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.

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