Spooky Sites in Michigan

A haunted lighthouse, a ghostly inn, and a very spooky old asylum make for a scarily fun visit to Michigan’s Traverse City, just in time for Halloween.

| October 22, 2010

Traverse City, Michigan – It’s hard not to get a little spooked at night if you’re walking around the Grand Traverse Commons. Surrounded by thick forest, the turreted buildings of Traverse City’s former mental asylum loom out of the darkness like ruined castles, filled with strange shadows and furtive rustlings. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that dozens of legends about ghostly appearances have accumulated around the 19th century asylum, which is being gradually redeveloped into a smart “village” of condos, boutiques, offices and restaurants. There are stories of mournful apparitions in the halls, strange physical sensations – and even an enormous gnarled tree that’s supposed to mark the “gateway to Hell.” 

People can be forgiven for letting their imaginations run away with them. In spite of the extensive makeover the former asylum is getting, many buildings on the 500-acre Commons campus are still waiting to be restored – and their gaunt, crumbling hulks seem ready-made for scary stories of demented spirits and restless souls. Every year, fans of the occult come to the Commons searching for thrills and chills, even though the owners of the property don’t exactly encourage the attention. 

“There’s a ton of us who live and work here, and I’ve only heard one or two stories about things people couldn’t explain,” says Kristen Messner, who works for the project developers. “These are old buildings, and sound sometimes travels in strange ways. That’s it.” 

The attitude toward hauntings is a bit more welcoming a few miles up the coast at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. For years, the isolated lighthouse at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula has held a family-oriented “haunted lighthouse” program in honor of its own ghostly inhabitant, and it now has added a series of October “ghost walks.” Small groups of visitors are invited in on Friday and Saturday nights to prowl the living quarters and working spaces of the historic 19th century buildings. 

Established in 1850, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is one of the oldest lights on the Great Lakes. It occupies a lonely point of rocky coast (now the site of a state park) marking the outer edge of Grand Traverse Bay, with sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the distant Manitou and Fox Islands.  

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