The east portion of southern Michigan is home to some of the state’s most historic cities.
Detroit, for instance, was founded in 1701 as a fort and settlement. Today it’s an industrial urban center, with 300 years of history under its belt, some of which still haunt visitors today. Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, began with various settlements in the early 1820s. Then, of course, there’s the national park, River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe, which saw the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812 in which the U.S. suffered its greatest defeat. As you can imagine, with history comes mystery, some of which is unexplainable.
This October, when the chill returns to the air and Halloween is on the horizon, embark on this spooky driving tour around southeast Michigan. Perhaps you’ll have an encounter of your own.
Distance: 136 miles Driving Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
Stop #1: Michigan’s First State Prison, Jackson
Michigan’s First State Prison operated from 1838 through 1934. Stories reveal that it was a brutal place, known for its prisoner neglect, abuse, and torture. The old prison has since been converted into a residence and studio for artisans; however, encounters have taken place to give the site a reputation for being haunted. The building is open to historic tours (daytime only). One highlight of the tour is the underground section that used to hold the solitary confinement prisoners. The cells have been removed but it can be, according to visitors, an oppressive place. There is also a network of underground passageways running to and from the watchtowers and cottages that housed the guards. There have been many private investigations for ghosts, and there is recorded evidence of activity at the prison. Some residents upstairs report of seeing apparitions.
Jackson Historic Prison Tours combines a tour of Michigan’s first state prison with the state’s largest prison (7 Block) for a total of three hours. There are one to three tours offered daily but check the website for times and rates: https://historicprisontours.com/
Stop #2: Eloise Psychiatric Hospital, Westland
Named after Eloise Dickerson Davock, the daughter of Detroit’s postmaster, this psychiatric hospital operated from 1839 to 1982. It’s only 16 miles from Detroit and consisted of 79 buildings on 902 acres, only eight of which remain. It was self-sufficient in that it had its own farming operations, fire department, and railroad. There is also a cemetery located on the grounds, where a lot of the activity takes place. Most of the graves are unmarked save for a number. There have also been reports of strange occurrences in other areas of the old hospital grounds, such as seeing a woman in white, and hearing moaning, screams, and roars. Back in the day, patients were subjected to electroshock therapy. The asylum, however, is set to undergo redevelopment.
Detroit Paranormal Expeditions has hosted Eloise tours for $65 apiece but they sold out quickly. Check the website for soundbites from their private investigation of Eloise.
Stop #3: Eastern Market
This hot shopping center is a mecca for those who love fresh produce, flowers, and custom wares. But did you know it was built over the Russell Street Cemetery? Apparently, some of the spirits haven’t left even though the bodies were removed to various other cemeteries in the area. Stories abound of eerie sounds and ghostly apparitions in various places around Eastern Market. The old slaughterhouse, now abandoned, is of interest to ghost seekers.
Eastern Market, 2934 Russell Street, Detroit, MI
Stop #4: Belle Isle
You would think that a natural refuge like Belle Isle in urban jungle Detroit would provide only peace and tranquility. And while it does normally, there is something abnormal about the bridges connecting Belle Isle to the mainland. They were popular jumping choices for suicides. Rumor is if you park on a bridge, honk three times, and wait, a woman in white will appear.
Belle Isle can be accessed via the MacArthur Bridge via East Grand Boulevard. It’s a Detroit city park that is open to the public. It’s a beautiful place with many free attractions including a conservatory and an aquarium. Visit www.belleisleconservancy.org.
Stop #5: River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe
The sites of where historic battles once took place are often shrouded with tales of the unexplained. In Michigan, the War of 1812 brought a bloody battle near the city of Monroe in early 1813. The British defeated American troops, who were forced to surrender. Able-bodied men were taken prisoner while the wounded were left behind to fend for themselves. Instead of assistance, the Native Americans launched a surprise attack and slaughtered the rest of the troops. Pretty chilling stuff. Reports of orbs, nighttime lights, and apparitions of soldiers have been made as well as voices recorded. Walk the Battlefield Loop Trail (0.6 miles) or the one-mile Mason Run Loop Trail.
Grounds are open from sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor Center is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except for a few holidays. There is no entrance fee required. Visit www.nps.gov/rira/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm.