Metro Detroit sites conjure tales of ghosts, ESP and the unexplained

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published October 9, 2019

 The Whitney, originally constructed as the residence of lumber baron David Whitney, now serves as a restaurant in downtown Detroit. Staff, visitors and paranormal investigators have reported eerie experiences within the mansion and the carriage house behind it.

The Whitney, originally constructed as the residence of lumber baron David Whitney, now serves as a restaurant in downtown Detroit. Staff, visitors and paranormal investigators have reported eerie experiences within the mansion and the carriage house behind it.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 From left, Mark Waynick, of Westland; Marc Ortiz, of Dearborn; and Kelly Haapala, of White Lake, stand inside the carriage house behind The Whitney in Detroit Sept. 26.

From left, Mark Waynick, of Westland; Marc Ortiz, of Dearborn; and Kelly Haapala, of White Lake, stand inside the carriage house behind The Whitney in Detroit Sept. 26.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 A tea set, known as Grace’s table, sits on display in the carriage house behind The Whitney in Detroit Sept. 26. Lore has it that whenever the table is moved or disturbed, strange things happen inside the mansion.

A tea set, known as Grace’s table, sits on display in the carriage house behind The Whitney in Detroit Sept. 26. Lore has it that whenever the table is moved or disturbed, strange things happen inside the mansion.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 The inside of the Baldwin Theatre is illuminated by a ghost light on the stage.

The inside of the Baldwin Theatre is illuminated by a ghost light on the stage.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 A ghost light illuminates the empty Baldwin Theatre Oct. 2. A ghost light’s purpose is primarily safety, but superstitious beliefs maintain that it wards away or is agreeable to ghosts.

A ghost light illuminates the empty Baldwin Theatre Oct. 2. A ghost light’s purpose is primarily safety, but superstitious beliefs maintain that it wards away or is agreeable to ghosts.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 Vonnie Miller, the community development director for Stagecrafters, stands on the stairs leading up to the mezzanine at the Baldwin Theatre in downtown Royal Oak Oct. 2. Miller has felt the same benign ghostly presence pass her three times on those steps.

Vonnie Miller, the community development director for Stagecrafters, stands on the stairs leading up to the mezzanine at the Baldwin Theatre in downtown Royal Oak Oct. 2. Miller has felt the same benign ghostly presence pass her three times on those steps.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 A train passes below the Trowbridge Road Bridge in Bloomfield Hills on Dec. 12, 1975.

A train passes below the Trowbridge Road Bridge in Bloomfield Hills on Dec. 12, 1975.

Photo provided by Byron Babbish

METRO DETROIT — Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, there are several places in metro Detroit that have alleged hauntings, including The Whitney in Detroit, Stagecrafters in Royal Oak and the Trowbridge Road Bridge in Bloomfield Hills.

Marc Ortiz and Mark Waynick, co-founders of the Haunt Investigators of Michigan, both encountered eerie events that could not be explained as children, such as shadow figures, out-of-body experiences and otherworldly contact.

The pair have investigated purportedly haunted locations across the nation, including Salem, Massachusetts, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But according to them, the most haunted place in Michigan is The Whitney, a historic site turned restaurant in downtown Detroit.


‘Was it a coincidence?’
While unexplained events have occurred in the mansion, the most paranormal activity has taken place in the carriage house, located behind the mansion and used primarily for storage nowadays.

After lumber baron David Whitney and his family vacated the property, the mansion served as a hospice, and after that, the Visiting Nurse Association acquired the carriage house for its offices.

A tea setup on a table in the carriage house is known as Grace’s table, and any disturbance to it has resulted in chaos, according to Waynick.

“Grace was the oldest daughter of David Whitney. She actually lived abroad in France, but when she’d come back here to the States, she liked to come up here and have tea, look out the window and watch the horses,” Waynick said.

He said “things started going crazy” when the Visiting Nurse Association took down the table, and the Whitney family told the group, when they inquired about the table, to restore it to its original location to please Grace’s spirit.

Ortiz and Waynick last moved the table, but they restored it after a significant amount of unwanted activity took place in the mansion, including the flooding of the basement, which resulted in thousands of dollars of lost property.

For the past five or six years, the pair have led paranormal groups on overnight tours throughout the mansion and carriage house and have recorded and experienced a sizable amount of paranormal activity.

Ortiz said he experienced a “shadow man” standing in a doorway in the carriage house, as well as voices and noises that confirmed their presence when asked.

He and Waynick also heard a male voice on their equipment saying, “Get out.”

Investigators with the group, primarily female, have captured children’s voices singing to them and answering questions in the carriage house.

Investigators have also observed a type of mist that they considered to be a spirit materializing into the room from a wall, a bluish light emanating from an unknown source, as well as the sound of footsteps resonating from an unoccupied room.

