Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Witch" Arrested When Child's Hip Is Found Broken" Peculiar Stories Are Told About Josefa Lalofski, Who Refuses to Explain

Detroit Free Press, May 31, 1914
Josefa Lalofski was called the "Witch of Poplar Street" but her reputation was more in line with Rose Veres than Gundella in that she practiced a crude form of quackery rather than the subtle craft of the witch.

Superstition was a lucrative business in the burgeoning colonies of immigrants in Detroit of the early 1900s and charlatans prospered from the ignorance of the newcomers either through financial reward or fear itself.

In an 1908 article entitled Under the Witches' Spell a Free Press reporter detailed the superstitious beliefs prevalent in the lower strata of the Polish, German and Belgian communities of Detroit. From harsh beatings of children to chase out the devil to the wearing of shawls by women and cleansing of house and its wares for the same purpose, so-called witches and witch chasers were highly prominent in these sects though serving in an underworld capacity so as to avoid detection by city authorities.

Josefa Lalofski was the Germanic version of the witch and witch chaser. She believed herself to possess the power to heal and her reputation preceded her. Especially so since her services were gratis. While the article doesn't delve into precisely why Lalofski appeared at the residence of John Demps--often times both parties involved in rituals gone wrong were fearful of consequences from occult dealings; the practitioner from the police and the victim from both the witch doctor and the Devil himself--it's likely that she had been summoned by a concerned neighbor or relative of the family.

Either way, the remedy meted out by Lalofski for Demp's 10-month-old daughter's ills was to bend her tiny leg backwards until heel and head almost touched. The child reacted in agony and a practitioner of medical science in the form of Dr. F. N. Henry arrived to diagnose the child with a displaced hip and not the broken back that the witch had surmised from her examination.

Lalofski was arrested and a follow-up blurb a few days later indicated that Demps wanted to press charges but the determination would be left up to the District Attorney. I've been unable to track down further information on the matter. Since the Free Press was notorious for misspelled names it's possible that more details will emerge from the shadows.

Judge Fines Man Who Called Woman Witch: John Says He Did it Because Kraut He Ate on Her Advice Made Him Sick

Detroit Free Press, February 8, 1917
I've long collected articles on the occult and paranormal that pertain to Detroit but have refrained from posting them in hopes that I could compile more information and publish a proper article concerning the matter. Time constraints and other pursuits have thwarted that endeavor. Thus, my recent spate of article posting.

This is no barn-burner but it ties into a previously posted article concerning the apparently erroneous charges against Celia Wrobleski [sic] of being a witch. Similarly, Rose Veres was called such a creature for years before time proved that she was indeed such a monster though psychological defects were likely more to blame than the occult. Miss Wrobleski seems to have been nothing of the sort.

Ancillary research into Miss Wrobleski's (I believe that is the proper spelling) origins in Detroit lead to several possibilities: a one-year-old and six-year old girl, a few teenagers and one older woman who would have been around 26 at the time of the article.

Curiously, this last young woman was born in East Tawas in the 1890s. The same town where Detroit's most famous witch Gundella was born in 1930. Gundella, aka Marion Kuclo (née Clark), said that she descended from a long line of green witches originating in Scotland. Might there be a connection? Probably not but now the notion is out there for any curiosity seeker with the wherewithal to find out whether there was or wasn't.

As for John Burchacki he ate some tainted slaw recommended by Mary Biskupa and became violently ill. He could have just as easily blamed food poisoning or his already sour stomach but instead went the witchcraft route espousing that Mrs. Biskupa was a practitioner of the ancient art. His slanderous accusation earned a $15 fine in Justice Sellers' courtroom.

The tie-in to the Wrobleski story was the MacGuffin in this article:

"We bring this case only to prevent repetition of such an outrage as that perpetrated upon Miss Celia Wroblewski, the girl the superstitious believe turns into a lion and a bear." remarked Charles Turie, the woman's lawyer.

