Seeking Haven for the Night? Innkeeper Buck Gotschall Will Leave a Big Light on for You

updated 04/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Standing 120 feet above the craggy shoreline of Lake Superior, the Big Bay Lighthouse flashes a warning to ships every six seconds. And its sturdy tower, with walls five bricks thick, is also an observation platform overlooking some of Michigan's most breathtaking vistas, a sweeping panorama of the rugged Huron Mountains and the wind-whipped waves of the world's largest freshwater lake. On certain nights, brilliant patterns of the northern lights streak the midnight sky. Best of all, after absorbing such spectacles, visitors with reservations need only descend five flights down a spiral staircase to check themselves in for the night in the cozy confines of the Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast.

The proprietor of the only working lighthouse B&B in the country is Buck Gotschall, 62, who bought the facility four years ago. It was a former Coast Guard station at which the light had been automated. Gotschall made it over into a hostelry with six guest rooms. For $85 a night per couple during the week and $120 on the weekend, Big Bay Lighthouse offers quarters with quaint touches like a handmade quilt or a magazine from the '40s.

The arrangements are spartan. There are no phones or televisions, and if you want a full-course dinner, you'll have to cook it yourself in Gotschall's kitchen or go off to the town of Big Bay (pop: 250) three miles away. The innkeeper will gladly provide the entertainment by spinning ghost stories or reconstructing the history of the lighthouse, built in 1896. But Gotschall, who runs the place year-round with his second wife, Marilyn, 46, also likes to come and go as he pleases. "I chose this life so I could enjoy myself," he says. "There is a lot of fishing to do. Folks can take care of themselves."

Nature lovers roam the 100 densely wooded acres of Gotschall's property looking for deer, bears, moose, even martens. It's the tranquillity of staying in the lighthouse that keeps Gotschall's guest register full. "A lighthouse exudes stability," he says. "It's been here almost a hundred years. The wave action is hypnotic and restful, like a mantra." Recent guests Dave Post and Suzanne Stillings from Ann Arbor found the lighthouse so appealing that they chose it as the site of their wedding. As a nondenominational minister, Gotschall officiated.

He answered a different calling in 1971, when he walked away from a lucrative real estate business in Baldwin, Mich. Born in Gas City, Ind., and raised in Michigan, Gotschall moved to the Upper Peninsula in 1972 to lead a simpler life full of fishing and meditation. At the time that he bought the lighthouse in 1986, however, he knew nothing about running an inn. "I have a wood sign in my kitchen that reads FLY WHILE YOU STILL HAVE WINGS. So I did it." Gotschall welcomed his first customers in 1987.

His guests, Gotschall says, "range from millionaires to farmers," and when there are too many of them, the Gotschalls have been known to give up their own quarters and, in good weather, camp out in a tent. But then no one is more enthralled by the Big Bay setting than the proprietor himself. "Twelve guests watched a tornado rip through once," he says. "Storms are real beauties. Ah," he sighs, "I love it."

—Andrew Abrahams, Julie Greenwalt in Big Bay

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