one in which the British captured the island and others in which many Americans were slaughtered trying unsuccessfully to recapture the strategic location. It would not be until 1815 that ownership of the island would fully and permanently pass into the hands of the United States, with the Treaty of Ghent, after much blood had been spilled.

One may think that with all of the ancient Indian burial grounds and the violent history of battle on the island that it could already be considered a sinister and cursed place, yet despite this dark past Mackinac Island went on to become a very popular tourist location for residents of the Great Lakes area in the wake of the Civil War. In response to the influx of visitors, hotels, railroads, boat landings, summer cottages, restaurants, and souvenir shops, were industriously built all over the island, and it became a premiere resort area for the wealthy. This popularity as a tourist location has not waned at all even into the modern day, and the sleepy little island comes roaring to life in the summer months with up to 15,000 visitors a day coming here to enjoy the historical sites, the state park, or the excellent fishing in the surrounding waters. However, what many of the tourists visiting this scenic, quiet little island where time has seemingly stood and horse drawn carriages still roam the streets may not know is that it is not only intensely haunted, but has indeed been long considered to be one of the most haunted locations in the world for its size. Mackinac Island is literally crowded with alleged ghosts, and it seems that every house, inn, shop, church, alleyway, trail, bluff, dark corner, street, trail, outhouse, storehouse, and woods here has had some history of ghostly manifestations. In fact, it is hard to find a location on the island that is NOT said to be haunted. Ghost infested locations are so numerous here that when writing an article on the haunted places of Mackinac Island it is hard to know even where to begin and there are far too many to comprehensively list here. However, some in particular stand out.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island

Perhaps a good place to start would be at the historical epicenter of bloody violence on the island, Fort Mackinac. The Fort was originally established by the British commander, Patrick Sinclair shortly after acquiring the island during the French and Indian War, and it was used as a military outpost during the Revolutionary War to protect the position from French-Canadians and native tribes, although it did not see combat at that time. The Americans would acquire the fort along with the island with the treaty of Paris in 1783, but the British would not readily give up such a strategically important outpost. They swooped in during the War of 1812 before the Americans had even become aware that war had been declared, easily ousting the totally off-guard and unprepared troops that had been stationed there. After that, Americans would suffer defeat and loss of life as they tried to regain the fortified position without success. It is also said that the British brutally massacred 72 natives here during the war. After Americans finally were granted the island and fort by the Treaty of Ghent in 1815, Fort Mackinac would go on to become a prison for confederate sympathizers during the Civil War before finally being decommissioned in 1895.

Fort Mackinac is steeped in death, the very walls seem stained by it. In addition to the loss of life from battle or massacres that occurred at the fort, there were also the ones who died in the hospital there, often because the treatments of the time were crude and ineffective for a wide range of injuries and sicknesses. The hospital saw the death of not only soldiers but at least thirteen children of soldiers stationed on the island who died of Typhoid Fever, Tuberculosis, and other diseases, with one being only 5 months old. All of the bodies were buried at the nearby Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery. Other places of death can be found here as well. A dungeon for prisoners located in the Guard House and known as “The Black Hole” saw at least one prisoner die in captivity. On another area of the island a Private Felix Pleave killed himself in 1843 and three pipers employed by the fort also died over the years here. Even the mess hall wasn’t free from death, when a soldier stationed there by the name of James Brown shot and killed fellow soldier Hugh Flin during an argument. Brown would later be executed by hanging on a portable gallows set up at the Rifle Range just outside of the fort, although he insisted to the end that he had not meant to shoot Flin.

Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac

With all of the death permeating the place, Fort Mackinac makes a perfectly suitable location for a haunting, and indeed it has ghostly manifestations in spades. The halls of the fort often echo with the spectral laughing or giggling of children. The Officer Hills Apartment Quarters often experiences moving furniture that slides about and sets off motion alarms, as well as lights seen flickering within after hours by security guards from outside, and the utterly chilling sound of babies crying in torment. In the cemetery, the apparition of a woman can sometimes be seen weeping at the grave of one of the children who died here, eternally lamenting her loss. The Guard House, in particular the dungeon jail, is known to have sudden and inexplicable cold spots and chills even in the stifling heat of summer, and orbs are frequently captured on camera here. It is suspected that this could be the presence of the long dead prisoner still wallowing in his cell. People visiting the old hospital have reported smelling the stench of death, sickness, and decay, or of seeing disembodied limbs, which often show up in photos. At the North Sally Port Entrance Gate and Wall of the fort, it is said that the ghostly sound of piper music can be heard wafting through the air on foggy or misty mornings, that a phantom piper can be seen playing on the shore, and an entity of what appears to be a spectral young man in uniform can often be seen dutifully patrolling the walkway up on the defensive wall. At the Rifle Range Trail there is an apparition dressed in an old fashioned uniform, presumably the ghost of James Brown, the man who was executed here, that is said to follow people around and sometimes playfully trip up people by stepping on the backs of their shoes. The sounds of phantom rifles firing can also sometimes be heard at the Rifle Range. Additionally, the whole of the fort is plagued with various poltergeist activity such as children’s toys being rearranged, cameras malfunctioning, personal belongings flung around, furniture moved or even toppled over, and lights inexplicably turned on and off among others. There have even been reports of capturing disembodied voices speaking the Native language of Ojibwa here.

Another area that is considered to be one of the best on the island for experiencing paranormal phenomena is the Mission Point Resort, located on a bluff on the east side of the island. The resort has an interesting history. The area was first developed in 1827 as a missionary school for children of mixed Native America-European race. In the 1950s, the whole area was extensively developed into a world conference center for an evangelist group promoting world peace called The Moral Re-Armament, which subsequently moved its base of operations to Switzerland and in 1966 the site briefly became the location of Mackinac College. In 1970 the college was purchased by an evangelist by the name of Rex Humbard, who envisioned making it into a fancy religious retreat, but this would fall through and in 1972 the land began to be developed as a vacation resort. In 1977, and investment firm bought the land and changed it to the Mackinac Hotel and Conference Center, and in 1987 the property was sold again and given the name Mission Point Resort, after which its popularity as a hip vacationing spot skyrocketed. It is also home to one of the most haunted places on the island.

The Mission Point Resort

The Mission Point Resort

One of the most notorious ghost haunts at the Mission Point Resort is the Island House Hotel. One of the most popular spooky stories about the hotel is that a student in the the late ’60s or early ‘70s of what was then Mackinac College, known only as Harvey, proposed to his girlfriend and was cruelly rejected in front of his friends. Some say that the girl was cheating on him and this caused her to spurn his advance. The dejected and heartbroken young man is then said to have made his way to a high bluff behind the hotel and depending on who you ask either jumped to his death, hung himself, or shot himself in the head. Some rumors say that he was actually murdered, perhaps by his girlfriend’s secret lover, since it had been alleged that he was found with two bullet holes through his head, one through the temple and one entering the bottom of the chin and exiting the back of the head. Since then it is said that his ghost prowls the grounds of the resort. He is often seen on the bluff behind the hotel, or in the resort’s sound stage and theater and is said to be rather playful, seeming to enjoy playing practical jokes on visitors or guests to the hotel, with some of his favorites being turning on the lights while guests are sleeping, hiding personal belongings, or rearranging items or even furniture. There is also purportedly a room at the Island House Hotel with a bed that shakes so frequently and violently that it has been bolted to the floor and the wall, although whether this has anything to do with the ghost of Harvey is anyone’s guess.

Harvey is apparently not the only ghost present at the Mission Point Resort. There is also allegedly the ghost of a little girl known as Lucy, who legend has it became sick on the island while her parents were away on business in Detroit and died before they could return. Lucy is most often seen frolicking about in the theater, the auditorium, and on the balcony of the Island House Hotel. Many visitors have also reported hearing the disembodied voice of a little girl calling for her mommy and daddy in various areas around the resort. Adding to the group are the apparitions of soldiers who are sometimes reportedly seen wandering around the resort.

