Since their discovery, the Great Lakes have spawned a rich legacy of myth, folklore, legend and tales of unexplained phenomena. American Indian mythology, for example, is steeped in stories surrounding the lakes.
In more recent times, stories of haunted lighthouses, ghost ships, phantom lights and sailor superstitions are common. But do these reports amount to more than wild imagination? Maybe, maybe not.
"Are they history, as such? Certainly not; they're not verifiable," said Frederick Stonehouse, a maritime historian who has written 13 books. His publishing credits include "Haunted Lakes," a 1997 book that explores tales of Great Lakes ghosts, superstitions and sea serpents.
Stonehouse, who considered using a pen name to write "Haunted Lakes" to protect his reputation, said that while the stories do not represent serious history, they do occur within a historical framework. "They clearly are a part of the Great Lakes and the oral history of the Great Lakes," he said.
Strange phenomena reported years ago still are reported today, in an updated fashion. An example is ghost ships.
On Sept. 18, 1679, the sailing vessel Griffon and its crew of six disappeared after leaving Lake Michigan's Green Bay, headed for Lake Erie. Sailors since have claimed to have seen the ship sailing again on the lakes.
Several other ships that have sunk or been lost have been sighted again as ghost ships. These sightings are often considered by sailors to be a harbinger of an impending storm.
The ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank off Whitefish Point on Nov. 10, 1975, with 29 crewmen. It is by far the most famous Lake Superior shipwreck. It was reportedly sighted by a crew on a Great Lakes commercial vessel in 1995. "You can't say whether or not they've seen it, but it's kind of neat to have this same thread showing up again," Stonehouse said.
Ghosts also are haunting new places. A sport diver exploring the wreck of the steamer Emperor near Isle Royale in 1988 reportedly saw the ghost of a crewman lying on a bunk who looked back at the diver.
Stonehouse said he neither believes nor disbelieves in ghosts but tries to keep an open mind about the unexplained. The Marquette historian is currently penning a sequel to "Haunted Lakes."
Originally published to Marquette Mining Journal By John Pepin