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.

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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.

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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?