Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 2013.
No need to visit a cemetery to dine with the dead this Halloween.
In Michigan, there are plenty of restaurants catering to supernatural guests. And the legends surrounding these dining spots have all the makings of a box-office thriller: heartbreak, scandal, disturbed graves and, yes, even murder.
Why restaurants, you might ask.
“Spirits don’t just hang out at graveyards,” says renowned psychic-medium Kristy Robinett of Livonia, 43, who has visited many of the supposed haunted restaurants around the state and has experienced what she describes as plenty of activity. Ghosts “feed off the energy, and the spirits sometimes need to see those that are taking in that fun time,” she says.
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So, today, we profile five restaurants — from Allegan to Traverse City to Detroit — famous for their paranormal patrons. If you’re a thrill-seeker, check ’em out. You never know who — or what — might sit right next to you.
The Holly Hotel
Sounds of a child’s footsteps, glasses falling off shelves and disembodied voices. These are just a few of the eerie occurrences reported at the historic Holly Hotel, which is believed to be haunted by three main ghosts.
One is the ghost of John Hirst, the original owner who built the hotel in 1891. “With him you will get apparitions,” says general manager Tricia Antrobius, 31, of Holly. Sometimes, she says, there’ll be “a very strong hint of cigar smoke throughout the restaurant as Hirst was a heavy cigar smoker.”
Then there’s the lady of the house, Nora Kane, who Antrobius says lived at the hotel and was the hostess.
“We have guests send us pictures all the time showing a pale-face woman in a dark dress with dark hair” who appears to be the ghost of Kane, says Antrobius. Kane is often seen on the hotel’s second floor, Antrobius says, and people say they get a hint of perfume or floral scent before they see her.
The third resident spirit is said to be that of a little girl who was trampled by a horse at the stable next door in the early 1900s. Antrobius says no one knows her name but that rescuers brought the girl to the hotel in an unsuccessful attempt to save her. It was there that she died. Some suspect the girl may have been Kane’s daughter because a photo of Kane in a black mourning dress hangs in the hotel foyer. (110 Battle Alley, Holly; 248-634-5208;)
Built for lumber baron David Whitney Jr. between 1890 and 1894, the legendary mansion is said to be haunted by Whitney and his first wife, Flora.
According to Robinett, Flora always wanted to live in a mansion but died before the home was finished, leaving Whitney to raise their four children. A year after Flora’s death, Whitney married her sister Sara .
“So it’s actually Flora that haunts the mansion because her sister Sara was the one that got to live in the mansion,” Robinett says.
But, Robinett says, Whitney’s spirit is also there because he died in the mansion. “The story is he had a heart attack when one of the daughters told him she was marrying and moving to Europe.”
The Whitney’s grand exterior and interior is one of great opulence, but it also feeds into its eeriness. Within the castle-like mansion’s 21,000 square feet are 218 windows, 20 fireplaces and an elevator — that has been known to operate on its own.
David Duey, the Whitney’s director of operations, has witnessed the elevator traveling between floors and the doors open and close with no visible riders. “This has been caught on security cameras at night when there is no one in the building,” he says. (4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-5700; http://www.thewhitney.com.
South Lyon Hotel
Now a two-story restaurant and bar owned by the Baker family and Corry Bala, the South Lyon Hotel sits on the grounds of a former cemetery. And that alone, Bala says, gives people goosebumps. The hotel was built in 1867.
“It’s a historical fact, that who ever bought the land, they paid a company to have the remains removed,” says Bala, an operating partner.
But, Bala says he suspects that “whatever coffins were there must have rotted.”
Employees have reported hearing voices when no one is around, seeing shadows and TVs turning on and off.
“The stories all seem to be consistent,” Bala says. “I witnessed, with customers, glasses falling off the racks.”
Many of people report ghostly encounters in the women’s restroom upstairs. “They hear people moving around in the stall next to them only to find out no one is there.”
And, recently, an employee reported seeing a little girl standing at the top of the stairs.
“It’s an old building, so it does have funny noises,” Bala says. “But when you’re the only one in the building it gets your mind working.”
(201 N. Lafayette, South Lyon; 248-437-6440;http://www.southlyonhotel.com.)
The Mission Table and the Jolly Pumpkin (formerly the Bowers Harbor Inn)
Originally built in the 1880s, the inn was a summer retreat for Chicago lumber baron J.W. Stickney and his wife, Genevive. It’s located on West Grand Traverse Bay on the Old Mission Peninsula.
“They believe it’s Genevive that haunts the inn and you can see her face in the mirror,” says Robinett, who has been to the inn several times.
The story is a scandalous one that surrounds Genevive, a jealous woman who struggled with her weight. Stickney had an elevator installed to help her get around and he hired a nurse to care for her. When Stickney began an affair with the nurse, Genevive became jealous and fearful that her husband would leave his money to the mistress. And that he did, leaving the fortune to the nurse and only the inn to Genevive.
“Some believe the situation drove Mrs. Stickney into severe depression that eventually led her to hang herself from the rafters of the elevator shaft,” according to the restaurant’s website.
There are reports of the elevator moving on its own, lights turning on suddenly and people spotting Genevive’s face in a mirror.
(13512 Peninsula Drive, Traverse City; 231-223-4222; http://www.missiontable.net)
The Grill House
Built in 1836 as a stagecoach stop, the Grill House also was used as a sawmill, says owner Marcia Wagner.
And it’s here that a man they’ve named Jack haunts the house. Legend has it that Jack was killed in a barroom brawl in 1847 in one of the front dining rooms.
“He’s buried somewhere on the property without a tombstone,” Wagner says.
Through her research, Wagner found that at that time many lumberjacks were drifters.
“So when Jack was killed no one investigated who he was,” Wagner said. “He was a drifter and just buried.”
The Wagners have owned the restaurant for 15 years and Marcia says she has seen Jack twice. She describes him as being about 6 feet, 2 inches tall with dark hair and wearing dark pants. “Both times that I’ve seen him it’s in the dining room next to the one he was killed in,” Wagner says. “I can hear him walk around on the wooden floors.”
Jack also is famous for turning on water faucets and lights. And, according to the Grill House website, “on rare occasions, a single shot of whiskey, Jack’s drink of choice, will even be found sitting on the Rock Bottom bar, acting as a haunting reminder of our supernatural companion.”
(1071 Thirty-Second St., Allegan: 269-686-9192; http://grillhouse.net)