Spooky tours, haunted places ready for Halloween in Metro Detroit
On a side street in Hamtramck, in an old bar dating back to at least the 1930s, a jukebox occasionally turns on by itself, even when it’s been unplugged. Bar stools sometimes spin. Chairs move. And bartenders tell stories of glimpsing, out of the corner of their eyes, a figure sitting at the bar as they’re opening or closing. A closer look reveals no one is there.
“There are just too many stories by too many different people to not think something is up there,” says Bailey Sisoy-Isgro, executive director of Detroit History Tours, which organizes tours of some of the city’s haunted spots and cemeteries. The company also offers excursions that explore architecture, police and crime, food, and other aspects of history.
Like other history-focused organizations in Metro Detroit, the company offers not only a bit of Halloween fun and entertainment on some tours but also education.
The Painted Lady Lounge, believed to be Hamtramck’s oldest commercial establishment, is just one stop on this year’s “Haunted Detroit: The Dark Side of History Tour.” Other stops include haunted spots in the Detroit Club and Capitol Park.
“No one is going to jump out and scare you on these tours,” Sisoy-Isgro says. “These are not those kind of tours. These are serious tours, but there are stories that will make the hair on your neck stand up.”
Like the stories bar manager Andrea Bonaventura shares when bus tour visitors arrive.
“I was here one day by myself mopping the floor. I never have the jukebox on because I’ve heard the songs a million times,” she recalls. “The jukebox started playing. I went and unplugged it and went back to mopping. A few minutes later, it started playing again. I ran out of the bar and called the owner … you think I’d remember the song but I don’t.”
Just down the road, another popular stop on the “Haunted Detroit” tour is Hamtramck Stadium, the former home of the Negro League Detroit Stars, located near the Detroit border.
“There are stories of people hearing the crack of a baseball bat and they’ll look at the field and no one is there,” Sisoy-Isgro says. “There are stories of people seeing grass being pressed down like someone is walking but there is no one there.”
The venue is one of a few remaining Negro league baseball stadiums in the country. The stadium opened in 1930 and hosted many Negro League legends including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Detroit’s own Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.
“It’s a really creepy place on tours,” she says. “It’s a bit like ‘Field of Dreams,’ baseball players coming back and enjoying something they loved. I’d love to think that. There are stories from people living around the field who have seen a spirit playing at night ...
“I’d like to call it ‘Field of Screams,” she adds.
Detroit History Tours also offers historic cemetery tours, “Buried in Detroit: The Historic Cemeteries Bus Tour.” The tours, not intended to be scary, do offer a few creepy moments.
“There are the ghost stories and we tell them a little bit,” Sisoy Isgro says. “We visit the grave of the first governor of Michigan, Stevens T. Mason, in Capitol Park. His body was moved three times. It’s freaky for sure.”
The cemetery tours, offered most of the year, include the history of graveyards, details about the architecture of mausoleums and symbols on headstones, burial practices of different eras, and stories of the famous and the ordinary in their final resting places.
Typically, each tour explores two historic cemeteries. The famous can include the likes of Detroit greats like J.L. Hudson, founder of the long-gone Hudson’s department store, the Dodge brothers of automotive fame, and Edsel Ford, the only son of automotive icon Henry Ford. There are lesser-known people, as well, including Fannie Richards, the city’s first African-American teacher who is buried at the city’s Elmwood Cemetery.
“We visit her grave and pay our respects,” Sisoy-Isgro says.
“The Haunted Detroit: The Dark Side of History Tour” is offered Thursday-Sunday, through Nov. 10. “Buried in Detroit: The Historic Cemeteries Bus Tour,” is offered Oct. 19 and Oct. 26. For information, visit detroithistorytours.com.
Every Halloween, the Detroit Historical Museum offers a fun event that blends contemporary Halloween traditions with Detroit history.
The museum’s popular “Treats in the Streets” invites children and families to explore the old streets of Detroit — from the 1840s to the early 1900s — while dressed in costumes. Stations outside the recreated storefronts offer candy, treats and other fall fare, including cider and doughnuts. Entertainment, games and prizes are part of the fun.
“It’s an amazing and fantastic experience,” says Malika Pryor, senior director of education and programs for the museum. “It’s all the things you want it to be for young people. It’s a fantastic means to give kids an opportunity to visit the museum who might not otherwise.”
