The Legend and Ghost of Minnie Quay

Forester, MI

Written by Michigan’s Otherside

Forever searching for her lost love who was killed on the Great Lakes, Mary Jane “Minnie” Quay appears now and then, walking the shores of Lake Huron near the small town of Forester, Michigan, gazing into the horizon, hoping for a ship to appear that never does and leaves her eternally heartbroken.

Or so the legend says…

During the mid to late 1800s, Forester was busy with the lumber business with boats coming and going all of the time. Fifteen-year-old Minnie Quay had fallen in love with one of the sailors who came to port. The last thing her parents wanted was their daughter running off with an older sailor, so the romance was forbidden by Minnie’s parents, Mary and James, which caused arguments and had ignited town gossip that Minnie was “promiscuous.” 

In the spring of 1876, the legend says that Minnie’s sailer went down on his ship on the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan is often cited) and he died. It’s not known what ship he was on and there doesn’t seem to be any noteworthy shipwrecks for 1876, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Devastated by the news, Minnie threw herself from a dock into Lake Huron and drowned and from that point on, people began to report seeing her ghost along the shore.


The rocky shore of Lake Huron, where people have reported seeing Minnie’s ghost.
Photo by Michigan’s Otherside

What’s Minnie’s Real Story?

Minnie Quay was, in fact, a real, fifteen-year-old girl who did die by drowning. Newspapers reports from 1876 suggest that Minnie may have killed herself because of town rumors circulating about her “condition.” Meaning, the gossip going around was about her being pregnant and promiscuous.

The Sanilac Jeffersonian reported that the family felt they were “victims of slander.” During the inquest, it was revealed that “for some time, past scandalous stories have been in circulation” about Minnie. When her parents heard the stories, they confronted their daughter to find out if they were true.

Whatever the discussion was between Minnie and her parents, On Thursday, April 27, 1876, she wrote a letter to her mother, “charging her with being too severe with her and asserting her innocence.” That afternoon, her younger brother witnessed Minnie jump into Lake Huron. When she didn’t surface, he ran for help.

The town did their best to find her quickly, but it took an hour to locate her body.

During the inquest, the family requested a medical examination “which failed to reveal any evidence of the truth of the stories concerning her.”

Minnie Quay didn’t jump to her death because her lover had died, she killed herself because of shame and humiliation that her reputation had been ruined. Had Minnie really been in love with an older sailor? Or did untrue rumors get spread about a young girl that caused her to take her own life?

Minnie Quay’s Ghost

Michigan’s Otherside took a visit to Forester in the fall of 2006 and stopped by the Forester Township Cemetery to pay our respects at Minnie’s tombstone. A sturdy, pink granite monument is adorned with flowers, tokens, and pennies from people who know the legend and her tragic story. We stayed in a cottage on Lake Huron with a long staircase that led down to the rocky shoreline. 

The Quay family tombstone in Forester Township Cemetery circa 2006. 

Photograph by Michigan’s Otherside

The steps leading down to Lake Huron at the cottage we rented.

Photograph by Michigan’s Otherside

We wandered out to the shore during the night, hoping to catch a glimpse of her ghost, but sadly nothing was seen. Plus there’s that whole part of the legend where if you see her, she may try and lure you to your death, especially if you’re female. If that part of the legend has any truth to it, she can just knock that off. No one likes someone trying to lure them to an early death. Not cool Minnie. Not cool. 

The Ballad of Minnie Quay

This is the version of the Ballad of Minnie Quay that was printed in Marian Kuclo’s Michigan’s Haunts and Hauntings and has been around in some fashion for over a hundred years.

‘Twas long ago besides Lake Huron
She walked the sandy shore.
but the voice of one sweet Minnie Quay
‘Twill echo ever more.

Sailors still hear her crying.
Young lovers hear her, too,
As she calls for them to join her
In the waters, icy blue.

Young Minnie loved a sailor.
The sailor loved her, too.
And on the shore, behind the trees
The pair would rendezvous.

But gossips soon got wind of it,
And tongues began to wag.
the tale was told to Minnie’s Ma
By some old babbling hag.

Minnie’s Ma got angry
And to her daughter said,
“Married to a sailor?
I’d rather see you dead.”

They knew she’d been sneaking out
To see the lad at night.
They boarded up her bedroom door,
And kept her locked in tight.

He waited for his love, in vain.
A tear was in his eye
when he set sail next morning
without kissing her goodbye.

He never saw his love again
For alas, a storm arose.
That raging gale sank many ships,
And his was one of those.

The ship that carried Minnie’s love
Sank like it was lead.
And when the news reached Forester
They said he was dead.

Minnie wore a dress of white.
She looked just like a bride,
When she plunged into the water deep
To die there by his side.

But Minnie Quay is not at rest,
Or so the people say.
Her ghost still walks the lonely shore.
You may see her to this day.