Mossy tombstones, vacant lighthouses, and a lake floor home to dozens of fatal shipwrecks – Door County’s a great spot to tell a ghost story or two.
“I think whether you believe in ghosts or not – it’s intriguing,” says owner of Door County Trolley A.J. Frank of the trolley’s popular Haunted Olde Sturgeon Bay Tour. “Door County is so full of history, and there is a lot of mystery involved in history.”
The two-hour tour crisscrosses Sturgeon Bay, stopping by a cemetery, a lighthouse, and a charming inn where a particularly horrific murder took place.
“The Sturgeon Bay tour features more recent hauntings than our Fish Creek tour,” says Frank, “hauntings from the 50s and 60s.”
“Everybody loves to hear a ghost story,” agrees Bob Desh, executive director of the Door County Maritime Museum (DCMM), which partners with Door County Trolley to present the evening tour. “Probably our most famous ghost is Minnie Cochems at Sherwood Point [Lighthouse]. She was a lighthouse keeper’s spouse who passed away in the lighthouse and continued to remain ‘on watch,’ if you will, for all these years.”
Cochems died Aug. 17, 1928 and is said to make beds and do dishes for guests and Coast Guard personnel. “She’s a friendly ghost,” says Desh. “There was a guy who was stationed out there and he was working in the flower beds when he heard a female’s voice say, ‘They’ve got you doing women’s work.’ And he says, ‘Ma’am, it’s just part of the job.’ He turns around, there’s nobody there.”
The Coast Guard granted permission for the tour to visit the grounds, which is normally closed to the public. “Standing there, in the dark, with the lighthouse illuminating, looking for Minnie,” smiles Desh, “it’s intriguing.”
The tour began a couple years ago in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit “Haunted Lighthouses of the Great Lakes.”
“That was an interesting exhibit for us,” explains Desh. “As a history museum, to deal with legend is always a little touchy. There are two schools of thought in the history world – legend is legend, history is history. The other school of thought is that you can’t separate the two, or it’s difficult.”
Desh is of the second school of thought. “Pick your historical figure, there is all this legend as well as history around them – George Washington, David Crockett, Daniel Boone. Places have the same thing – Sherwood Point is a spectacular building because of its location and its history, but Minnie Cochem makes it a more interesting place,” he smiles. “She’s as much a part of Sherwood Point as the fact that the light comes on every night.”
The Door County Trolley welcomes everyone – believers and non-believers alike; essentially, the ghost tour promotes participants to look into the history for themselves.
“The stories are fantastic,” says Frank. “When I was looking into the Sturgeon Bay hauntings I felt like a news reporter – I would go to the library and research and talk to people who would say, ‘You have to talk to this person.’ It’s so interesting!”
“They do a good job,” says Desh of the Door County Trolley tour guides. “They’ve got the stories down and they tell ‘em the right way.”
The Haunted Olde Sturgeon Bay Tour takes place Friday and Saturday evenings through Oct. 26. The tour departs at the Door County Maritime Museum, 120 N. Madison Avenue.
For tickets call 1.866.604.5573. For more information about the tour and other tours offered by Door County Trolley, visit doorcountytrolley.com.