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.

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