Visiting an old haunt takes on a whole new meaning when you dig a little deeper into the history of the place. Every person has a story, and those stories sometimes get trapped in brick and mortar. Lives are cut short by tragedy, buried by lost opportunity, and marred by time moving on. At death, some feel that their story is not finished being told. Just ask some of the people working and living around local places in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, who believe some stories go on long after someone has passed.
“This place is completely haunted,” said Hannah Zwolensky, 20, her eyes widening as she looks around the crowd of the Ann Arbor Brewing Company (ABC). It’s a packed Friday night, and the laughter of guests bubbles around the building, effervescent. Beer glasses clink. The smell of bar food and hops wafts around us.
Zwolensky greets a guest just coming through the door with a smile, then turns back to me, still visibly jarred by the mention of ghosts. “Listen to this. I was in the basement going to the bathroom, I heard the door open, and a couple of women walk in, laughing and having a good time. I didn’t think very much about it, but when I went to wash my hands I kind of looked around. I didn’t see anyone with me in the bathroom, so I checked under the stalls… and there was no one there. I was completely alone.”
Other employees gaggle around Zwolensky when she mentions her story, all eager to share what they’ve witnessed at ABC. Things moving at night after everyone has left. Pans falling from their ceiling hangings when no one is around to touch them (caught on camera). The game room, where billiards and board games are set up for guests looking to have some fun in between beer and bites, was supposedly the scene of a police shooting in Ann Arbor. Walk in there and ghost activity is peak.
But first, the basement. “Go down the stairs to the basement, where the bathrooms are. See for yourself,” prompts Zwolensky. “It’s like you’re sealed off from the rest of the world.” Indeed, a walk down the flight of stairs leading to the bathrooms is like leaving the world behind. There is a heaviness below ground, a sense of foreboding not felt in the festive atmosphere of the dining area. In the basement, the feeling of isolation is almost smothering.
On March 21, 1935, a police officer named Clifford “Sid” Stang reportedly walked into the site of the Ann Arbor Brewing Company and never left. Stang was visiting the Conlin and Wetherbee Clothing Store, what is now the eastern section of the ABC. He was shopping for a new tie clasp for his uniform when he realized two men were in the process of robbing the place. There was a struggle and Stang was shot in the stomach. By the time he arrived at the old Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital, he was dead, but it is said that he can be seen passing by the window of the game room after hours. Stang’s watch may have technically ended that day in 1935, but it continues well into the 21st century, to those who believe in his presence.
No matter the ghost story, there are always disbelievers. Even if they are working on the site of an alleged murder scene. Just ask Suzie Weber, 60, who works at the Dixboro Convenience Store in eastern Ann Arbor.
To those driving by, the Dixboro Convenience Store is a quaint, if unassuming, red and white house that is neither a home nor a convenience store anymore. It holds a variety of whimsical curios perfect for home décor, but at night, it’s said that those items have a mind of their own.
“I think one of the freakiest things that has happened, was [what happened to] a lantern that was sitting on a shelf, behind a different display. When the employees came in the morning, the display was sitting in the middle of the floor. Not a chance that could have toppled over and landed intact. Toppled over? Maybe. But not still be intact. It had to come up and over a different display,” says Weber.
“It’s not unusual for me to be here a couple hours after we close. There are a few people [who feel] a little wigged out that I stay. I’ll hear a noise, which I attribute to this house, which dates back to the 1840s… houses take forever to settle. We hear things…. We’ll all be downstairs (on the main level) and we’ll hear something fall. We all just kind of laugh and think, ‘well… Martha doesn’t like our display today!’”
Martha Crawford was a widow who came to Dixboro in 1835. Crawford became engaged to her sister Ann’s brother-in-law, John Mullholland, shortly after. But John had a dark secret, one still not revealed to this day, though the residents of Dixboro have their suspicions. This secret may have driven Martha to the grave.
Upon discovering that John was not all he had appeared to be, Martha decided to terminate the engagement. John’s brother, James, warned Martha that if she and John did not wed, she wouldn’t “make it back home alive.”
