by Sarah Anderson | photography by Elyse Wild | special effects by Gideon Baker
As the temperature begins to drop and the leaves start to change, a different type of wind flows through the streets of Grand Rapids. Gone are the days of summer filled with beach days and backyard barbecues, quickly replaced with jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin pie candles and the stories of those that have come before us yet have never left.
Robert A. Du Shane is the co-author of the Paranormal Michigan Book Series, co-facilitator of the Ghosts of Grand Rapids tours and owner/operator of Paranormal Michigan, all too familiar with these tales. The following details his accounts of some of the specters that can still be found right here in our own backyard.
The Morton House
Originally a hotel on Monroe Center and Ionia, the Morton House has seen many residents in its 94 years: it has gone from bank headquarter to low-income housing to, most recently, a mixed-use development with both residential and commercial spaces.
Du Shane mentions that there are a few chilling stories that come to us from the Morton House, the most recent being from a construction worker working on a team to restore the building.
“While he was working there he tore down one of the walls and found newspaper clippings and a rubber bouncy ball,” Du Shane recalled. “For the past few years, the rubber ball has been following him everywhere [in the building].”
While the significance of the rubber ball remains unknown, it still seems to be a powerful force following this worker from floor to floor.
“He had been up on the 10th floor, went down to the 4th floor and as soon as he stopped out of the elevator the rubber ball came bouncing from the hallway,” Du Shane explained.
“The main haunting there is tied to the peanut gallery on the third floor,” disclosed Du Shane.
In the past, the peanut gallery was where the servants sat while their employers attended a show. It wasn’t the best spot to view the production, but it was considered a privilege for the servants nonetheless. They would fill the third floor to see a show all the while keeping a careful watch on their employers down below, ready to cater to their needs with the wave of a hand.
“What we have heard from several people who work at the Civic Theatre, it’s not uncommon to see people up there or to hear people. It’s nothing dangerous, but people are reporting extreme cases of depression or melancholiness coming from the third floor,” revealed Du Shane. “It seems as if the servants have been stuck there working in the peanut gallery for eternity.”
Michigan Bell Building
On the corner of Fountain and Division sits a large structure with a tumultuous history attached to it. As the story goes, a couple whose on-again, off-again relationship was well known around town, lived in a house at location where now stands the Michigan Bell Building. After a seemingly wonderful night complete with a horse and carriage ride, the couple had their last argument, long believed to have concluded in a murder-suicide in which the husband used his prosthetic leg to end his wife’s life.
However, Du Shane explains that the true story is not as violent.
“After a night of heavy drinking, the gentlemanhad woken up and thought his wife had died,” Du Shane confirmed.
Upon mistaking his partner for dead, the grief-stricken man decided to take his life. The deranged husband stuffed the doors and windows with rags, and turned on the fixtures to allow gas to fill the home, effectively ending both of their lives through carbon monoxide poisoning.
There have been several reported instances where the couple has been seen walking around in the upper levels of the building. More curiously, a series of prank phone calls that swept Grand Rapids were traced back to the building and are believed to be a part of the couple’s haunting.
If you’re walking through Memorial Park and a kind elderly man offers to give up his seat, you may be interacting with the ghost of Edward Blakely. Blakely’s attachment to the monument that sits in Memorial Park to commemorate Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War was so profound that he now contentedly sits by it in his afterlife.
Blakely’s history with the monument began with his father, a Civil War veteran. At the ripe age of 99, after watching the monument age and deteriorate, he spearheaded a campaign to restore it to its former glory. Two weeks after the restoration, Blakely passed away.
Blakely is often spotted sitting in Monument Park on the last seat of the first bench on the left, and it has been reported that he has given up his seat to women walking through the park, only to vanish immediately after.