Light houses are often used to symbolize both warning and comfort for those who are adrift at sea or encapsulated in dreams of the ocean. Those who see a light house in the distance know rough waters are ahead, and to steer clear of the light. But those who steer clear of a different light so they may continue through rough waters may find themselves wandering eternally as ghosts such as those in the Waugoshance Light Ship.
The legend began with the great Chicago fire of October 9th 1871. Though the exact circumstances behind the fire’s origin are often speculated on there is little more than legend surrounding this event which is in itself a mystery. But where there is smoke there is fire, and certainly in this case the reverse was true as well. As the events of the Great Chicago fire raged through the city, a terrible smoke drifted over Lake Michigan threatening to increase the death toll from 300 to many more as ships would no doubt collide with the reefs along the shore line. It was thanks to the constant work of one man, Captain James Davenport, that these lives were not added to the death toll.
Working 24 hours a day for several days in a row, Davenport rang his bell with pots and pans on his lap. If he was ever to doze off the pots and pans would clatter to the ground waking him and telling him to keep ringing the bell. He would quickly snatch up the pots and pans and lay them once again on his lap to resume ringing the bell that would warn of danger. There is no telling how many vessels were saved due to the efforts of this one man as thousands worked to get the fires under control in Chicago.
But the legend of John Herman, who would replace Captain John Davenport would be far more terrifying. After falling from the lighthouse to die on the reef below, those who inhabited the lighthouse would report strange footsteps walking through the lighthouse at all hours of the night. As the years went on legends of a ghostly figure in the lighthouse was reported by visitors and lighthouse keepers, who said the mournful shade would walk up and down the stairs only to fall off the edge and into the reef below.
The lighthouse is completely surrounded by water, and built up like a castle sprouting from the water. And there is at least one preservation society working to keep this piece of history alive. Currently it is primarily viewed from the air, or in the way so many thankful mariners did as they were coasting dangerously near treacherous waters – by boat.
Is the mournful spirit of a vanquished lighthouse keeper still stalking this ancient sentinel looking to warn passing ships of rough waters ahead? Or are these tales simply thought up to punctuate the short career of John Herman? Either way, the Waugoschance lighthouse sticks out as one of the most interesting haunted spots of Chicago.