Time travel isn’t just a fantasy in the eastern Upper Peninsula. A lighthouse volunteer program, for example, doesn’t just showcase a national restoration model; it has participants pumping water in much the same way it was done in the late 1800s, maybe dressing as a young brave for a skit for a group on a lighthouse luncheon cruise. A visit to a grand historic island hotel, on the right weekend, finds guests mingling in circa 1912 finery with the stars of a cult time travel romance before heading over (and back) to a nearby fort to witness a court marshal in the middle of the War of 1812. And that’s just the beginning of an unusual list of experiential travel and story options.
Where Maritime (and ghost) lore abounds
The bed and breakfast lodging at the remodeled Coast Guard crew quarters alongside the Whitefish Point Light Tower and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum offers historic immersion in several ways. Guests stay in rooms once staffed by life saving station crews who’d daily roam the beaches in search of shipwreck victims; some 100 wrecks lie just off the point. Waves can be seen, and heard, from the cozy rooms, under a beacon still cast into the Lake Superior night.
• An adjacent building also holds artifacts including the recovered bell from the famed Edmund Fitzgerald.
• Some think history lives on still in another way; the lodging and museum were recently featured in a Discovery Channel “Ghost Lab” episode, in which a film crew reported the site as one of the most supernatural they’d yet encountered
Living a light keepers life
Michigan boasts more lighthouses than any other state in the U.S., with 115 dotting its Great Lakes shoreline. Ways to visit include regular lighthouse cruises, a new volunteer tourism trend lets people sample a light keeper’s life through varying levels of commitment.
The most authentic experience is offered at the St. Helena Island Light Station, which has made national news for its restoration partnership with the Boy Scouts of America. Volunteers can now travel by boat under the Mackinac Bridge and a bit further west and pitch in for five days to up to two months as interest and skill sets allow, communally cooking dinner or doing dishes, and usually singing sea shanties from a light tower or along a shoreline bonfire. Participation fee is just $12 a day, plus $75 transportation fee.
A passenger inn built by a railroad company during the lumber boom (and later moved by log and horse) to its current scenic lakefront location, and the personal home of lumber baron who founded the village of Blaney Park are still-genteel lodging options in the Great Waters.
• Chamberlin’s Ole Forest Inn has been transformed over the years to railroad passenger hotel to fishing resort to the current notoriety it receives for porch-side entertainment and high-end dining.
• Celibeth House was built in 1895 in Blaney Park, touted as the state’s first modern lumber town, and since 1987 operated as a seven-room Bed and Breakfast.
A Face on an Island’s Past
Trails leading to 300-foot sandstone cliffs over pristine bays are a prime draw to Grand Island for avid hikers and mountain bikers. In winter, snowmobile or snowshoes are common means for exploring legendary ice caves. But any trip takes on new meaning after learning legends of another sort from the book “Face in the Rock,” now also a motion picture about the small island band of Ojibwe that once inhabited the island but were forced into war by a mainland tribe.