Pure Michigan campaign ads had persuaded trolls—residents of Michigan’s lower peninsula, like me—to crawl out from our homes south of the Mackinac Bridge. It was Labor Day weekend, the last chance for many families to head up north before the start of a new school year. For my family, this was the perfect time to explore the beauty of our grand state’s upper peninsula. Our adventure began in the city of St. Ignace at the area’s number one, Trip Advisor rated, hotel: the Best Western Harbour Pointe Lakefront.
After dinner, my husband, four children, and I sat around a bonfire with other hotel guests. I asked Zach, who was part of the hospitality staff, if he knew any ghost stories. He was busy unloading wood for the fire but sat down for a few minutes to share some of the rumors he was familiar with. I light-heartedly listened to Zach’s fanciful stories. What I didn’t know at that time was just how much this discussion would affect my psyche and influence my decisions throughout the rest of the trip.
Zach recalled the tale of a woman who had an extramarital affair. Townspeople killed the unfaithful wife by dunking her repeatedly underwater in what is known as the drowning pool, a twenty-feet deep, seaweed-infested lagoon on nearby Mackinac Island. The ghost of the woman reportedly now haunts that area.
Intrigued by this story, I later looked online for more information. I read through pages and pages of creepy hauntings that had frightened local residents and visitors, but I couldn’t find the exact story Zach had referred to. I discovered one other, however, that best fit his account.
Haunts of Mackinac author Todd Clements described the unfortunate outcome for seven prostitutes who were accused of being witches. The ladies were subjected to a test in order to determine their innocence or guilt. A large boulder was tied to each lady. Then they were thrown into the drowning pool. If the women floated, they would have been found guilty—considered witches—and subjected to further punishment: death by hanging. Since every one of the accused actually sunk deep below the surface of the water, they were vindicated of sorcery but had drowned in the process of proving their innocence. The women now make appearances as eerie, shadow-like figures floating above the lagoon or as huge, larger-than-life splashes on the surface of the water.
Other stories also indicate that the drowning pool is haunted by ghosts. But Zach didn’t seem to believe in ghosts at all. He preferred to talk about a story that was based upon measurable, physical evidence. He said that hundreds of bodies had been uncovered during construction of the Grand Hotel. “There were so many bodies, they eventually stopped trying to retrieve all of them, so there are still hundreds, maybe thousands, lying beneath the building.” That’s not a fact the hotel advertises on its webpage, but Zach was confident of its authenticity. He emphatically added, “That’s a true story.”
The unique history of Mackinac Island may support that claim. Indian chiefs were buried there; soldiers died there. Other people committed suicide and murder. Death is nothing abnormal, of course, but it does produce an odd result on Mackinac. The island is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Michigan.
I suppose Zach has never seen a ghost, and so he finds it easy to dismiss the paranormal. But how do reasonable people like him react to legends of animal-like creatures such as Bigfoot?
Animal Planet’s popular television series, Finding Bigfoot began its eighth season in January 2016. Enough people watch the show to keep it on the air. Does that mean they believe that these creatures actually roam the earth? Or are they watching only to be entertained? Arguments run rampant in online forums as people seriously debate the question “Would you shoot a sasquatch?” Some believers say “I couldn’t kill it” and skeptics respond “You can’t kill something that doesn’t exist.”
Zach is probably a skeptic. He joked about having seen a similar phenomenon, the Dogman. It’s described as a large dog that walks upright on two legs and terrorizes the northern part of Michigan. Because Zach had laughed, I knew he didn’t want me to think that he truly believed in the werewolf-like animal.
But people in our remote towns are seeing mysterious things they can’t easily explain away. Documented reports are so convincing that I admit this: As my family and I hiked through the U.P. wilderness, I was on guard against two specific entities besides ferocious cougars, man-eating black bear, and venomous Massasauga rattlesnakes. I looked deeply into the thicket of the forest and wondered just what I would do if I crossed paths with the gruesome Dogman or the iconic Bigfoot.
I stayed on the trail best I could and kept searching for anything out of the ordinary. I quickly dismissed non-threatening deer tracks. I counted the number of toes in common dog prints and made sure to find four paw prints in stride with one another. I listened for evidence that my family and I were being studied and stalked. Were our feet the only ones to be thudding upon the ground? Why were the birds in the trees suddenly taking flight?
In one hand, I tightly gripped the three-foot long walking stick I had selected at the beginning of our hike. I used the stick to brush the tall grasses that lay ahead of me, hoping to roust camouflaged critters. Occasionally I practiced twisting the knobby branch up and out in front, like a jousting pole or a sabre.
The fingers of my other hand delicately wound around another item that empowered me with confidence. I reasoned that I wouldn’t use it unless the risk to my family was too great not to. Could I actually do it? I wondered and considered alternative scenarios. I knew that I might very well be faced with no other choice.
I was convinced at that point. Determined. If the worst should happen and a feral beast were to get too close, I would swiftly raise my arm, take aim, and throw my treasured, tasty, chicken pasty at the creature. No Yooper would let that staple go to waste. By the time he finished it, my family and I would be long gone and safely out of the woods.