Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jackie Hopper's Pet Rock Cemetery

The Miami News, October 21, 1976
As a concerned citizen, Jackie Hopper, a Detroit tavern owner, did what anybody would do when she heard that pet rocks were going hungry: she built a graveyard awaiting their demise. Having come across an newspaper ad bemoaning the fact that the treasured pets' well-beings were in peril without an adequate food supply, she prepared for the worst and constructed a pet cemetery for the soon-to-be passing stones. Or so the newspaper legend goes.

Hopper told a slightly different story in her autobiography, Passing Through: The Jackie Hopper Story (Yes, even bar owners write books!), stating that one morning a kid had chucked his pet rock through the bar window and came in to retrieve it, claiming to have dropped it. The caretaker of the bar quipped that he was going to start making coffins for pet rocks and Mrs. Hopper encouraged the notion by stating, "You do that. I will make a graveyard."

It was then she began to gather the materials necessary to transform one of the vacant lots she owned across the street from her establishment on Junction and McGregor in the southwest side of the city. Using artificial turf for grass and white cement blocks for a border and tombstones she adorned the graves with candles and flowers.

Expecting nothing to come of the matter, except for perhaps an opportunity for vandalism, she was surprised when all of the major newspaper and television outlets began arriving the following day to cover the story.

Not only was it newsworthy but it became a neighborhood rite of passage for the children to tend to and beautify their rock grave sites. Some children even went so far as to have a sleepover to protect their cemetery.

Adults weren't immune to the fad either. There were traffic jams at the intersection, a slow stream of foot traffic through the bar to drop off flowers and even firemen parked nearby in case a rock needed resuscitation. If that weren't enough, people were calling in to reserve plots for future burials and there were plans to expand the cemetery to other vacant lots owned by Hopper.

Then, nearly six months after it all began, it ended one night in an act of thievery. Some scrooge, or perhaps even the Nain Rouge himself, pilfered the graveyard of all 35 markers and pet rocks and scampered off into the night to revel in his deviancy. The Free Press wrote an article on the matter entitled "Ghouls Get Pet Rocks" but the attention was to no avail, as the culprit(s) were never caught and the cemetery returned to its former vacancy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Forewarned (By a Witch Doctor)

The Detroit Free Press, March 9, 1910
Mrs. John Skowerinski was no Rose Veres. Hell, she wasn't even a middling Samantha Stephens but rather a congenial neighbor who came face-to-face with a real life witch named Josephine Gawronski. Mind you, she was neither a witch in the impractical sense of the word; broom, pointed hat, a brood of black cats primping by a smoking cauldron; nor the practical tradition, but one in the metaphysical realm. More simply put, a lunatic.

This was confirmed when Gawronski invited Skowerinski to her home for the sole purpose of attacking, beating and bloodying the unsuspecting woman. Surely, she must have done something to provoke this episode of senseless brutality. Gawronski's reasoning? Skowerinski was a witch who had put a spell on her attacker and inflicted upon her a stomach malady.

As queer as it may sound to the progressive thinker it was a common superstition among our forebearers up until the last 50 or so years. In Mrs. Gawronski's defense she was also a sick woman. Physically ill, that is, with catarrh of the stomach. Not deathly ill but sick enough. Which may or may not have led to her mental afflictions and plans for retribution against Mrs. Skowerinski, but it was a prime mover in the matter.

With the onset and continuation of her illness unabated, she apparently received a diagnosis from a medical doctor but was unsatisfied with his determination. So Jospehine decided that she needed a second opinion and called upon an east side witch doctor who convinced her that she was bewitched. Encouraged to think back to a galvanizing moment before the symptoms occurred she recalled a wedding party a month or so earlier where Skowerinski had secured Gawronski a drink and then possibly wished an incantation against her. To reverse the effects of the spell she would have to accost the witch and draw blood. Which she did. Once completed, for good measure, Gawronski made the poor prone woman chant thrice, "I take it back."