Under the Witches' Spell: Hundreds of Detroiters Believe in the Existence of Evil Spirits and do Strange Things to Cast off the Influence, Often Undergoing Torture

Detroit Free Press, August 2, 1908 (enlarge)

Police Guard Girl Said To Be Witch: Five Bluecoats Needed to Keep Curious Crowd Back From Her House

The Detroit Free Press, January 25, 1917
Five policemen from the Vinewood avenue police station stood guard Wednesday night at the home of Miss Celia Wrobleski, at 260 Twenty-eighth street, to protect her from the curioisty of more than 500 persons who had been drawn there by a report that the young girl was a witch and of late had been transforming herself into lions, bears and so on down the zoo.

Practically all of the curious who gathered in front of Celia's home Wednesday night were foreigners. Many had been there the night before, and, not seeing the rumored witchery then, they returned last night, bringing credulous friends.

The girl, much embarrassed by the report circulated widely in the west side foreign colony that she was endowed with extraordinary powers, remained in her home, with the blinds closely drawn, and would see no one.

Celia's parents blame spiteful relatives for her trouble. They say that they "started the talk" among people who did not know her.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dreams Guide Ventures of Many Detroiters: BIg Business Deals Often Hinge on Occult. Women are More Fascinated by Study of Mysterious than Men, Observer Says

Detroit Free Press, April 21, 1929 (enlarge)
Occultism was alive and thriving in both notoriety and acclaim in the Detroit of 1929 but the craze of dream interpretation and practical usage in public and private decision making was taking a foothold.

Dorothy Pons, manager of a large downtown bookstore confirmed as much in this Free Press article saying that previous books on the subject were dry, grasping texts that lacked imaginative and scholarly inclination and were looked upon as novelty reading.

There was also a psychological element to these new books that spoke to the fanciful convictions of the reader and seemingly confirmed their biases while simultaneously making the publications best-sellers.

However, the biggest boon for the book industry was the willingness of the consumer to pay significantly more for the new-fangled material. Generally considered dime store reading just a few years past the consumer was ready to part with up to 20 times the previous going rate for the self-serving tomes.

While women were the primary buyers men were just as willing to embrace the fad but were often too busy to procure and disseminate the information within. Wives, female friends and relatives often served as surrogates for promulgating the message to their male counterparts, who eagerly followed the trend and suggestions.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ghost Story #12: The Gesticulating Apparition

The Detroit Free Press, June 17, 1888
I'm not sure where the ethics part of this story comes into play but I'm guessing that it's in the regiment of this apparition or some colloquialism from the 1880s that I'm not aware of.

The gigantic woman, in proportion to the skies themselves, was an apparition that appeared in the latter part of spring 1888 in Detroit near Woodward and Warren avenues. She was said to pace the flat roof of a certain house at the bookends of the day.

Some say she was a nurse begging mercy with her confounding gesticulations and arms held out in supplication. While others thought the amazon a presentiment of the outbreak of a dread disease as she appeared once when a scarlet fever card was placed on the door by health officials.

Whatever she was dissipated just as suddenly as it first appeared.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Detroit's Suicide Girls & "The Mad House" at 148 East Larned Street


The comely waif nervously scraped her foot against the floor, bowed her head in penance and stood mute before the justice on charges of public drunkenness. She had become a frequent caller to the Detroit Police Court and on her latest visit in early July of 1899 Justice Sellers proved to be a lenient adjudicator.

"Viola why don't you be good?" he asked.

“Be good and you will be lonesome” she said, quoting Mark Twain, between other good-humored asides.

The judge suspended her sentence and advised Viola Young to pursue literature and not whiskey. But alcoholism was more the answer than a symptom of her reckless ways.

Less than six weeks later she was back before the judge for "carrying beer to interested people in an alley." Although she had heeded the advice of Sellers to cut out the darker spirits she was given the choice of a $5 fine or 30 days at the House of Corrections. That was the least of her worries.