For the unfamiliar, the museum’s Streets of Detroit exhibit includes recreations of well-known Detroit businesses along a road that changes from logs and cobblestones to bricks as the city transforms over 80 years. Stores are fully curated and some are open for browsing.
“It feels a bit like going back in time for an evening stroll,” she says. “I think it’s super fun for kids. Lot of them are eyes wide open and open mouths.”
“Treats in the Streets” is from noon to 4 p.m Oct. 27. Admission is free. Information: detroithistorical.org.
Greenfield Village’s annual Hallowe’en is as much a fall tradition in southeast Michigan as pumpkins, apple cider and doughnuts. The event, which draws 75,000 spectators a year, began in the early 1980s.
New at the Top Hat Side Show on Main Street this season is an appearance by Blake Wallenda, a seventh-generation circus performer of the famous Flying Wallendas.
Wallenda will be among the performers of the vaudeville variety show, which includes circus, magic and comedy acts. He’ll perform his high wire act 12 feet above the stage. The vaudeville show has been a part of the Halloween event the past five years.
“People just love it,” says Andrew D’Ascenzo, who, along with his wife, Alexandria, run the Top Hat Side Show, and will be performing tricks with fire. “The show is really geared for people of all ages. Kids love the circus act. Parents love the comedy and the banter back and forth with the audience.”
The traditional Halloween frights — ghosts, spirits, bats, owls and more than a thousand lit carved pumpkins — are part of the evening’s fun, as well. Stories and vignettes unfold with real-life actors and readings that explore Gothic and adventure literature.
Hallowe’en Nights at Greenfield Village runs this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Oct. 17-20, and Oct. 24-27. Admission prices vary. Information: thehenryford.org.
More Halloween events
Zoos and nature
Boo at The Nature Center. Annual costume and trick-or-treat event for children. Belle Isle Nature Center, 176 Lakeside Drive, Detroit. (313) 852-4056. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 26. Free.
Zoo Boo. All 125 acres of the Detroit Zoo are open for “merry” Halloween fun, including games, entertainment and treats. Detroit Zoo, 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, Royal Oak. detroitzoo.org. 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, and Oct. 18-20, and Oct. 25-27. Admission varies.
Hayrides and orchards
Blake’s Big Apple Haunted Hayrides. Some 20 frightening scenes scare the adventurous on weekends through the end of October. The 25-minute ride includes a stop for cider and donuts. Lots of other treats at the family-owned cider mill and orchard. Blake’s Big Apple, 71485 North Avenue, Armada. Blakefarms.com. Admission varies.
Wiard’s Orchard. Find just about every fall activity here, ranging from pumpkin patch and cider mill to hayrides and a haunted corn maze. There’s also a haunted barn. The cider mill and apple orchard have been around since 1837. Wiard’s Orchard, 5565 Merritt Road, Ypsilanti. Wiards.com. Admission for some activities; hours vary.
Theatre Bizarre. An interactive theatrical performance that takes place on several floors of Detroit’s historic Masonic Temple. Billed as the “Greatest Masquerade on Earth,” the event includes local and national musicians and acts, burlesque dancers, suspension artists and “freaks.” A masquerade gala is held on Fridays. Masonic Temple, 500 Temple St., Detroit. Theatrebizarre.com. The Masquerade Gala, Friday, and Oct. 18. Theatre Bizarre, Saturday and Oct. 19. Admission varies.
Monster’s Ball, Fillmore Detroit. The Halloween celebration features DJs, live performers and stage entertainment, including stilt walkers, high wire aerialists, illusionists and more. 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Oct. 25 and 26. 2115 Woodward, Detroit. Monstersballdetroit.com. Admission varies.
Erebus Haunted Attraction. A Halloween tradition in Pontiac, this four-story haunted house has been around for years and has garnered lots of national attention. There are plenty of terrifying scares here along a more than half mile walk. Not recommended for children under 13. 18 South Perry St., Pontiac. Hauntedpontiac.com. Open daily through Nov. 2. Admission varies.
Hush Haunted Attraction. Three new attractions are featured this season in Westland’s 40,000-square-foot haunted house. They include Descent, long abandoned mines and caverns, where visitors “will get more than they bargained for.” Hush Haunted Attractions, 37550 Cherry Hill Road, Westland. Hushhaunted attractions.com. Thursday-Sunday, and other dates through Nov. 2. Admission varies.