Michigan Haunts by Jon Milan and Gail Offen provides spooky legends about allegedly haunted places throughout Michigan.
Featured photo courtesy of Library of Congress
Have you ever been to Machpelah Cemetery and heard bells ringing or sensed a mysterious black mist in the air? Dined at the Whitney in Detroit and spied the visage of old Flora Whitney and could have sworn you saw the late wife of the lumber baron staring back at you in the reflection of a mirror?
Then you may want to pick up a copy of Michigan Haunts: Public Places, Eerie Spaces (2019, Arcadia Publishing), co-authored by Jon Milan and Gail Offen, who wrote this book as an offshoot from researching their other two books on Michigan’s history.
The book is filled with stories and legends about allegedly haunted public places throughout Michigan —everything from restaurants, bars and inns to lighthouses and libraries.
For a haunted jaunt through the state, Offen advises readers to traverse Grand River Avenue. Potholes aside, it can take you from Downtown Detroit to the shores of Lake Michigan, passing small towns loaded with haunted theaters, bars and battlefields.
“Essentially, Grand River Avenue is Michigan’s Route 66,” said Offen, who had a long career in advertising before authoring books. “I entered into writing this book as a sideline.
Everywhere I stopped, I encountered people who wanted to tell me stories and legends of places in their town that had a reputation for being haunted. This book is the culmination of those stories.”
For those with no immediate travel plans, Detroit has no shortage of spooky tales. Offen points to the tale of Flora, the uppity wife of lumber baron David Whitney. He built the showy mansion on Woodward Avenue for his wife, who died before she had the chance to move in. Legend has it she began haunting the place to scare off Whitney’s new wife and has been there ever since. It is said she’s still rattling silverware and glasses in the upscale restaurant’s bar.
Offen said while some places, like Greenfield Village, want to keep a low profile on their haunts, the Whitney makes no secret of it, even naming a drink after Flora and having ghost dinners this time of year.
The book also discusses Detroit’s Harry Houdini connection and how he died here on Halloween of 1926.
Listed in the book is The Schvitz in the city’s North End. The establishment had notorious ties with the Purple Gang, as evidenced by still-visible bullet holes in the lobby.
When the heat was on in Detroit, Offen said they’d flee to the Doherty Hotel in Claire, where gang member Isaac Lebov was shot to death by his cousin. Beneath the hotel is a recently excavated tunnel that provided Purple Gang members a secret getaway from police.
The book also provides a sneaky way to teach kids about history.
“Who doesn’t like to learn about spooky old places?” Offen said. “Kids will also learn about the history of their state. Whether you believe much of what’s in these stories or are more of a skeptic, every place has a story.”
Offen and Milan are on a local book tour and details and dates can be found on the Michigan Haunts’ Facebook page.