The Detroit Free Press, August 13, 1899
As the brief snippet from The Free Press attests to there was more bubbling under the surface of Ms. Young than a mere taste for alcohol. She was part of a suicide death club that resided at 148 Larned East [sic] in the heart of Detroit. A street lined with houses of ill-repute, drug joints and unsavory characters.

While I haven't been able to ascertain if Viola Young was a prostitute it seems quite possible. That the newspapers labelled the tenants of 148 Larned East "inmates" suggests as much since most houses of reform weren't known for simultaneously being opium dens. Additionally, how else would a home full of suicidal addicts afford their room and board?

Another point of contention which I haven't been able to resolve at this point is ownership of the residence. Several articles printed between 1899 and 1902 ascribe head-of-household status to Ella Parker despite the fact that she was stated to be only 22-years-old in an 1899 clipping. No matter. The re-telling of this fantastical story won't be deterred by the underpinning of facts.

*     *     *

The onset of the twentieth century brought with it more than just the technological advances of the post Industrial Revolution age. Grueling physical labor, economic booms and busts, over-crowded cities, a loosening of societal mores and the growing acceptance of alcohol and opiates usage by sects of the masses led to a festering nihilism among the displaced members of society.

Suicide pacts became both a literary movement as well as a public plague. Newspapers sensationalized the growing trend and the act of immolation became a grim fad of sorts. The girls of 148 Larned East all-too-willingly ventured into the secret society of the doom-laden.

The Detroit Free Press, August 21, 1899
After reading the article above, what originally began as a hunt for Detroit hauntings turned into an intrigue of life during the infancy of Detroit as a major world class city. A Free Press reporter documented the goings-on.

The two women occupying the homestead at the time were Ella Parker and Viola Young. Kittie Weiss's name surfaced as the third tenant in a court hearing just days after the suicide death of former resident Edna Kelly. An unnamed fourth woman has yet to present herself to me.

The disheveled beasties plagued with hallucinations from opiate usage and the overabundance of drink in their system were known to shriek in the night at the sight of Edna's ghost. Which forced patrolman Daly to run to their aid from his beat only to find no cause for the pronounced hysteria.

Ms. Kelly, before her death, was also a known presence in the police court. Having been arrested for opium use, haranguing an officer's wife and "being naughty" she oft threatened suicide and once even bit her wrist in a futile attempt at the act while in custody.

Described as being jocose, merry and having "plump arms" by a court reporter who witnessed the young woman kissing a five dollar bill farewell, in 1898, after being fined by Judge Whelan. She had pulled the currency from a large wad that she kept in her "pointed slipper." The gesture drew amazed stares from onlookers and gives some credence to my supposition that the girls were probably ladies of the night.

The Detroit Free Press, June 25, 1899
Her episodic jocularity was tempered by dark bouts of depression, substance abuse and violent suicidal actions. The above article mentions one court appearance where her irrationality worsened her plight. After being fined $5 by Justice Sellers she swore vengeance against the court. Outside of the building she harangued the wife of patrol wagon driver Ben Coats and was once again arrested. She was promptly given six months in jail or a $50 fine. She responded, as mentioned previously, by trying to sever an artery in her wrist while being processed at the Woodbridge Street station.

Her final attempt at suicide succeeded but not without some prolonged drama. Having drank an ounce of laudanum on August 9th she seemingly had pulled through with the aid of Dr. Garenfio (or Garenflo) but passed away a week later. She was the sixth from "The Mad House" to take her own life.

The Detroit Free Press, August 10, 1899
The suicide club had commenced nearly a year earlier with the ten girl inmates deciding to kill themselves over a three year period. Edna Collins was the first to die. Her poison of choice was morphine and with a lethal dose administered the girl with "a wealth of brown hair" passed into the void. The next four seemingly perished without fanfare or recognition.

The mistress of the house, Ella Parker, vowed to be next. "A month from now and you'll hear no more of me." she proclaimed but apparently the pact had run its course with an opium raid the previous month along with the unexpected media attention foisted upon the wayward sect.

