Miles away from shore, one candy-striped lighthouse has weathered years in Lake Michigan. Care to sign up for an overnight stay?

By Carol Lautenbach
June 22, 2020
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Bryan Dort

The Mackinac Bridge fades behind our sturdy vintage Coast Guard supply boat. After several miles, our captain, Brent Tompkins, points toward a far-away lighthouse in the smooth navy blue expanse. It’ll be an hour before we can see its red-and-white stripes. The sky is uninterrupted except for a shelf of low, sun-toasted clouds floating on the western horizon.

Here in the straits, more than 6 miles from any swath of dry land, the waters that created Michigan’s peninsulas are alive and in charge, according to Jill Ore, White Shoal Light Historical Preservation Society board member. She would know. She’s spent 15 nights at this remote site, once all alone. Unless you count Timothy, the resident spirit.

His favorite haunt, Ore says, is the original radio room on the third deck. He seems to prefer primitive technology. Multiple guests (yes, anyone can book a stay, though the lighthouse is closed for 2020) have reported computers mysteriously disconnecting from power outlets. Maybe he has a message: Plug into the lake instead. Ore would agree. “I’m an introvert,” she says. “So when I am alone on the deck, listening to the water, it recharges me.”

Completed in 1910, White Shoal Light’s tower originally had terra-cotta blocks and classic columns—frills now surrendered to wind, water and legendary conditions. In 1891, pre-lighthouse, a Coast Guard lightship left its post without orders during a particularly fierce storm. Today, visitors can only come in summer, when the lake calms.

We spiral up 10 stories to the parapet and lantern room for 360-degree views. Gray-green water snakes away from the platform, the patina marking the top of the treacherous shoal. Below it, riprap surrounds the lighthouse. These boulders imported from Lake Erie are armor against waves and ice. Interlocking timbers form a base under the rock. Preserved by the water, the logs are almost as fresh as when they last stood in an Oregon forest. Many ships lie lost beneath the surface, too—but countless more are still cruising today, guided to safety by White Shoal’s light.