Lost Love & Found Spirits in Nahma – the Heart of the Hiawatha
So we stayed at the haunted Nahma Inn in October of 2019 and met several locals who shared stories with us about Nellie Fleming and her spirit who resides within this 1908 building. Apparently there are as many as 5 ghosts here – maybe Charles Good who lived for a time in the room (#17) across from Nell (#16)…and an on-again-off-again affair was known within the town. At one point, Nell’s sisters also lived here (1930 census)…including Anne (pictured) who was a local boys high school basketball coach and school superintendent (and I suspect is actually a sister-in-law, married to Nell’s only brother, John).
Here is more of the story…
Located in Delta County, Nahma, Michigan sits about 21 miles west of Manistique and 25 miles from Escanaba, skirting the shoreline of Big Bay de Noc of Lake Michigan to the south and stretching north to within 20 miles of Lake Superior, in the Upper Peninsula. It is considered by many to be the “Heart of the Hiawatha” and the “Jewel of Bay de Noc.”
Settled as early as 1856, Nahma was an active lumbering and sawmill community that built up around the Big Bay de Noquet Company, a lumber operation founded in 1881 that employed over 1500 workers during its peak. One of the main figures within the company was Charles Ellis Good, who born May 25, 1887 in Oconto, WI. Charles graduated from Escanaba High School (playing football on the state championship team in 1904) before enrolling at the University of Michigan where he earned an A.B. degree in 1910. He was then employed by the Oconto Lumber Company before enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War I, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Reserves.
Charles found his way to Bay de Noquet, where his father, Fred, was superintendent. He eventually became President of the lumber company until it ceased operations in 1951 — at which time he gained national recognition for selling the entire village of Nahma for $250,000 to the American Playground Company of Anderson, IN (lest it become yet another Upper Peninsula “ghost town”). LIFE magazine even covered the story!
Another claim to fame for Charles was his creation of the “Backwoods University” – a summer vocational school which offered short courses in writing (novels, poetry and short stories), painting, photo journalism, nature photography, drama, radio and scenario writing and more, all hosted at a model village at the lumberyard adjacent to the mouth of the Sturgeon River. A poetry-writer himself, Charles offered cultural opportunities for the students to observe the working lumber operation while also visiting the local woods to see the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in action rebuilding the local forests.
One of the noted long-term employees at the Bay de Noquet was Miss Nellie Fleming. Born in 1892, to Micheal and Katherine (Mulcahay) Fleming, she was the second oldest of seven children living on Ayer Street in Escanaba, Ward 6, in Delta County.
Katherine Fleming died in 1917 of peritonitis and Micheal passed two years later of a spinal fracture. In the 1920 census, a 26-year-old Nellie was listed as head of household in a home on 3rd Street in Wells Township, Delta County – her sisters Catherine (age 24), Nora (age 14) and Celestine (age 12) living with her. Ten years later, according to the 1930 census, Nellie, Nora and a 35-year-old married Ann Fleming (who may have been the wife of Nellie’s only brother, John – born in 1896) are listed among seven lodgers at the circa 1909 Nahma Inn, owned at the time by Lewis McDonald.
According to her obituary, Nellie worked for nearly 38 years as Charles Good’s personal secretary (and head of the stenography department) – from about 1914 until the company closed. She would have been in her early 20s when she was first hired in. During her professional career, Nellie also served for a period of time as the Nahma Township treasurer as referenced in several local publications archived on Newspapers.com.
Nellie was also very active with the local Girl Scouts, serving as a leader for more than 25 years. The Escanaba Daily Press reported on November 6, 1948 that “She has had training courses at Gray’s Lake, Ill., Juniper Knoll, Chicago Girl Scout Camp and leadership training at Chicago and at Timber Trail. She is also a representative of the Chicago Timber Trail Association. In 1929, Miss Fleming attended the national Girl Scout convention in New Orleans.” The following year, Nellie was elected president of a newly formed Delta County Girl Scout association.
According to local stories passed down, Nellie was madly in love with Charles – and they may have even had a romantic relationship at one point. But, ironically, neither ever married (each other or anyone else). It’s unfortunate, given they seemed a perfect match given their mutual interest in education, nature and their local community of Nahma. Some believed Charles felt Nellie didn’t match up to his social class, given she was an employee. He died of a heart attack in 1955 (at the age of 68) and Nellie died four years later in Minneapolis (at the age of 67) after reportedly being sick for nearly seven months. Charles is buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Escanaba, she was laid to rest in family plot at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Marquette, nearly 70 miles away.
While little remains of this once thriving community, the Nahma Inn still welcomes overnight guests as well as those looking for a nice meal, drink or live entertainment on weekends. It’s also rumored to be haunted…by a broken-hearted Nellie.
An August 9, 2019 article on OnlyInYourState.com by Catherine Armstrong sheds light on the Nahma Inn spirit of Nellie Fleming.
“It’s said that a ghost named Nell wanders the halls here, and though she seems harmless, her story is tragic. The story starts with a man named Charlie Good, a local businessman who owned the Bay de Noquet Lumber Company. Nahma Inn was built for the employees of the company, and a woman named Nell Fleming worked in the kitchen there. After he left her, Nell waited in her room for him to return, but he never did. Some guests and employees of the inn say that they have seen her standing at the window, watching for him. If you dare, you can stay overnight in Nell’s room. Guests have reported all kinds of odd activity here. Some say that if they leave their room briefly, when they return everything is rearranged…sometimes even the bed. Employees report feeling a presence in the hallway and on the staircase. Sometimes Nell’s presence is noticed downstairs in the restaurant and lounge. Diners have witnessed plates and glasses sliding right off the tables without anyone touching them. Kitchen staff notices that the cooking implements are often rearranged, even in the middle of the dinner rush. The folks at the hotel refer to this ghost as ‘Miss Nell,’ and don’t seem to be afraid of her. While she often pulls little pranks on the guests and staff, she seems quite harmless.”
In 2017, a story from ABC 10 in the Upper Peninsula also notes that the spirit of Charles Good may also still roam the halls of the inn.
“Employees of the Inn have also experienced high activity while on the clock, ranging from apparitions and hearing people talking who weren’t there to knives being pulled off a magnet strip and coins falling from seemingly nowhere. But, the women insist there is nothing sinister about these spirits.”
Ellen Creager wrote a piece in 2016 which appeared in the Detroit Free Press about the 13-guestroom inn and the spirits that reside there.
“We’ve experienced paranormal situations,” says Charley MacIntosh, who has owned the inn for three years [since 2013] with his wife, Laurie.
“About a month ago Laurie saw a little girl three times in one night,” he says. “She had closed down and was doing paperwork, and she saw a girl walk right by her. She appeared to be a 10-year-old girl.
“Another time, I heard a lullaby singing. I was in the basement and was doing a plumbing job, and I brought my tools back down in the basement, and the song came out of the rafters, a beautiful lullaby singing, and I could just about make out the words but not quite.
“Then, last Thanksgiving, there were four of us playing euchre. One person had a drink on the table. Then the drink just went flying off the table. We had five witnesses on that,” he says.
MacIntosh says they didn’t set out to have a haunted hotel. It just happened.
“We have quite a few guests who know the stories, that there are supposed to be spooks. The hotel is over 100 years old, and we don’t really have the total history on it. But a lot of locals say there are spirits around here. I never was much of a believer until we bought this place.”