by Brenda Dyer | photos by Two Eagles Marcus and Alyssa Corwin
Grand Rapids, even from its earliest history, has been shrouded with tales of supernatural activity, ghostly encounters, and mysterious vanishings.
At the turn of the 18th century, neighboring Native American nations labeled this land “the Haunted Valley of the Grand,” an area that the Indians believed was filled with evil spirits roaming the land. Single Indians, and sometimes entire hunting parties, would vanish in these woods along the Grand, never to be seen or heard from again. Despite the vast forests that have been replaced through time with concrete, bricks and glass, many believe that the evil spirits still roam this land, reaping their havoc on the living.
One popular area is a certain block of Ionia Avenue. This section of Ionia, across the street from where the former Union Train Depot was built, was a mecca of hotels for weary travelers. This block held the infamous Crathmore Hotel, the Wellington Hotel and the American House, each with their own saloons and restaurants.
The corner building began its life in 1889 as the Hansen House. In 1892 it was known as the Kent Hotel and was considered the leading hotel in the area for close to 10 years. Eventually, the hotel changed hands again and became the Crathmore Hotel. The Crathmore might have been a fine hotel, but it had its share of tragedies. A man named C.F. Kirby checked into the hotel and was found dead in his room the following morning. It was never determined to be a natural death or a suicide; he was just simply found dead.
In 1906, a woman who decided to end her own life there was a 22 year-old Polish girl, newly arrived in America to spend the rest of her life with the man she loved. Unfortunately, she soon learned that she was betrayed by her future husband, and with no family or friends here, and hardly speaking a word of English, she leapt to her death from the third floor.
Tragedies seemed to follow the Crathmore and the adjoining American House. This building now houses the Ritz-Koney.
McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon, and Ritz Koney
Yet another story is about a gentleman named E. S. Parker, who was a spiritualist from Fort Wayne. The first thing Mr. Parker did when he stepped out of the Union Train Station was to ask a patrolman where he could find the nearest drug store. There he purchased his drug of choice – morphine. He was spotted at the Crathmore Hotel acting what the patrons call “drowsy.” He then returned back to his room at the American House. When his body was found the next day, he had what was referred to as “writing peculiar to a clairvoyant” in his jacket pocket. Today, that would be called automatic writing where you allow a spirit to use your body to write out messages. The family arrived and it was learned that Mr. Parker had an extensive morphine habit; his death was ruled as an accidental overdose.
Another person who is confirmed to have taken his own life there was George Barton, a former soldier. Despite that the coroner noted he was unsure “how Mr. Barton took the poison or what the poison was remains a mystery,” Mr. Barton’s death was ruled a suicide.
Eventually, this building ceased to be used as a hotel and became a place for various manufacturing businesses. In 1938, tragedy struck again. Mina Dekker, a beautiful 19 year-old secretary was found bludgeoned to death with a hammer as she worked alone on the third floor. Despite there being only one suspect, a man that worked on the second floor, there was never enough evidence to fully charge him. Mina’s death is known as one of Grand Rapid’s oldest unsolved murders.
People often report seeing a beautiful young girl looking out of the windows, and always from the third floor. It’s widely believed that Mina’s spirit lingers at her place of death, perhaps crying out for long-overdue justice.
The basement of what is now the Ritz-Koney is also considered very haunted. Investigations have revealed voices, communication through flashlights and evp programs, clothes being tugged upon and even seeing full apparitions.
Next door to the American House was the Wellington Hotel. (Now home to McFadden’s) Like its sister hotels beside her, the Wellington too had its own share of death.
Alex Odlkirk was found dead in his room one morning, with blood smeared all over his head and pillows. Testimony from the employees of the hotel showed that Mr. Odlkirk was incredibly drunk and fell down the stairs hitting his head violently on the railing. The employees helped the man back up to his room. That day, he appeared again harboring a black eye and a bloody forehead. It wasn’t until the day after that he was found dead, with his head covered in blood. The coroner reported major lacerations on the head of the body. It was never determined with certainty if the man died from his injuries on the stairs two days prior, or from another violent assault.
There was also a cook at the Wellington who succumbed to heat stroke during a particularly horrendous heat wave, and died in the kitchen.
It was widely rumored that the top floor of the hotel was used as a brothel. One young working girl apparently fell in love with one of her clients. The man did not return her feelings, so the girl committed suicide by hanging herself from the rafters.
Staff at McFadden’s have reported many incidents of paranormal activity, mostly from the third floor. Near the DJ area, there are a series of mirrors. Some say that if you line yourself up with the mirrors, so that you can see the reflections in front of you and behind you simultaneously, you can sometimes spot a young girl standing in the room watching you.
One manager was standing behind the bar when a lone wine glass went sailing off the bar, crashing to the floor in the middle of the room. A similar incident happened with another staff member, but this time it was a napkin caddy. It too flew off the bar and landed in the middle of the dance floor. According to this same manager, when people have taken pictures in this establishment, an unknown young lady will show up mysteriously in the photographs. Investigations have revealed shadow people, flashlight communication, items being moved around and various other phenomena.
St. Cecelia Music Center
Not far away on Ransom NE is St. Cecelia Music Center which is housed in a splendidly restored, landmark building, complete with its own jewel of a concert hall “Royce Auditorium.” St. Cecilia Music Center was established in 1883. It enjoys the distinction of being the “mother of the arts” in Grand Rapids. Many of the city’s most prominent arts organizations trace their roots to programs that originated at St. Cecilia including the Grand Rapids Symphony, Opera Grand Rapids and Civic Theater. St. Cecelia is home to a few of its own ghosts. Staff have reported the apparitions of a couple that can be seen dancing in the upstairs ball room from time to time. The ghostly figure of a woman can also be seen and heard walking around back stage in the auditorium. Likewise, a stagehand also makes an appearance… as well as a small child playing with a rubber ball in the lower section of the building near the library.
Investigations have revealed many phenomena including footsteps, voices, apparitions, seats being moved, flashlight communication and sporadic EMF and other instrument spikes.
So, is Grand Rapids haunted? You be the judge.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brenda Dyer is owner of “Cityscape Adventures” & “Grand Rapids Most Haunted” tours and events. She works with the Michigan Paranormal Alliance, a paranormal research and investigative team that offers free investigations and help with paranormal issues. www.m-p-a.org