Needless to say, the catarrh persisted and the witch doctor was summoned once more. Whereupon he proclaimed Mrs. Skowerinski innocent and ordered another woman beaten! That woman apparently didn't come forward to tell her story. Skowerinski did though in the form of a lawsuit. Whereby the gathered raucous anti-witch revelers in support of Gawronski were admonished by Justice Lemke for their beliefs in superstition. He deemed them worthy of a spanking and Mrs. Skowerinski $25 in damages.

L'abeille de la Nouvelle-Orleans, May 19, 1910

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Maude Roose: Ruse or Raphael Reincarnated? [UPDATED]

The Detroit Free Press, November 17, 1922 (enlarge)
In the world of art comparing an amateur's rendering on the easel to one of the master painters is akin to matching up skill sets of a little league baseball player with those of the legendary Babe Ruth. Simply put, there is no meting out similarities between the two. Whether it was through hubris or naivete, Detroiter Maude Roose did just that.

Roose, a clerk in her 20s and a resident of the city since 1910, found interest in painting after talking to the master Raphael himself via a medium. She had come upon spiritualism with much skepticism but after being put in touch with her deceased father and grandmother--who forecast a promising future for the young woman--she patiently awaited the rewards of her faith. The grand master was such a gift.

Raphael imparted to her that his early death deprived him of future endeavors he had oft ruminated upon. Some 450 years later his weary spirit had come to her to complete the arduous task. Further masters such as Hals, Rueben and Murillo joined in to aid the tutelage. They even directed Roose to an art store on Grand River and the Hayward studio at 513 Shelby street.

Borrowing from each in her five week stint at Hayward, she completed several works which Raphael dreamed up but sickness prevented, all with the spirit guidance of their ghostly hands. Included were a life sized portrait of "Christ" and "Christ and the Rich Man's Son." Though sometimes tedious to bring to fruition, with the aid of the spirits--and occasionally the public library--she produced marvelous canvases utilizing minimal experience and technique to semi-perfection.

The Detroit Free Press, November 18, 1922
F. Harold Hayward, instructor at the academy which bore his name and a well-versed artisan himself, had no answer for the adept touch of his mysterious pupil--while also noting similarities between the works of Roose and Raphael--simply quipping, "It's a puzzle to me." Being a practical man he discounted the notion of a spook or spirit-hand guiding Miss Roose but could offer no reasonable alternative either. Though he did muse upon one mitigating factor, "She has inspiration." while motioning to the painting of Christ. Divinely inspired? We shall never know.

Even the reporter from the Free Press seemed convinced in a back-handed way, noting that the hand of Christ seemed to be reaching out towards him and touching the ethereal believer within that had long been maligned by academics and the study of humanity at large. The mystery, indeed, was both the question and answer itself.


*     *     *

April 30, 2016

The unfortunate thing about online research is that sometimes the sources run dry. As was the case with this story. Not due to a lack of material but because the parameters of the searches are confined by the available databases.  

The Detroit Free Press Historical Archives through Pro Quest--which I have a free subscription to via my public library--abruptly end in 1922.

Such isn't the case with Newspapers.com but they charge $100+ per year to use and searches are limited to a dozen or so a month. Which is not a feasible expense for me since I have an 8-year-old child to provide for. But enough of my postscript preamble.

A recent post on Wet Canvas provided the impetus for this update. Also shown there is a press photo of Miss Rouse that is selling on eBay which wasn't available at the time of my original blog.


And if you dig deep enough on Google you can find the photo below which was available on eBay a few years back:


Both coincide with the newspaper articles posted above though I've doctored them a little with my minimal photo editing skills and my even less discriminating palette, considering that I am red-green colorblind.

