Located snugly between East and West Grand Traverse Bays is Old Mission Peninsula: a 19-mile-long, three-mile-wide stretch of land that harbors history, beauty, and award-winning wine. Ten wineries grace the breathtaking landscape throughout the peninsula, which is also dotted with farm stands, restaurants, and even a historic lighthouse. The Old Mission Peninsula is also home to many legendary stories. One story in particular, the story of Genevieve “Jennie” Stickney and the Bowers Harbor Inn, has spread beyond the rolling hills of Old Mission and into the hearts and minds of visitors across the world. But what is the true story of Jennie Stickney? And is she still wandering the halls of her former residence?
As the legend goes, Jennie and her husband, Charles Stickney, purchased a farm on Old Mission Peninsula in 1909. Like many Northern Michigan residents today, the Stickneys spent their winters in warmer locations but returned to work the farmland each summer. Their original farmhouse was damaged in 1927, and the couple hired their nephew to design and build the beautiful property now home to the Mission Table and Jolly Pumpkin restaurant. Rumors have spread that Jennie was a jealous woman who suffered from diabetes and obesity. It is said that her husband was having an affair with the nurse he hired to care for Jennie, and their affair drove her to hang herself from the rafters of the elevator shaft Mr. Stickney had installed. The rumors continued that Charles Stickney continued his relationship with the nurse and even left his entire fortune to her upon his death. However, like many rumors, those details are mostly false. In an October 2014 edition of the Grand Traverse Journal, author and historian Julie Schopieray set out to tell the true story of Jennie Stickney and clear her name.
Schopieray writes that Jennie and her husband had hired a widowed nurse to care for them in their aging years. The couple became very close to their nurse and her children, and all of them traveled with the Stickneys for many years. Charles Stickney was in a wheelchair, which is why the elevator was installed. Jennie (not Genevieve, as the legend claims) actually died of heart disease, diabetes, and possible dementia in March 1947 at the coupleʼs winter suite in Grand Rapids. After her death, Charles Stickney returned, along with his nurse, to his home on Old Mission Peninsula and stayed for two years before he passed away. Stickney did, indeed, leave his wealth to his nurse and her children, as he and Jennie had no heirs. Although it is possible that Charles Stickney and his nurse did have an affair that prompted him to choose her as the recipient of his fortune, Schopieray writes, “The real story is about two elderly people who needed help from their widowed nurse, a person to whom Charles Stickney did leave his worldly possessions, but only out of respect and gratitude.”
Although the details of her death and portions of her life have been grossly mischaracterized, the presence of Jennie Stickney’s spirit is well-known among the staff and visitors at Mission Table and Jolly Pumpkin. Stories of paranormal pranks continue to this day. Those who have felt her presence have welcomed the experience, even feeling honored to be recognized by Jennie. After all, Jennie Stickney was a woman known for entertaining, and she loved to be at the center of gatherings. It appears that she continues in that role, nearly 75 years later, as a beloved and eternal fixture of the Old Mission Peninsula.