Wheelhouse Detroit offers tours of haunted spaces around the city each fall, including a stop at historical Elmwood Cemetery on the east side.

Wheelhouse Detroit offers tours of haunted spaces around the city each fall, including a stop at historical Elmwood Cemetery on the east side.

Photo provided by Wheelhouse Detroit


Ditch the masks and tour a real haunted space this fall

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published October 23, 2018

 Linda Buchanan, of the Greenwood Cemetery Advisory Board, took on the character of “Verona,” a friend of Birmingham historical figure Martha Baldwin, during a tour of the cemetery May 5.

Linda Buchanan, of the Greenwood Cemetery Advisory Board, took on the character of “Verona,” a friend of Birmingham historical figure Martha Baldwin, during a tour of the cemetery May 5.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Noted figures from Detroit’s past are buried in Birmingham’s municipal cemetery, and they make for interesting discussions on tours.

Noted figures from Detroit’s past are buried in Birmingham’s municipal cemetery, and they make for interesting discussions on tours.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — Detroit is about three and a quarter centuries old, with countless landmark buildings standing — almost untouched — for a majority of that tenure.

Of course, there are going to be tales of spirits haunting our historical grounds. What better time to indulge our interest in the local paranormal than around Halloween, when the whole world is itching for a good ghost story?

Karin Risko has got a few.

She’s the owner of City Tour Detroit, which offers, among many excursions, its Notorious 313 tour, which she describes as a “walk on the sinister side of the city.”

“We look at legends, lore and tragic events where ghosts may have some residual spirits,” Risko said. “What I like about these is they’re history, just a little more of the gruesome history. Because history isn’t always pretty.”

Risko has learned a thing or two about Detroit history over the years and got many of the gory tales that drive her tours from old newspaper articles. Bloody murders don’t always make history books, even though they do shape our history.

“It’s kind of a remembrance for those who unfortunately met a tragic demise, and sometimes it’s a significant event for Detroit too,” she said, noting the Sept. 24, 1830, hanging of a man accused of murdering his wife, which was the last state execution in Michigan.

“(Members of) the church saw the whole thing and advocated to repeal capital punishment.”

The ghost tours are wildly popular, according to Risko, to the point that she wishes she had enough help to offer the events throughout the spring and summer too.

And of course, those who sign up for the tours aren’t expecting to necessarily see a spirit — there’s no money-back ghost guarantee — but the intrigue keeps guests coming back.

That’s been the experience for Kelli Kavanaugh, owner of the Wheelhouse Detroit bike and repair shop. The retailer offers bike tours of Detroit, and in the fall, the ghost-centric tours are always sellout events.

“We go to Elmwood Cemetery, the Whitney Mansion, Fort Shelby, the Leyland Hotel,” Kavanaugh explained. “We go to the Majestic Theatre, which isn’t necessarily haunted, but we tell the story of Harry Houdini (who died there). And we stop along the river and talk about Cadillac and the Nain Rouge.”

Wheelhouse Detroit offers other tours — like an urban agriculture trip, neighborhood-specific adventures, tours that highlight architecture — and sometimes the landmarks overlap. The Masonic Temple, for instance, is a notable architectural work in the city, and it is also supposedly very haunted.

But the ghost tour, Kavanaugh said, has a different vibe than the others.

“This one tends to be, and I welcome this, a little more fun. A lot of tours are fun, and there are people interested in a particular topic and are really there to learn. This one is about getting out and riding, no matter the weather, and it’s just not as serious,” she said.

Serious and fun can go hand in hand, if you ask Leslie Pielack, director of the Birmingham Museum. Throughout the year, the Friends of the Birmingham Museum booster group hosts tours of the city’s famed Greenwood Cemetery, a municipal cemetery housing the remains of some well-known Detroit names like Pewabic Pottery founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton, Cranbrook founders George and Ellen Scripps Booth, sculptor Marshall Fredericks, and aviator Harry Brooks.

The land is significant for other reasons too, like the fact that it was among the first municipal cemeteries in the area, created at a time when many people were buried on the land of their house of worship.

Oh, and not to mention, it’s said to be the site of a horrific Chippewa massacre, and the reason it was founded in the first place was to lay to rest the victims of a chilling murder in Civil War-era Birmingham.

“Paranormal investigators have been said to have picked up on readings on their equipment at Greenwood Cemetery,” Pielack said. “But I believe what makes walking through any cemetery, but especially Greenwood, so memorable this time of year is we’re literally walking on ground that is just one step away from our community’s past. It’s the same earth below our feet that has been trod upon by so many who have come before us.”

The Greenwood Cemetery closes at dusk, but visitors can tour the property anytime they like online in a virtual tour on the city’s website. The Friends of the Birmingham Museum also offer guided Halloween group tours upon request by emailing museum@bhamgov.org.

More information on Wheelhouse Detroit tours can be found at wheelhousedetroit.com.

To learn more about City Tour Detroit or to book a private tour, visit citytourdetroit.com.