Regardless of our pratfalls here's the "big" update:

The Owosso Argus-Press, May 19, 1923
Six months later Miss Maude was showcasing both her Spiritualism and artwork alongside Charles Whaley, who had some notoriety himself in the movement:


Though he probably didn't get the kind of respect that he desired:

The Owosso Argus-Press, May 28, 1930
As for Maude: whether her career continued or she faded away into further obscurity has yet to be revealed to me. I shall update further when or if the pertinent answers come my way.


*     *     *

August 1, 2017


It's hard to believe that it's been a solid year and a quarter since I last updated the story but since that time I have purchased both a Detroit Free Press and a Newspapers.con subscription (the latter cross-cancelling out the other) and not only do I have a minor update on Maude Roose, with the prospect for many additional developments, but also several leads to other so-called spirit painters from the Detroit area.

Detroit Free Press, November 27, 1927
She joined Vaudeville in 1927! Or at least was set to. I've yet to get around to a follow-up but will in due course. Having briefly browsed other articles she is listed in many Spiritualist advertisements around that time as well so it's likely that more interesting things will be gleaned from the archives. I shall update the blog with further related articles very shortly. Other photos of Roose appear on this post.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ghost Story #9: The Gambrinous Goblin

The Detroit Free Press, April 5, 1864
Partakers in fire water and firemen are often joined in the realm of calamity but it's seldom that they are congregated together to witnesses a spectral sifting. While moonlighting at the bottling plant on Cass Street one of the firemen from Engine House #1 claimed to have seen a friend who had recently died.

Following a brief embrace the ghostly figure helped himself to a stiff libation from the bottling supply. After quickly tossing back the contents he grabbed another to quench his thirst further. Upon draining the contents of the second vessel and reaching for a third the concerned friend proceeded to cut off his erstwhile mate. He grabbed the bottle and turned to set it aside. Upon return to his former stance his pal had disappeared.

The story was a belly wrecker back at the station but the man held true to his recollection. As proof, he rested his laurels on the empty bottles that remained in the bottling cellar, neither able to retain liquid nor curtail a dead man's thirst for the good things of this world.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

G. W. Hurley: The Second Christ of Detroit

The Afro American, October 11, 1930
Oh, those Spiritualists! I'd never heard of this sect until Thomas Bradford's story crossed my path and I just assumed that it was a generic term for religionists. But no, it was/is a religion based upon the Bible's teaching interspersed with a belief for communicating with the dead. Among it's proponents were none other than Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Arthur Conan Doyle. 

One of its teachers was G. W. Hurley, a black Detroit transplant via the Deep South, who called himself the "Second Christ." Hurley, dissatisfied with his earlier church involvements, formed the Universal Hagar's Spiritual Association in 1923. He offered to openly debate any religious leader on the merits of his claims and seemingly nobody took him up on that offer. In response to a Protestant clergyman's rebuke of Spiritualism, the self-anointed prophet Hurley declared Protestantism a religion based upon black magic and witchcraft and that history proved his claim. 

The Afro American, September 12, 1936 (enlarge)
The prophet also had run-ins with a New York City based prophet named Father Divine, who like Hurley, numbered his followers in the hundreds of thousands in multiple states. Whereas Hurley staked claim to being the Second Christ Son of God, Divine strove higher and deemed himself God.

The Afro American, May 20, 1939
The rift deepened when Divine set up a church (he called it extending "his heavens") on the outskirts of Detroit (Highland Park) in 1936. Hurley predicted oblivion for the "little man" and that the prophet would die within 9 years due to a covenant with an evil spirit. While the claim was a bold leap of faith it was off by both methodology and mathematics, as "God" would live some 17 years past the decree's expiration date. Hurley himself wouldn't live to see the prophecy proven wrong as he died two years shy of his prediction in the summer of 1943.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ghost Story #8: The Haunting of a Jefferson Avenue Boarding House

The Detroit Free Press, September 20, 1874
This is a straight-forward eye witness account of a supposed haunting at a boarding house on Jefferson Avenue in late summer of 1874. The man, Mr. G., confided in the Free Press reporter that he had boarded in the house the previous two weeks and that many strange occurrences took place during the fortnight.

The first week was pleasantly quiet and gave no hint of the haunting incidents that were to come. Early the second week as Mr. G. was retiring to his bed after turning out the lights (I'm assuming candles or a lantern) he heard an audible yawn. Assuming that somebody had mistakenly ventured into his room he retrieved a light expecting to find a wayward stranger in his bed.

While pondering the confounding aspects of his situation he began to hear a noise akin to a spinning wheel in motion. He ventured out into the hallway and checked the house for any stirring but discovered that the residents were all in their rooms with the lights out and the noise had ceased. After finally getting back to bed the whirring sound returned with greater vigor.

Doors that he witnessed to be shut and locked began to crash open and shut, banging as if a great disturbance of human activity were taking place. A while later the noises ceased once more and he finally settled into a peaceful slumber. In the morning the tenants discussed the noises, deciding that an unknown natural explanation was behind it but never breached the subject of ghosts or paranormal activity.

The next evening at nearly the same hour as the previous visitation and while reclining in bed Mr. G. heard a woman walk from near the hall door to a clothes press within the room's closet, her silk dress rustling as she moved across the floor. He first checked the hall door, making sure that it was secure, and then gingerly peeked into the closet to satisfy his curiosity. Being more leery of the living than the dead at that point, he opened the door to once again find no source for the eerie sounds. Satisfied that no answer was to be found he retired to bed.

A few hours later he was startled from his slumber as the specter exited the closet door that she was last seen entering and left by the same foot path as she had come, her dress once more rustling as she strode away. The whir of the spinning wheel also returned as did the slamming doors throughout the home. Mr. G. also heard dishes rattling in the kitchen area as if "a dozen kitchen girls were having a dish-washing race for the championship medal."

With shaky legs and a chill crawling up his spine he hurried to get dressed. He walked the city streets until daylight and then returned home too tired and frazzled to go to work. Later that evening at dinner the dishes began to shake frenetically once more followed by a terrible crash within the closet. Believing that great damage had occurred the landlady checked its contents only to find that nothing had been disturbed. G. decided that he'd had enough and vacated the premises.

The reporter also interviewed the landlady and though she was reluctant to speak on the matter she acknowledged that unexplained things had happened in the home but that they were only minor disturbances that didn't affect the overall affability of the residence. Despite the reassurances she, too, planned to relocate her living quarters.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ghost Story #7: The Western High School Wraith and the Clark Park Demon

The Detroit Free Press, August 1, 1904
Boredom, mischief and criminal intent were the dominant forms of paranormal activity in the early 1900s. Tales abound of college campus pranksters and neighborhood ne'er-do-wells pretending to be poltergeists. Faux spiritualists created specters through prestidigitation and illegal moonshiners clandestinely built groaning stills that were meant for other ears to hear and watering tongues to partake of.

Still, credible phantoms existed. Whether they subsisted on human energy, superstition or otherworldly means is left to the Gods to sort out. We are only the switchboard messengers passing along their missives. The Western High School specter was one such caller.

Depending on who you talked to the building and premises were quite active with strange happenings. Doors were said to lock and unlock on their own. Windows rattled without cause. Noises abounded despite the presence of only the night watchman and his relief man. 

Despite having experienced all the aforementioned occurrences roundsman William Webber, of 691 McKinstry Avenue, blamed the activity on human endeavors. "We don't believe in ghosts--no such humbug." said Webber, though admitting that something or somebody was menacing the school and forcing officials to bolt the doors shut to keep out both the human and spirit world.

Neighbors of the school vouched for the weird phenomena and told Free Press reporters that Webber himself "has been scared out of a year's growth" due to the hauntings. While Webber most likely played coy to ensure his place among the employed he was clearly affected. 