However, the death of Edna Kelly did nothing to damper their ways in the immediate aftermath.

The Detroit Free Press, August 20, 1899
Having been brought before Justice Sellers for forming "quick acquaintances with men on the street" Kittie Weiss flimflammed the good judge by claiming that she was merely soliciting money for the burial of her former deceased housemate, Edna Kelly. For good measure she pulled out a petition stating as much. Sellers was suckered once more. It later surfaced later that Edna's parents had provided all costs towards her funeral.

I've yet to uncover anything else on Viola Young but one small tidbit has surfaced concerning Ms. Parker's fate:

The Detroit Free Press, December 12, 1902
A fire on December 12, 1902 "practically destroyed" the dwelling at 148 Larned Street East. Was it the fourth attempt at death for Ella or merely an act of happenstance? The fact that patrolman Dan Shanahan had to forcibly enter the house suggests the possibility but gives no definitive answer either way.

*     *     *

The Detroit Free Press, August 26, 1898
As an aside, this blurb concerning the attempted suicide of Ella Blindley at "The Mad House" address in 1898 might just provide one of the five unnamed girls in the article or could have just been an alias used by Ella Parker or one of her brood.


Princess of Wails; The Detroit Free Press, February 5, 1899

untitled; The Detroit Free Press, June 6, 1899

untitled; The Detroit Free Press, June 11, 1899

Mark Twain Saved Her; The Detroit Free Press, July 3, 1899

Would-Be Suicide Finally Died; The Detroit Free Press, August 17, 1899

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Ghost Story #11: The National Avenue Ghost

The Detroit Free Press, May 10, 1873
This is a general story of tenants named Wilcox being scared out of their rented abode by strange groaning, sobs, grunts, furniture shaking and slamming doors.

As the story goes Wilcox and his family moved into the house on National Avenue (now presumably Cochrane St.) near Grand River in April of 1873. The first two nights were peaceful but then came some of the aforementioned ghostly stirrings.

First were groans as if a small boy had eaten too many cucumbers and suffered from a swollen belly. Which was followed by a grunting from something akin to a wayward pig that had somehow entered the house. Lastly, came the sobs of a forlorn woman and then furniture began shaking.

Wilcox, understandably shaken, searched the house in vain for the source of the clatter. He assumed that it must be coming from under the house but since there was no access below that was ruled out as a source of the disturbance.

A week of silence afterwards was broken by the shrieking of a woman at midnight. Master Wilcox searched the house as the cries echoed through the structure. Doors began to slam and the agitated spirited threatened him with a frightful proclamation, "I will kill you."

The family, unable to sleep and terrified by the haunting and unable to procure lodging for the next evening, stayed the night with neighbors. But the ridicule of the unbelievers sent them back to their ghostly dwelling.

All was fine for a week or so when the haunting began anew. The family once again deserted the house for the safety of their neighbors' homestead.

Sergeant Bachmann of the local precinct checked the house for traps and sources of the noise but nothing could be uncovered. Of the neighbors interviewed by the sergeant all were convinced that the activities in the house were of a paranormal nature. Free rent was offered to the skeptic though that might have been more of a marketing angle for the owner than a decree of belief.

A Free Press reporter and Bachmann agreed to stay in the house over night to ascertain if it was a hoax or a legitimate and the results follow.

The Detroit Free Press, May 11, 1873
Sgt. Bachmann and the reporter followed through on their plans to investigate the spirited abode. After experiencing many of the same frights in harrowing fashion the pair effected a more concerted effort into finding a rational explanation. That they did.

It was discovered that a trap door existed in the kitchen ceiling. Called a garret (from the old French word guerite, which means "watchtower") it was a room at the top of the house just below the roof. The garret held the majority of the answers to what plagued the dwelling.

A half-barrel with an open bung sat nearby a hole in the garret window which caused the wind passing through the vessel to make a sobbing sound that approached mirroring a waif's cry.

