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Still on Duty at White River Light

The Dark Side of White Lake by mellowhummer

(has additional info on the haunting!)

When Karen McDonnell is alone she sometimes hears footsteps on the stairway of the former White River Light. But she isn’t afraid. She says, “I like the comfort it gives me. It’s like a watchman, just making sure everything is okay before it’s too late at night.”

McDonnell is the curator of an old lighthouse that has been turned into a museum. She takes care of the light and gives tours to visitors. Sometimes early in the morning or late at night she hears what sounds like somebody climbing the stairs and walking around on the upper level. She wonders if it might be the spirit of the light’s first keeper.

When the White River Light opened in the mid-1870s, William Robinson and his wife Sarah moved in. Over the years, the English couple raised their family at Whitehall. Sarah died at a young age, but William remained the lightkeeper for 47 years. When the government forced the 87-year-old keeper to retire in 1915, William’s grandson became the next lightkeeper at White River. William helped his grandson run the light, but the rules said that only the lightkeeper and his “immediate” family could live at the lighthouse. William would have to leave. But he refused, telling his grandson, “I am not going to leave this building.” He was right. The day before he had to move out, he died. His grandson buried him in a small nearby cemetery.

Besides Karen, others have heard the unexplained sounds when visiting White River. Karen once asked friends to care for the light while she was gone. She did not mention the unexplained visits. When she returned, her friends asked, “Do you have some kind of ghost walking around upstairs?” They described the same sounds Karen often heard.

Although Karen has “never felt fear” when she hears the footsteps, she has never gone up stairs when she hears it. As she explains, “I feel it is a ritual and that I shouldn’t disturb it.”

The structure is open to the public as the White River Light Station Museum and you can also visit Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light to learn more about the lighthouse’s history.

To learn more about Michigan’s lighthouse heritage, look for “Lighting the Way,” the Spring 2007 issue of Michigan History for Kids magazine. Call (800) 366-3703 or visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com for more information.