The Island House Hotel

The Island House Hotel

The haunted Mission Point Resort was famously investigated by the crew of the SyFy Channel TV show Ghost Hunters, who call themselves The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS, on an episode titled “Frozen in Fear.” The team was able to uncover some weird phenomena there, and a 2010 investigation by the Michigan Area Paranormal Investigative Team also recorded strange occurrences here, including objects moving on their own, lights turned on and off in the presence of people in the room, and anomalous noises, which they deemed to all be solid evidence of something paranormal going on.

There are numerous other haunted hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts on Mackinac Island as well. During the construction of the Grand Hotel it is said that a large number of skeletons were dug up when the foundation was being made, and ever since there has been various ghostly activity reported here. It is believed that the skeletons were either from an Indian burial ground or were bodies that were left behind when the island’s Old Post Cemetery was relocated. Another hotel, the Murray Hotel, is supposedly haunted by the spirit of a woman who was strangled, sexually assaulted and murdered in her room, and whose murder has never been solved. Located on a high bluff on the west side of the island is The Inn at Stonecliffe, which is a popular place for couples to have weddings. The inn is supposedly haunted by the ghosts of a servant and a little girl, as well as the vengeful spirit of a woman who came to the island to be married only to have her British fiancee die before the wedding, which has caused her in her bitterness to allegedly cause mischief and try and ruin the weddings of happy couples who come here to tie the knot.

The Inn at Stonecliff

The Inn at Stonecliff

There is also a small and romantic bed and breakfast here called Small Point Cottage, which was originally built in 1882 and was originally a private residence. In 1971, a teacher named John Findlay came to Mackinac Island to teach Mackinac Island Elementary School and purchased Small Point Cottage. The Findlay’s were subsequently tormented by profuse poltergeist activity including moving furniture, strange sounds, voices, and things suddenly going missing, all of which is thought to have been caused by the ghost of a girl who once lived there and had vowed to someday return, alive or not apparently. Years later, the house would be converted into the bed and breakfast it is today and guests often have experiences with ghostly activity here. The ghost of Small Point Cottage is said to be rather benign, non-threatening, and playful more than scary, leading visitors to actually want the entity to come out and play. Other haunted bed and breakfasts on Mackinac Island include Bogan Lane, which is haunted by a long haired little girl who purportedly plays the piano and tells guests she wants to go home, as well as the Bailey House, where startled guests experience objects falling off counters, the sound of things sliding about in the attic, and the ghostly figure of a woman who allegedly peeks through windows into bedrooms.

Haunted cottages seem to be a thing on Mackinac Island. Another haunted cottage is the three story, 42 room Pine Cottage, which was purchased by a Bob Hughey in 1962 and was used as a private residence and restaurant he owned called Little Bob’s. Not long after moving into the house Hughey and his wife began to experience a multitude of strange phenomena such as hearing disembodied footsteps or the sound of doors slamming open or shut when no one was there. On one occasion, Hughey claimed that the apparition of a woman only visible from the waist up rushed past him from a closet and out of the window, nearly knocking him down in the process. The hauntings became steadily more intense, with additional sightings of a little girl crying made all over the house and the ominous appearance of shadowy men standing beside beds, as well as personal belongings disappearing and covers suddenly, violently ripped off of beds. Eventually the shaken Hugheys had had enough and moved away to St. Ignace, Michigan in 1995, but to this day many of these strange phenomena are witnessed by tourists visiting the spot. One creepy detail to this case is that it is said that a previous owner of the cottage was brutally murdered here in 1942 and the murder was never solved.

The Pine Cottage

The Pine Cottage

There are countless other haunted locations all over Mackinac Island. The Mission House was built by early settlers in the center of a Christian Mission which aimed to convert the local Native tribes to Christianity. At the time, a tuberculosis epidemic hit the mission, and sick Native children were locked up in the dank depths of the basement because it was thought that the cool, damp air would alleviate their symptoms. Not surprisingly, many of these children died down there in the dark. In later years the Mission House was converted into state employee housing and residents have long reported that the basement and first floors are heavily infested with the ghosts of young children, whose shadowy forms can be seen enthusiastically running about the halls, playing in the yard, and whose footsteps, giggling and laughing can often be heard, usually at night. There are also numerous instances of objects being knocked over or of alarm clocks suddenly going off on their own. The children ghosts of Mission House are said to be very non-threatening and friendly.