A clattering noise which the reporter attributed to sounding like a goat prancing across the hardwood floor was found to be a broken dinner plate under the garret window that was being scraped with a piece of loose tin from the casing.

The slamming doors were blamed on a hole in the parlor glass and a piece of missing plaster from the ceiling where trapped wind released its natural energy into a faux-demonstration of supernaturalism.

There was no accounting for who or what blew out the candle in the middle of the duo's melee with the phantom, the threat on Mr. Wilcox's life, nor for the headless woman seen in the cemetery by the good sergeant in his previous trysts with spirits of the night.

Or it just might be that the house was actually haunted as the aforementioned remedies offered up as so-called scientific proof didn't stop further paranormal activity.

The Detroit Free Press, April 19, 1874
Two additional families occupied the house and explained similar frights. As with the previous tenants the more recent tenants fled the location in fright as well.

The owner went so far as to nail shut the windows and installed a self-closing lock and hinge. Yet, the safeguards did little to fend off mysterious displacement of the enclosures. Two nights spent in the home accompanied by a pair of mates solved neither the haunting or its source.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Ghost Story #10: A Horrid Hag Hisses

Kentucky New Era, February 6, 1963 (enlarge)
As soon as I saw this story in a Google News search I recognized it as one that Gundella recalled* in The Martin Street Myth from her 1976 publication The Werewolf of Grosse Pointe & Other Stories. Though she attempted to change the names of the participants, as authors are wont to do to protect the identity of involved parties, she slipped up on the third page and stated the name of one as Patterson despite having renamed him Dan Stonehouse. Other than that the stories are pretty much identical.

Another thing of note is the name of the Free Press reporter being misrepresented as "Nea Shire." Part of that was my fault as I edited the column and accidentally chopped off the "l" on Neal's name. The other half is the "Office Cat's" fault in misspelling Mr. Shine's last name as Shire. On to the story.

The William Adams family lived in a rented house at 5508 Martin Street in Detroit in the early 1960s. The source of disturbance in their residence was a secluded bedroom that appeared to have been added onto the original house. Mr. Adams, a graveyard shift factory worker at Cadillac, used the addition to sleep during the day so as not to be disturbed by the normal bustle of activity in the homestead.

At first the haunting was relegated to him having bad dreams that caused him to wake up screaming and wondering if the incidents were actually occurring. But when his grandmother visited from out of town and experienced sounds which seemed as if somebody was trying to enter the room she refused to sleep there again. The family dog was likewise terrified and after spending one night in the room refused to enter it thereafter.

In late January of 1963, a week before the article was published, Adams' cousin Patterson stayed over on his passing through Detroit en route to his home in the South. He had no forewarning of the room's history and retired to bed when Adams left for work at 11:30 on the evening of his layover. Almost as soon as he retired he felt himself being turned over in bed. Startled, he turned to see a woman with long hair facing away from him and looking into the kitchen through the connecting door. He assumed that it was Mrs. Adams but soon realized that it wasn't and screamed for her while leaping from the bed. Just then all the lights in the house went out.

Bounding through the door he met Mrs. Adams in the kitchen where both were struck silent with fright. Groans and the rotten smell of sulfur emanated from the bedroom. Neither could sleep afterwards and waited the night for Mr. Adams to return home. He was apprised of the situation and called the police. A search of the house and basement turned up nothing unusual.

Mr. Adams was a non-believer up until that point and remained skeptical even then. An experience a few days later would change that sentiment. He lay down in the bed as usual but this time heard a noise in the room. He turned over to look what it was and an horrific face with a hissing mouth faced him accompanied by the return of the acrid stench.

Adams raced from the room pulling at his hair in hysterics until he reached the front room where Patterson and Mrs, Adams were sitting. Adams was so shaken that Patterson had to cover him in a blanket and comfort the frightened soul. An hour later they moved out and only returned a few times during the daylight hours to retrieve their belongs.

Below is Gundella's rendition of the story:


Apparently Rod Steiger wrote about this story as well.