Ortiz relayed a tale from a vendor, who pulled up to The Whitney and observed the figure of a nurse trying to escape a second-story window of the carriage house. Later, when staff went to investigate, the figure was gone.

“For him to see a nurse and he didn’t know the story, it’s kind of crazy,” Ortiz said.

After a spell of being away from The Whitney, Ortiz and Waynick returned to David Whitney’s bedroom, where he died from a heart attack in 1900. They experienced lights flickering on and off after inquiring if Whitney was with them.

“Was it a coincidence? Probably. But what if it’s not?” Ortiz said. “What if he heard us? It’s very possible.”

He also recalled the story of a couple and their child who intended to take the elevator from the third floor down to the first floor.

“The elevator doors open and the little kid looks in it, and he goes, ‘Mom, Dad, we can’t go in because it’s full,’ but there was nobody in there,” Ortiz said. “Children’s minds are so clear and innocent that they can see stuff that we can’t. So what was he seeing? I don’t know, but he wouldn’t get on that elevator.”

Ortiz and Waynick also told two separate but related incidents of women who had conversations with ghostly bathroom attendants. Both left their drinks at the “ghost bar,” as the bar on the third floor is named, to have a “lovely conversation” with the bathroom attendant, only to learn that The Whitney does not employ bathroom attendants.

Others have witnessed glasses falling off the ghost bar, drawers popping open in upstairs rooms, and piano music played by a phantom musician. A staff member recalled a strawberry she had placed into a champagne glass in preparation for a brunch event bouncing off the back of her head while she was alone in the kitchen.

The only sinister ghost inside the mansion has reportedly been contained within the basement and is a “heavy” and “negative” presence known as “the lady in black” or “the lady with black eyes,” Waynick said.

Besides The Whitney, Ortiz and Waynick have also experienced paranormal activity at the Masonic Temple in Detroit.

“We heard some real crazy voices and heard some stuff out loud,” Ortiz said. “There’s a locker room, and we were catching this figure on our device. Out loud, we heard a woman’s voice talk to us.”


‘It’s a feeling of somebody there’
In Royal Oak, longtime volunteer and community development manager Vonnie Miller, of Stagecrafters, said she has experienced a number of ghostly sensations.

The Stagecrafters Baldwin Theatre was originally constructed in 1922 as the Washington Theatre and showcased vaudeville performances. Later, it became the Washington Movie Theatre, and in the late 1980s, it was transformed into a nonprofit community theater platform.

Miller, who came on board more than 25 years ago, is a firm believer in ghosts. She has only witnessed local paranormal activity within the Stagecrafters building;  however, none of her otherworldly experiences or those relayed to her have been malignant.

Thrice she has encountered the same spirit as she walked upstairs to the mezzanine part of the theater.

“A ghost walked past me. When I say ghost, it’s a feeling of somebody there. It’s like a whoosh,” Miller said. “It’s only when I’m the only person in the theater.”

She said the presence is not visible, but she clearly feels that it’s following her and guarding her.

Others, she said, have witnessed a male specter in costume in the green room, as well as a young girl on the second stage. A volunteer spotted a shadowy apparition in the elevator when escorting a guest upstairs to the second stage.

“We’ve never had doors open and close, but we have had lights go on and off at various places in the theater without knowing why,” Miller said. “We’ve also had sounds.”

The sounds, she said, have been heard in the building’s two offices and remind her of someone trying to leave. Due to a certain amount of construction, she said, there are now walls where there were no walls in the past, and previous walls have been knocked down.


‘Everyone knew it was a haunted place growing up’
In Bloomfield Hills, an urban legend exists around the Trowbridge Road Bridge, located along Trowbridge Court between Woodward Avenue and Kensington Road, over the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. It is slated for demolition this year, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Michael Babbish, of St. Clair Shores, grew up near the bridge and heard folklore passed down through generations about the location.

“Everyone knew it was a haunted place growing up. It was just kind of known,” he said. “I’ve heard multiple stories about what happened there to make it haunted, but I have no idea. No one knows exactly.”

He said a priest confirmed to him once that, long ago, local teens conducted some kind of satanic ritual there.

“What I hear is there was some type of incident that happened at Trowbridge in the ’40s or ’50s that involved the death of some type of high schooler or middle schooler, and it is suspected some kind of witchcraft or satantic ritual led to a mass suicide kind of thing, but (the story) changed every time.”

Nowadays, the bridge is a hot spot for youths who visit it because of the folklore, despite it being closed and their presence being trespassing.

“I’ve hiked there, and I didn’t see anything as a child,” Babbish said. “I’ve never seen anything odd, and I just drove there recently, like last year.”

What he did see, he said, was a lot of “angsty graffiti,” and it seemed to be a place where “teenagers go to hide.”