The Detroit Free Press, August 29, 1904
The school grounds weren't the only ghostly hot spot in the summer of 1904. Clark Park, the adjoining park across the street from the high school was said to be inhabited by spirits as well. Where before the school incidents it was known as a serene place to take a night time stroll or to sit with one's beloved and converse,  it had become a source of fright for several park occupants. 

A couple sitting on a bench were dumped to the ground by what they described as an invisible hand. A girl with a group of friends was said to have fainted from the fright of various shrieks and groans which emanated from the park but seemed centered elsewhere below the terra firma.


A teenager named Elbert F. Smith, who lived on Scotten Avenue near the location of the school on the same street, was strolling past the structure late one evening and watched a dark figure exit the front door. Thinking it to be the janitor he paid no heed to the rapidly approaching subject until they were nose to nose in proximity. The man before him appeared to be an elderly gent much older than the janitor.

The spirit man walked north towards Dix before crossing the street and walking straight into a spring fed lake opposite his former path. Thinking that perhaps the man was suicidal, Smith darted to the pond and waded in, searching from end to end of the lighted pool for the apparition. 

Satisfied that the man was not in the lake he walked back to the school remembering the newspaper articles concerning the odd activity at the school. When he tried to open the front door it was firmly secured. Turning to leave he was belted across the face by what he believed to be the wraith as it returned to its place of refuge.

The Detroit Free Press, August 18, 1901
Even though the natural springs that afforded Springwell Village its namesake and Clark Park its lake are gone, many taken surreptitiously by the construction of the nearby I-75 freeway, some remnants of the past remain. Western International High School still stands and underwent a $28.3 million renovation in 2011. Clark Park likewise is an active rural retreat in the vast urban setting. 

Perhaps the phantoms are still there. Caged in only by the fear of modern uncertainties and the biding of their time to reemerge from their long repose to populate the nighttime air with the mystique of their ethereal presence. If Detroit's present situation, that mighty backwards slide into piecemeal ruralism, persists, it may well not take another hundred years before mere mortals feel the touch of their wispy, problematic fingers once more.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ghost Story #6: The Foxtown Moulders

The Detroit Free Press, February 20, 1861

If you've been to a Tigers or Lions game or caught a concert or play at the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit then you've seen the iconic St. James Episcopal Church on the corner of Woodward and the Fisher Freeway.

Built in 1859 it is the oldest remaining church in Detroit. The skulking Victorian Gothic structure has seen the rise of the city into an industrial titan and its subsequent demise into a relative modern urban ghost town. What can't be seen is that which has been forgotten: it's haunted past.


Perhaps one recorded incident in 150 years doesn't constitute a history but regardless of the frequency of episodic events, the self-monikered Patriarch of Piety Hill continued to be built after its facade of rubble limestone was secured, the hammer beam trusses strung together and the adorning gargoyle heads were cemented in. Not just literally, as it has undergone several renovations and even been moved 60 feet to the east of its original site, but figuratively as well in the form of ghostly workmen.

Laymen, on the whole, have never been a quality source of great literature or story-telling so perhaps the "gentleman of veracity" mentioned in the Free Press article was somebody higher up in the occupational food chain. Which is hardly a measure of veracity but seemingly a proper gauge towards the right direction.

All castes aside, the story goes as such: from the beginning of 1861 to the article writing in February of the same year, noises of construction (i.e., hewing, planing, sorting, driving of nails) could be heard at various intervals of assumed building down times.

So noteworthy were the disturbances that guards on staff were alarmed enough to follow the sounds with a pistol only to come up empty-handed each time. The staff and the rector William Armitage and his family were greatly annoyed by the ruckuses but no culprits were ever captured and no source ever established for the occurrences. Perhaps the great thunderstorm at the commencement of ceremonies for laying the cornerstone served as the impetus for the busy spirit or maybe pathos merely took hold in both the human and ethereal realms.

The Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1860 (enlarge)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ghost Story #5: Le Nain Rouge or a Mere Rogue Spirit?

The Detroit Free Press, October 11, 1872

Synchronicity should never be dismissed as face value happenstance nor irony as anything but a working cog of the great Karmic machine. The fact that I re-found this article on the eve of the Marche du Nain Rouge is proof of that sentiment.

The legend of The Nain Rouge, a mythic and grotesque harbinger of tragic events, dates back to the days of Cadillac and some 300+ years of Detroit history. To re-hash the legend and the historical consequences of his appearances would be a greater tragedy than the catastrophes that followed the purported sightings of this gnomish devil, The Red Dwarf.

Instead, I'll try to add to the allure and mystery of an enduring and endearing folklore with a short addendum in the mythos, though minus a MacGuffin it sadly falls short.

Jane Dacy of East Elizabeth Street was at home performing errands on a Wednesday night in October of 1872 when she entered a dark room and saw what the Free Press describes as a ghost. However, the description of "blood-red eyes, long teeth and rattling hoofs" sounds more akin to the famed Nain Rouge. The fright of seeing the creature caused Dacy to faint and become bed-ridden the next day.

Even though I morbidly wished for some tragic event in the days after the sighting--it's not like I can change the past-- there were none to be found. Outside of the typical murders, assaults and the fact that a nearby suburban village, Farmington, nearly burnt to the ground the previous night, I can find no local disasters, tragedies or weather events that occurred to further support the legend. Though it should be noted that he has appeared before only to menace some unlucky person and not primarily to precede a cataclysmic event.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ghost Story #4: The Buchanan Street Spectre

The Detroit Free Press, June 1, 1922

I suppose that for every legitimate ghost sighting there are a hundred specious ones. This one seems to cross both realms in that it was seen by over a hundred people but was apparently as nefarious as a sock puppet, having been born in the vivid imaginations of moonshine imbibers and pranksters.


Today, only the empty husk of the Craig's Chapel Baptist Church remains along Buchanan street between 31st and 32nd. Where street cars and automobiles ran concurrently along the bustling tree-lined avenue now only a few straggler cars pass by every minute or so.

Road construction along Buchanan Street circa 1914
The block stone street of the early 20th century gave way to modern contrivances with much of the tedious labor of removing the moldy blocks from the road being accomplished by thrifty neighbors who filled their sheds with the useful bricks.


The alley behind the church is thick with underbrush and pockets of grass poking above the cracked and separating concrete pathway. Trash, weeds, broken tree branches and wildflowers fill the remaining landscape in the moribund area buttressed by W. Grand Blvd., Livernois, The Edsel Ford, Warren Avenue and Michigan Ave. a few miles southward.


But in the waning days of May, 1922 a spectre hung over the area. A ghost that is, which materialized, spooked and tantalized the residents along Buchanan street. It appeared only at evening hovering above the back fences in the alleyway as dusk fell into darkness. As word spread about the neighborhood, droves of curiosity seekers lined the street with only the brave daring to enter the mouth of the haunted passage.

Each evening the crowds grew for nearly a week. Being that it was dark and the hovering spectre moved quite rapidly it left merely a foisted shadow behind in the wake of each passing. Only the sober and the quick-sighted were able to spy the phantom in its fleeting flights.

Five days after the frenzy commenced it culminated in a whitewash of spectators clogging the street and stopping all traffic for half an hour. When the police finally broke up the party it was determined that a hoisted nightshirt controlled through clandestine means was as much to blame for the commotion as was the free flow of moonshine.

*     *     *

The Owosso Argus-Press - May 31, 1922

The Detroit Free Press, August 24, 1904 (enlarge)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ghost Story #3: A Spooky Tooth Bites No More in Palmer Park


Palmer Park is known today for containing the last standing log cabin in Detroit but in 1931 there resided a homestead which supposedly shook with ghostly fright. So bad were the shrieking noises that resident John Peterson and his family fled the home in terror.

The noises began in April of that year. After a few nights of haunted happenings the police were summoned to search and stake out the home. Situated in the spook enclave were patrolman Norbert Hoffman and three other Detroit officers. Around midnight there was a "shivering crash" and Hoffman in panicked flight rammed his face into a door, knocking out four teeth in the melee. The other cops retreated as well, quipping that "something funny" was going on inside.

Reinforcements arrived in the form of 10 patrolmen and 6 newspaper reporters. 20 minutes after their arrival another "shivering crash" rattled the building but once again nothing was found upon further inspection. While Hoffman spent the morning in a dentist chair his commanding office Lt. Thomas Kane scolded their cohorts and promised to bring an end to the mysterious events.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ghost Story #2: Puss Martha was no Don Gato

The Detroit Free Press, February 13, 1915

If you ever sang the children's song Señor Don Gato in elementary school you remember that the protagonist fell from a roof while reading a letter from his love--the fattest, whitest, and sweetest kitty from miles around--and died. As his funeral procession trailed through the city streets it passed a fish market which reanimated the amorous kitten to his first love: food. Happy ending be thine!

The same mirth wasn't afforded Martha the Angora. The tabby, who belonged to Highland Park's Justice of the Peace, Richard F. Lanagan, suffered an unfortunate demise via salmon can suffocation. While her frozen body was found behind the residence on 68 Grand Avenue, her spirit apparently lingered, unsurfeited by a last meal of tin can asphyxiation.

Each night unearthly caterwauls pierced the winter din and kept the couple from restful slumber. Mrs. Lanagan was at wits-end with the development and the good Justice vowed to relocate his family if the wailing did not cease and desist.

*     *     *
If the house still stands and renumbering wasn't precedent in Highland Park as it was in Detroit proper then one of these two faltering structures before might be it. For the sake of this great rememberance let's hope that Google maps is wrong once again.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ghost Story #1: Peter Erb & the 8 Foot Spectre

The Detroit Free Press, April 23, 1873

I've been sitting on a pile of Detroit area ghost stories for a while now in hopes that I could further each history beyond the lone mentions in newspaper articles but unfortunately I've been unable to do much with that premise. Hence, I'm going to dump them here with a brief synopsis and see if they joggle any spirits with knowledge of the incidents and invite them to come forward and testify.

*     *     *

Putting the vagaries of names and points on a map aside, the haunting of Peter Erb was strange enough that the ghost may have been none other than himself. Seeing as his name was popular enough that it covered the ranks of saloon keeper, fireman, womanizer and local ruffian we can only surmise who this Peter Erb was.


From the lone newspaper account he resided at the corner of Dequindre and Marion. Which, if my accounting is accurate and certain grid marks hold true to present day form, would be out Hamtramck way. On the outskirts, at least, where city meets city within the confines of Detroit.

After an evening of shopping in the Midtown area he was accosted by an 8 foot ghost. An ethereal titan, really, which audibly approached with foot soles slapping hard down on the pavement that announced its coming. Erb turned to greet the fellow. They shook hands. One mortal paw meeting the icy claw of nevermore. It gave sir Peter a fright. He attempted to flee from the abominable no-man but Fate had no recourse other than to see him struck by the apparition and crumple down to the sidewalk.

Several hours and an inch of snow later pedestrians found the stricken man prone where he lay. Thinking him dead they retrieved the corpse and took shelter inside a nearby house. There the Good Samaritans found that a sliver of life remained in the frigid vessel of flesh. A doctor was summoned and by the rituals and advancements of 19th century medicine, à la the great elixir whiskey, he was roused from his prolapsed state. Thus began his supernatural tale.

With a doctor and policeman as witness and family en route, Erb raved and ranted, then became clear-minded and spun the aforementioned yarn. No amount of coaxing or forensics could convince him otherwise. He saw it. Lucid as any teetotaler. Only a scientist could disapprove the earnest retching of an honest and occupied gentleman with his own staid opinions. And the good physician did just that. You're damned well right he did. But being that we are the keepers of the faith shall we not demure on the saner side of reason?