Haunting tales abound in the Motor City


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Phil StayhueHalloween is back, and ghost stories aren’t far behind.

In the words of legendary local B movie horror film host and Detroit-area disc jockey Count Scary, “Oooh, that’s scaary!”

Some of the tales circulating around Detroit are more than cinematic fantasy however.
A few ghost stories – collected by a popular Wayne State University (WSU) academic over three decades — could even raise the goose bumps on the Count’s arms.

“Ghost stories are a proposition on reality,” said Janet Langlois, associate WSU professor of English specializing in folklore and literature holding a doctorate in her field of study.
“While not everybody telling a ghost story believes it, there’s a definite interest in sharing the tales. Ghost stories trace back to Biblical times, complete with Greek and Roman sources. Detroit is an old city of more than 300 years, and that’s created a fertile ground for many local ghostly legends.”

The professor has been reading books and studying cases of the supernatural throughout her professional career.
Her interest in the subject matter has also driven Langlois’ students to interview subjects with first-person tales of Detroit haunting sightings as a class ethnographic assignment.
She recently shared a handful of her favorite haunting tales in the Detroit metropolitan area:
Northville Psychiatric Hospital – Ghost hunting or “legends tripping” expeditions reported observing apparitions engaging in normal activities during their lives, along with separate reports of screaming.
One of Langlois’ students reported a closer encounter with spirits, when he saw a little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy at Northville Psychiatric Hospital.
Research revealed the description matched that of an actual patient.
Alas, further investigation there could be problematic.
The hospital is no longer standing.

Eastern Market one mile northeast of downtown Detroit – A bustling hub of weekend commerce, the site of the market today served as a cemetery prior to 1891.
(The market first opened at Cadillac Square in 1841, according to Wikipedia.)
Erecting the new market location in the name of Victorian progress may have wronged and disturbed the spirits of the dead, leading to reports of dim and shadowy figures lurking about, specifically in one particular market square/shed location.

Jefferson Avenue house – The haunted house on Jefferson Avenue may or may not be still standing today; many mansions built in Detroit’s glorious 19th century have met the wrecking ball.
There’s no doubt an 1874 Detroit Free Press article presented the case for a ghost engaging in daily chores.
In the story, a boarding house resident inhabiting what once was a single-family home had reportedly just settled in for bed when he heard the characteristic sound of a spinning wheel.
Investigating the noise, the man then discovered a woman clad in a silken dress entering his closet … and disappearing. The tale sheds light on the long-standing reputation of Detroit ghost stories.

Grosse Pointe streets – It’s not entirely clear which street witnessed a tragedy, but the 1940’s/1950’s-era tale allegedly involved a little girl riding her bicycle being hit by a car.
The child’s fists pounded on the car to stop, to no avail.
To this day, tales about “Knock-Knock” Street linger of the girl returning to re-enact her own death.
So many drivers going down the street in to experience a haunting for themselves forced police to reportedly cordon off a street to investigate, although that part of the tale could not be confirmed with a call to the police department.

Wayne State University campus in Detroit’s Midtown – Any collection of ghost stories would be incomplete without something close to home, and Langlois has a pair of favorite tales impacting the WSU campus, too.
Both tales have connections to a Wayne State University class in the English Department called Studies in Follklore & Folklife, started in 1991 by the professor.

Bonstelle Theatre: Theater manager and actress Jessie Bonstelle (1870-1932) was dedicated to live theater.
She founded a theater on the Wayne State campus in the 1920s, and had a room above the theater.
That is the precise location where many feel she has remained.
Should performers experience a bad rehearsal, it’s not unheard of to hear a faint “tsking” from above, or to witness a picture falling from the wall.
Langlois’ students learned student actors at the WSU theater facility simply anticipate encounters with Jessie even in the present day.

Haunted Fraternity House: An incident recorded about a decade ago in a WSU fraternity house that shall remain nameless due to fear of publicity still sends shivers up and down the spine as the memory is recounted.
The tale reached Langlois after one of her students – dating a fraternity member – learned the reluctantly shared tale. According to the story, following a night of celebrating the frat members went to bed – with all female guests gone, and the doors locked.
Waking in the night, one of the fraternity brothers looked over at his roommate, and witnessed a transparent woman wearing 19th-century clothing near the sleeping man.
In the words of the witness: “She was kneeling over him. I swear to God. She wasn’t scary looking like Freddy Krueger or anything like that. It was just an ordinary looking girl, and that was probably the scariest part.”
The fraternity house had once been a funeral home.

Currently on leave from the university, Professor Langlois remains in touch with many of her students.
One comment on www.ratemyprofessors.com provides a clear sense of the warmth countless students feel: “Best Professor I’ve ever had! She really knows her stuff about folklore. I had her for four different folklore classes and each one was better than the last! Awesome teacher and willing to help if you get stuck. She even makes the 12 page research paper fun. Every English major and minor should take her.”

Langlois is currently working on a book manuscript, “Other Worlds,” about supernatural experiences and health.
Her plans for this coming Halloween?
Staying at home, passing out candy, and telling no ghost stories.
Count Scary (www.countscary.com) would be disappointed.

Author: Phil Stayhue

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