Seul Choix Point Light marks a small harbor on Lake Michigan located on the south shore of the Upper Peninsula. Located some sixty miles west of the Straits, its name literally means “only choice”.
Native Americans and French fur traders traveled in canoes across the rough waters of the lake, and It was named by the French who found that it was the only harbor of refuge in this part of Lake Michigan.
Father William Gagnieur, a scholar and itinerant Jesuit missionary among the Native Americans of northern Michigan during the early 1900s, however, claimed that locals called the point Shishewah, derived from the Ojibwa word Shashoweg, which refers to the “straight line” of the coast.
Regardless of the name’s origin, local references state that the correct and favorite pronunciation is “Sis-shwa”, assumed to be the common name used by both the French Voyageurs and the Native Americans with whom they traded.
If boats were headed for the Straits of Mackinac, the only choice for safety was, not by chance, Seul Choix.
During the mid-1800’s Seul Choix Point was the center of a thriving fishing community, buttoday, only the lighthouse complex is still active.
And the light still operates, but with an automated replacement instead of its original lens.
The station was established in 1892 with a temporary light, it started service in 1895, and was fully automated in 1972.
Historically, in the 1880s, there was increased maritime traffic between the harbors on Lake Michigan’s western shore and Green Bay on the one hand, and the Straits of Mackinac on the other.
Despite the St. Helena Island Light marked the western entry into the Straits, and Poverty Island Light lighted the entrance to the Bays de Noc, there were no lighthouses to aid mariners navigating a dark 100-mile (160 km) stretch of coastline on the southern shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The navigation season along this shoreline often began and ended with treacherous storms, with waves would build as they traversed the lake, making the shelter a matter of life and death.
The United States Lighthouse Board sought to mark the sheltering harbor, and provide a visual waypoint between the two existing lights and, after considerable investigation and delay, as the station was not entirely completed until September, 1895, the result was the building of this lighthouse, that also included a separate fog horn building, and a life-saving station.
Even so, there have been at least a dozen shipwrecks and approximately 500 deaths in the area.
Joseph Fountain, a Native American who had been serving as keeper of Beaver Island Harbor Lighthouse, was appointed first keeper of Seul Choix Lighthouse in 1892, and he reportedly preferred to live in an old hutch that was literally “not fit for habitation for man or beast,” as the new brick dwelling was too much for his primitive notions of comfort. When the permanent light and fog signal commenced operation in 1895, Fountain was joined at the station by two assistants: Eugene Kimball, and Patrick McCauley.
In any case, the conical brick light tower rests on an ashlar foundation, with 1,5 meters below grade, and it is surmounted by a 10-sided cast iron lantern that originally held a Third Order Fresnel lens manufactured by Le Paute of Paris.
The lighthouse exhibited a fixed red light, varied by a red flash every fifteen seconds, and its beacon was visible for thirteen miles. The station, also operated a fog signal placed in service on September 10, 1895 using water pumped from Lake Michigan.
The two-story house-easily large enough to accommodate two families-is finished in red brick, including several rooms that have been added on to the original structure. Attached to the house by a small, enclosed corridor of red brick is the lighthouse tower. The interior of the living quarters has been completely restored and decorated as they would have appeared in the 1900’s-1930’s.
The lantern is now fitted with a modern airport beacon lens.
On July 19, 1984, the site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors and workers at the lighthouse have reported strange happenings, including moved silverware and other items, footsteps, the strong smell of cigars and the sound of someone climbing its steps.
Many believe that a lighthouse keeper is still at work.
More precisely, phantom cigar smoke often detected in the dwelling is believed to be evidence that Keeper Joseph Willie Townshend never left the station. He passed away in the dwelling in 1910, and It seems that his wife never let him smoke his cigar inside the dwelling, but it now seems he is showing everyone he can do it wherever he pleases.
Captain Townshend was originally from Bristol, England, and lived here from 1901 until he died of consumption in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
“Consumption” is an old-fashioned term for tuberculosis.
Because he died in winter when the ground was too frozen to dig a grave, the Captain couldn’t be buried straightaway, and his body had to be stored in the basement for several months. Some of the paranormal expert believe that might be why the captain’s spirit remains “trapped” at the lighthouse.
Interestingly enough, in the United States you set a table correctly by putting the fork on the left side of the plate and the knife to the right, and the Captain doesn’t seem to like it when people set the table American style, as they always find the silverware reversed, even though no one’s been in the kitchen. Forks were also placed with tines face down, the way Mr. Townsend preferred them.
Moreover, in the mornings several volunteers have found a crescent-shaped imprint on the bedspread in the room, and they’re pretty sure was the Captain’s.
It looks like someone sat down right on the bed, and orhers have even reported seeing a man watching them from one of the windows, about halfway up the light tower, but no one was in the tower at the time.
Other unnatural occurrences in the dwelling include apparitions in the mirror of an upstairs dresser.
But don’t let the ghost stories keep you away from the lighthouse, as well-kept Seul Choix Lighthouse is a must-see attraction on anyone’s visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is also a museum and both the building and the grounds are open for visitors from Memorial Day at the end of May, until the middle of October.
Images from web – Google Research