From the Cass Corridor to Southwest Detroit, here are a few local venues that are known to host more than just live bands.
The Masonic Temple
500 Temple St., Detroit
Just a week before Harry Houdini arrived in Detroit for a performance at the Garrick Theatre in October 1926, he was approached by a student who struck him in the stomach in an alleged attempt to test his legendary physical strength. Though he was severely injured, Houdini was the consummate showman and refused to stop touring. But upon arriving in Detroit, he fell ill. He had a ruptured appendix and suffered from peritonitis. Harry Houdini gave his final performance, and died on Oct. 31, 1926 in Detroit.
After his untimely death, Houdini's body was taken to the W.R. Hamilton and Co. Funeral home at 3975 Cass Ave., where his body was prepared for services. He was temporarily laid out in a coffin that had been commissioned as a prop for one of his stage-shows. Houdini's body was transported by train from Detroit to New York where over 2,000 fans gathered to mourn the famous illusionist at his funeral.
In 1927, Houdini's wife Bess began a tradition of holding a séance every year at the Masonic Temple to contact his spirit. Bess claimed that Houdini had told her that when he died, he would prove once and for all whether the spirit world existed. She said that her late husband gave her a secret word that only she would know — and if spirits were real, he would communicate this one word to her from beyond the grave. Year after year, Bess failed to make contact with the spirit of Harry Houdini.
Detroit Art Center Music School
3975 Cass Ave., Detroit
Just a half a mile away from the Masonic Temple, a strange turn of events added yet another layer of mystery to Houdini's legacy in Detroit.
In 1981, the building that had once housed the W.R. Hamilton Funeral Home was sold to Detroit's Art Center Music School. The school also operated a punk venue for a period of time, where bands like Negative Approach played. There were a lot of factors that added to the enigma of this building that housed both classical music lessons and rowdy punk shows, but the most intriguing of all the unpredictable elements, was that it was believed that Houdini's spirit was also present.
An elderly receptionist at the Detroit Art Center Music School named Juanita Hammond always greeted students and guests with a warm smile. She was a vital character in the organization, which was founded in 1922. She had worked for the school since long before its relocation.
One evening, Hammond said she was alone, finishing some work. It was Halloween. She felt a cold rush of air, and when she looked up, she claimed she saw none other than Harry Houdini standing in the doorway of her office — a phenomena that occultists had tried to experience since 1927.
In Hammond's years of service at the DACMS at 3975 Cass Ave., she said that she grew to expect a visit from Harry Houdini whose spirit would appear without fail, every Halloween, on the anniversary of his death.
Hammond lived to be 102 years old. The Detroit Art Center Music School is currently in the process of fundraising for renovations on the building in order to continue affordable music lessons for Detroit youth.
4114 Vernor Hwy., Detroit
One of Detroit's newest venues, El Club may be a surprising place to experience paranormal activity, but the 92 year-old building has a lot of history, and a few curious features.
The lot adjacent to El Club once housed the Museo Indigenista, a Mexican cultural museum. It burned down shortly after closing in 2008. Once debris was cleared to make way for a memorial garden, in 2014, something interesting was revealed: an underground passageway, beneath all of the rubble.
Francisco Tinoco, who grew up in Southwest Detroit, was contracted for demolition work on the vacant building that shares a yard with El Club and also says that he found the passageway. "Growing up here, we have heard stories about the Purple Gang or mob affiliates running liquor from some of these buildings," he says. "I thought that may have been the explanation for what I saw."
But staff at El Club have also reported ghostly activity in the venue. Bartender Amanda Hiatt says that she has investigated noises coming from the kitchen area on more than one occasion, only to find that no one was there.
Local folklore has suggested that there were secret tunnels in the neighborhood that were used for smuggling liquor during the prohibition era. El Club, stands less than a mile from the Detroit River where bootlegging was once the second most lucrative business in Michigan and it's no surprise that the building erected in 1925 could carry remnants of some of this secret history.
The Majestic Theatre
4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Detroit's 102-year-old music venue, the Majestic Theatre is said to be a hotbed for paranormal activity. Employees say that they have encountered ghosts. "I have been here after 2 a.m. when the building is empty and I believe it is haunted," says resident DJ Chris Farmer. "There was a time where we were making the rounds to ensure everyone else was out of the building after closing, and appliances started going off on their own."
Another staff member says she clearly saw a customer walk through the theatre during hours that the Majestic was closed. The woman walked into the restroom. The staff member followed behind to tell the customer they had to leave, but when she opened the bathroom door it was completely empty.
Audience members have also claimed to witness paranormal phenomena at the Majestic. One concertgoer, Robyn Ussery, believes she caught an entity in a photograph that was stirred up by Prince's backing band, the Revolution, as they played a tribute to him this past May at the Majestic Theatre.
"There was a point in the performance where vocalist Wendy was making a speech and the audience listened intently," the concertgoer says. "She made a statement about how much Prince loved Detroit and that she was sure that he was here in spirit."
Following the concert, house lights went up and Ussery walked to the front of the stage where she took some photographs after the show ended. There was a microphone in the front of the stage that had a scarf that belonged to Prince tied to it and she went to take a picture up close. What she saw when she looked at the photographs, she believed to be Prince's ghost. The Revolution bought the photograph from the audience member.
Detroit has been a force for constantly evolving creative energy since the beginning of the American entertainment industry. Though the scenery may change within our neighborhoods, the roots of our cultural lineage are still held within the literal foundations of the places that some of the 20th century's greatest performers are said to haunt.