The Mission House

The Mission House

One of the creepier haunted places is already sinister from its name; The Drowning Pool. In the 1700s and early 1800s, seven promiscuous women who exchanged sex for money had apparently been luring soldiers and fur traders, married or not, into their houses were accused of being witches. Back in those days, one of the most popular methods for determining if someone was a witch or not was to simply tie rocks to their feet and throw them into water to see if they would float or not. Unfortunately, this was typically a lose-lose situation for the accused. If they sank, they were deemed to be innocent, but often drowned in the process. If they floated, they were said to be witches and were then promptly hanged. So the seven accused women in this case were thrown into a lagoon on the island between Mission Point and downtown to see if they were witches, and all of them sank and drowned. Good news, they were not witches! Bad news, their vengeful spirits apparently haunt the dark waters of the lagoon to this day. Visitors tell of seeing mysterious huge splashes too big to be from fish, shadows creeping across the water’s surface without causing ripples, or strange dark figures floating just under the surface. It is considered to be one of the scarier and more malevolent places on Mackinac Island, with some people sensing a palpable evil dread here.

The list of haunted locations on the island goes on and on. Nearly as creepy as the Drowning Pool is the haunted ruins of a staircase and cave located in some woods on the island, where people have unwittingly photographed blurry figures and felt sudden chills. The entire North Side of the island is also said to be packed with the ghosts of natives who were massacred by the British during the War of 1812. These restless native spirits are often sighted running around through the forest howling, perhaps for revenge on those who killed them. Marquette Park is also said to be haunted, and the story goes that when soldiers made a garden here back in the early colonial days they unearthed around 1,000 skeletons. The ghostly activity is so intense that it seems it cannot even be contained by the island, and nearby Bois Balnc Island is also said to be haunted by the entities of two AWOL British soldiers who were captured and slaughtered by natives.

The Drowning Pool

The Drowning Pool

I have only scratched the surface here, and Mackinac Island sports many, many other ghostly locales as well, enough that it would take many more articles to list them all. Bloody history and Indian burial grounds aside, why is this particular island so hopelessly, thoroughly haunted? What is going on here? Why are there so damn many ghosts? To many, it is simply that so many died here unjustly and are therefore doomed to remain restless and lost into death, or perhaps choosing to stay around because it is a familiar place for them. Some believe that the reason lies in the amount of tragedy that occurred here, which has saturated the place with enough pain and misery to imprint these events onto its reality. For others, it is merely the spooky old architecture and darkened old-fashioned buildings playing tricks on the imagination, flavored by the stories and legends of ghosts and specters. Attempts to try and look at the phenomena of the island more scientifically have suggested that the high concentrations of limestone here and the currents of the surrounding water may be having some sort of effect. Whatever the reasons may be, Mackinac Island remains a place with one of the highest concentrations of hauntings, if not the highest, in the world.

Those adventurous spirits looking for a glimpse of the unexplained or the macabre can easily access Mackinac Island by ferry. The recommended time to go is in the summer months, as the winters here become bitterly cold, most of the hotels, shops, restaurants, and other facilities close, and the population drops considerably in this season. Once at the island, it is not hard to find a myriad of ghost tour operations ready to guide you around the haunted places mentioned here and indeed many others. One outfit in particular, called Haunts of Mackinac, offers a total of four different tour packages; the Downtown Tour, the Mission Point Tour, The Midnight Tour, and The Hunt. During The Hunt, which is limited to those 18 or older, visitors are actually given ghost hunting equipment and encouraged to go out and collect evidence of the supernatural. The tour operation is run by a Mr. Clements, who also wrote a book that chronicles the ghostly places and history of the island in great detail of the same name, The Haunts of Mackinac. Or, if one is feeling particularly foolhardy, you can go off on your own and explore the historical haunted places or go off onto the many trails that lead into the scenic yet no doubt spooky forests here. Just remember, you are never really alone here, even when you think you are, for the ghosts of Mackinac Island are many, and they are always watching.