“Ladies of the Lights” Showcases Female Lighthouse Keepers

“Ladies of the Lights” Presentation by Michigan Maritime Expert Dianna Stampfler Showcases Female Keepers of Michigan’s Historic Beacons

“Ladies of the Lights” Presentation Showcases Female Keepers of Michigan’s Historic Beacons

Michigan lighthouse historian and author Dianna Stampfler has announced a series of presentations of her popular “Ladies of the Lights” in honor of Women’s History Month. This program, which includes readings from newspapers and autobiographies, as well as countless historic photos, sheds light on the dedicated women who served at lights around the state dating back as early as the 1830s.

These were women before their time, taking on the romantic yet dangerous and physically demanding job of tending to the lighthouses that protected the Great Lakes shoreline. Given this was also a government job, their involvement was even more unique. In all, nearly 50 women have been identified who excelled in this profession over the years.

One of the most notable was Elizabeth (Whitney) VanRiper Williams who took over the St. James Harbor Light on Beaver Island after her husband, Clement, died while attempting to rescue the crew of a ship sinking in the harbor. She later became the first keeper of the Little Traverse Lighthouse in Harbor Springs, retiring after a combined 44 years of service.

There is also Julia (Tobey) Braun Way who outlived two husband keepers at the Saginaw River Rear Range Lighthouse in Bay City, and some say who still haunts the place today. Anastasia Truckey served as the interim keeper at the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse in the 1860s while her husband, Nelson, was off serving in the Civil War. Mary Terry served 18 years before she died in a fire at the Sand Point Lighthouse in Escanaba in 1886 – her death still shrouded in mystery 137 years later.

Stampfler has been researching Great Lakes lighthouses for more than 25 years and is the author of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses (2019) and Death and Lighthouses on the Great Lakes (2022) both from The History Press. She has penned countless articles and been interviewed extensively about the lighthouses and their keepers. She is also the president of Promote Michigan.

The March 2023 program schedule includes:

  • Tuesday, March 14 (6-7:30pm)

Chesterfield Township Library

www.chelibrary.org

  • Wednesday, March 15 (10am-Noon)

Saginaw Valley State University, University Center

OLLI Class (Registration required: $20 members/$40 non-members)

www.enrole.com/svsu/jsp/session.jsp?sessionId=275W23&courseId=275LADIES&categoryId=D488D638

  • Wednesday, March 15 (5-6:30pm)

Harbor Beach District Library

www.hbadl.org

  • Tuesday, March 21 (6-7:30pm)

Livonia Public Library ZOOM

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88565136420

  • Wednesday, March 22 (6-7:30pm)

St. Clair County Library, Port Huron

  • Thursday, March 23 (7-8:30pm)

Novi Public Library Zoom

www.novilibrary.org 

Stampfler will be selling/signing copies of her books following each presentation.

Haunted Lighthouses: Scary Tales of the Great Lakes

Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state and about 40 of those are rumored to be haunted by the spirits of former keepers, mariners and others with ties to these historic beacons.

Inside the pages of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, long-time researcher, writer and promoter of all things Michigan, Dianna Stampfler, shares stories of those who dedicated their lives — and afterlives — to protecting the Great Lakes’ shoreline. Her second book, Death & Lighthouse on the Great Lakes, Stampfler delves into the historic true crime cold case files that have baffled lighthouse lovers for as many as two centuries.

Throughout the fall season, Stampfler will be speaking at libraries around the state, sharing her lively and upbeat presentation about these lights. Copies of her books will be available for purchase and signing at every program.

Sun, Oct 9, 2022
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Elk Rapids District Library, Elk Rapids, MI
Tue, Oct 11, 2022
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Rauchholz Memorial Library, Hemlock, MI
Wed, Oct 12, 2022
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Northville District Library, Northville, MI
Wed, Oct 19, 2022
6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Reese Unity District Library, Reese, MI
Thu, Oct 20, 2022
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Otsego District Library, Otsego, MI
Sun, Oct 23, 2022
3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses
Sanilac County Historic Village & Museum, Port Sanilac, MI
Wed, Nov 2, 2022
6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes
St. Clair County Library – Main Branch, Port Huron, MI

For the complete schedule of upcoming events (including other topics beyond lighthouses), visit the Promote Michigan Speaker’s Bureau online.

About Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses

Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state, with more than 120 dotting its expansive Great Lakes shoreline. Many of these lighthouses lay claim to haunted happenings. Former keepers like the cigar-smoking Captain Townshend at Seul Choix Point and prankster John Herman at Waugoshance Shoal near Mackinaw City maintain their watch long after death ended their duties. At White River Light Station in Whitehall, Sarah Robinson still keeps a clean and tidy house, and a mysterious young girl at the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse seeks out other children and female companions. Countless spirits remain between Whitefish Point and Point Iroquois in an area well known for its many tragic shipwrecks.

About Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes

Losing one’s life while tending to a Great Lakes lighthouse — or any navigational beacon anywhere in the world for that matter — sadly wasn’t such an unusual occurrence. The likelihood of drowning while at sea or becoming injured while on the job ultimately leading to death were somewhat common back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Death by murder, suicide or other unnatural and tragic causes, while rare, are not unheard of. In fact, more than dozen lighthouse keepers around the Great Lakes met their maker at the hands of others – by fire, poisoning, bludgeoning and other unknown means. A handful of these keepers, either because of depression or sheer loneliness, took their own lives. A few we may never know the true story, as the deaths now 100 or more years ago, weren’t subjected to the forensic scrutiny that such crimes are given today.

In the pages of Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes: A History of Misfortune & Murder, you’ll find an amalgamation of true crime details, media coverage and historical research which brings the stories to life…despite the deaths of those featured.

Stampfler has been professionally writing and broadcasting since high school. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English with emphasis in Community Journalism and Communications with emphasis in radio broadcasting from Western Michigan University. She is a member of the Midwest Travel Journalists Association, Historical Society of Michigan, Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, Great Lakes Maritime Museum, Association for Great Lake Maritime History, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, Michigan Maritime Museum, Friends of Pilot & Plum Island Lighthouse, National Museum of the Great Lakes and West Michigan Tourist Association.

Great Lakes Lighthouses and Keepers’ Manitou Windjammer Cruise

One of the most unique hands-on Pure Michigan experiences is to spend several days sailing the freshwaters aboard a dual-masted tall ship. You’re invited to board one of the largest sailing vessels in the Great Lakes during one of these autumn windjammer cruises aboard the Tall Ship Manitou with the Traverse Tall Ship Company. Coming up September 13-17 is a four-day excursion focused on the hundreds of historic lighthouses throughout the Great Lakes region with best-selling author and freelance travel writer, Dianna Stampfler.

“We introduced this themed cruise last year and it was a sell-out success,” notes Stampfler, who has been researching and writing about Michigan’s nearly 130 lighthouses and their heroic keepers for close to 25 years. “There was something really special about projecting images on a canopy aboard the tall ship after dark and sharing spooky stories from my first book, Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses. This year, I’m excited to also add tales from my newly released title Death and Lighthouses on the Great Lakes. A third presentation, “Ladies of the Lights” will focus on the many female keepers who served in the state.”

Each passenger will receive an autographed copy of one of Stampfler’s books (with an option to purchase additional copies). The tour also includes a special tour of the 1852 Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Northport, inside Leelanau State Park at the end of the Leelanau Peninsula.

“Last year it was great to just sit around and share stories about Michigan with all the passengers,” says Stampfler. “Today, we all seem so busy running around that we don’t often find the time to relax and just get to know people in a casual and serene environment — the Manitou provides the perfect opportunity. The backdrop of Grand Traverse Bay is also inspiring for would-be writers and I welcome guests to bring their projects with them. If there is interest, I’ll offer guidance on how to get things moving along for those who aspire to become authors or published writers.”

Chuck and Brenda Marshall – creators of the lifestyle blog Life in Michigan – posted a detailed account of their experience (along with dozens of photos) after the 2021 Lighthouse Cruise: https://www.lifeinmichigan.com/tall-ship-manitou-life-in-michigans-sailing-adventure/.

“Each evening, I’ll be presenting for about an hour on the deck of the Manitou, sharing stories from my two books as well as the fascinating tales of our female keepers here in Michigan,” said Stampfler. “The setting really is unparalleled…as the sun sets around 7:45 (and I present around 8pm, so it is twilight). It is something special to be on the tall ship after having sailed all day – from Traverse City up to Suttons Bay and Northport. It’s also a little challenging as when we aren’t docked and hooked up to power, we’re drawing from the battery for an hour to run my laptop and the projector! It definitely is the most unique venue I’ve ever presented in. Not only do we get a chance to tour Grand Traverse Lighthouse, but we get within camera view of Old Mission Point Lighthouse. I think several people were planning to visit that light on their way home, or to travel down the coastline to Point Betsie near Frankfort.”

Guided by the passionate, skilled and entertaining crew, this voyage sets sail out of Grand Traverse Bay aboard a replication of an 1800s “coasting” cargo schooner. A traditional two-masted, gaff rigged, topsail schooner, Manitou measures 114 feet in length with more than 3,000 square feet of sail. Passengers are free to leave the sailing to the experienced crew, but it’s much more fun to lend a hand and learn the arts of the sailor.

“It’s also pretty cool to see people lounging around the boat during the day reading your book while sipping on a cold beverage,” said Stampfler.

The exact course of the trip cannot be determined in advance, as the captain and crew rely on the winds to guide the path of the ship. Yet, no matter what the route, the sights, sounds and stories meld together for a truly one-of-a-kind experience. There is plenty of space for sitting and moving around Manitou’s deck while under sail on the freshwaters of Michigan’s inland seas.

This trip is limited to 22 individuals, with accommodations provided in 11 double-bunk cabins. Fare includes lodging, all meals and sailing activities. Boarding takes place on the first day between 6-8pm, with a return in mid-afternoon on the final day. To make reservations, call 800-678-0383 or order tickets online at www.TallShipSailing. Gift certificates are also available.

Traverse Tall Ship Company is located at 13258 S.W. Bay Shore Drive (M22) in Traverse City.