The Whitney in Detroit has been said to be haunted.
In recent years, the owners of places like Westland’s former Eloise psychiatric asylum
and Ypsilanti’s Michigan Firehouse Museum
have embraced their buildings’ alleged haunted histories, hosting spooky tours and ghost-hunting expeditions. That’s also the spirit behind Michigan Haunts: Public Places, Eerie Spaces
, a new book by Michigan authors Jon Milan and Gail Offen released earlier this month by Arcadia Publishing.
It’s the third book the duo has written together, following Grand River Avenue
and Iconic Restaurants of Ann Arbor
. Milan says as the two were traveling the state researching their other books, they would come across local legends of haunted places.
“Gail and I thought, gee, this would be interesting if instead of doing the average haunted house book where you talk about places that people can't go,” he says. “We thought, let's talk about all of the public places you can go. [It’s] photo caption-driven so people can put it in their glove box and — and go ghost hunting themselves.”
“It’s a fun way, too, for kids to learn about history,” Offen says. “When people buy a house, everybody likes to think the house comes with a story and every house has a past, and you wonder about the people who died there. So there's a curiosity there that people have.”
Aside from being public, for a place to make the cut, the authors say it had to have more than just a one-off anecdotal experience of alleged paranormal activity.
“It’s not enough to just say the Detroit Public Library is haunted because people feel a tingle here and there, or they think they've heard sounds,” Milan says. “That's not really quite enough. But when you hear at the DIA that the nail statue
has been seen by security guards running up and down the aisles and things like that, then that's an interesting story.”
Offen says they also wanted to feature what they call “a diversity of ghosts,” from a jealous wife, to a ghost dog, to a ghost that orders Jack Daniel's at a bar, and then nobody's there when the drink comes. There's tales from a restaurant in Jackson where waitresses say they get pinched, and they turn around thinking it's a patron and there's nobody there, and also an entire chapter dedicated to Harry Houdini, who died in Detroit on Halloween in 1926.
“We really wanted to add a fun aspect,” she says. “We didn't want this book to be too serious.”
Aside from consulting other publications on the subject, the authors say the chief method of information gathering they used was just traveling the state, talking to locals, and seeing the places for themselves.
“You can't really fact-check a book like this,” Offen admits.
The way Milan sees it, public interest in haunted places has risen in the last 10 or 15 years, along with the popularity of cable TV ghost-hunting shows.
“There's so many programs that have come — some are still on, some have gone — about exploring haunted places and some of the interesting things that they've found,” he says. “It’s kind of intriguing because there's just no way to explain some of these things.”
The two found that a lot of businesses liked the idea of promoting the haunted stories.
“The manager at the Whitney, he talked to us for a half an hour about the stuff that he was encountering,” Milan says.
“It’'s also interesting that some places don't like to talk about the haunted histories,” he adds. “We found that, like, for instance, Greenfield Village does not want their employees to talk about the weird stuff that happens there.”
Milan says he remains skeptical about the existence of ghosts, but does claim to have had two paranormal experiences. One was in a photo taken at Eloise, which appears to show some sort of ghostly entity in the frame, which is included in the book. In another instance, both Milan and another person say they heard a disembodied voice talk to them at the same time at the Jackson Antique Mall.
“We just kind of looked at each other like, ‘Did you hear that?’” he says.
Offen, however, says she has yet to have a paranormal experience.
“My only experience is ghosting people,” she says. “I have not, unfortunately, had any. I really want to see one, but I'm more of a skeptic. But I feel these people are so sincere. I believe everybody who tells us these stories, and I’d love to experience something like that.”
The authors will give a book talk at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at the Ypsilanti Library Whittaker branch, 5577 Whittaker Rd., Ypsilanti; 734-482-4110; ypsilibrary.org.
More information is available at arcadiapublishing.com.
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