The wedding commenced, but Martha’s new husband, John, and her sister, Ann, died not long after. In the months to follow, Martha began to exhibit the same symptoms that had killed Ann. In the midst of her decline, James and Martha began to squabble over John’s will. James took advantage of Martha’s health and had her deemed to be incompetent, which drove a suicidal Martha to the University of Michigan, where she begged a doctor to bleed her to death. When they wouldn’t comply, she became hysterical, dying not soon after of what the doctors declared “ill-health.”
On the property of the Dixboro Convenience Store is a circle of dirt where the grass doesn’t grow. Local legend says that spot used to be a well, and that well may have been connected to John Mulholland’s secret.
Locals believe John murdered a local peddler who was staying at the Dixboro home and dumped him in the well, which was filled in not long after the peddler went missing. In the years to follow, Martha’s body was exhumed after people began seeing her ghost around the property, and a new examination deemed that Martha had been poisoned. It’s impossible to say for certain whether it was James, eager to take the land he felt he was owed, who took Martha’s life, but Ann Arbor residents still claim to see Martha, holding a lantern, passing by the windows of the Dixboro store at night.
“Do I believe what happened here in the past?” says Brenda Dani, 49, owner of the Dixboro Convenience Store. “Sure. But I’m not sure it’s haunted.”
Says Weber, “No one that works here has seen a ghost. No one has seen an apparition. There’s not a woman dressed in 1800s attire kind of floating around here. That being said, I occasionally talk to Martha, because (if she does exist) I’d rather have her as my friend.”
But friends come in all shapes and sizes. Just ask Al Dyer Jr., 48, the former museum director of the Ypsilanti Firehouse Museum. When the museum was a functioning firehouse, the hayloft in the building caught fire twice: once in 1919 and again in 1921. Today, people visiting the museum have told stories of strange occurrences in the building.
In the firehouse, mannequins peek out from vintage fire trucks, creating an eerie feeling of being watched. When I was conducting interviews, a children’s coin-operated firetruck ride began to flash and blink on its own. Disembodied footsteps popped and echoed around the decades-old red brick building.
“When I inherited this museum, there was a lot of speculation [about] who was haunting it. [The Firehouse is] supposed to have a resident ghost of the former fire chief, Alonzo Miller. When I got hired in [the rumor was] that Alonzo had died fighting a fire. Fortunately, Alonzo’s relatives were able to reach out to us and send us his death certificate. It appears, based on that, that he went home for lunch, across the tracks, and never came back. He died at home.”
That was around 1939. It was reported that around 1940, a few months later, firefighters at the fire station started seeing and hearing him around the premises. Alonzo isn’t rumored to be a negative presence. His family claims that he was a big prankster, a trait that may have carried over with him to the next world.
“He liked to mess with people, play jokes, hide stuff, move stuff around on guys. Apparently, he’s a friendly, funny, prankster ghost,” Dyer says. “Other people that were in the museum while I was director, claimed to have felt a presence. One woman claimed that Alonzo actually left and went home with her for the night. He’s a very jovial kind of spirit.”
But it’s not all fun and games at the Ypsilanti Firehouse Museum.
“From my understanding, there are multiple entities there. It was interesting listening to the different mediums (who were brought in to check the place for ghosts). Apparently, there are some angry spirits in the annex, might be because there was a big old house that was there, so who knows what happened there,” Dyer says. “The firehouse museum consists of two different buildings. The original firehouse was built in 1898, and it was in service with the city of Ypsi until 1975. In 1975 or 1976, it went into private ownership. In 1998, it was purchased and turned into the Firehouse Museum. The collection rapidly outgrew the space available, so in 2002, an annex was built on, which was a newer building. Last November the museum celebrated its 20th anniversary.”
“Supposedly, there is a spirit of a man who did die in the line of duty while fighting a fire in Ypsilanti,” says Dyer. “I’m not a skeptic. But I’m also not… I’m not saying I’m an atheist, but I don’t know what I believe. This is what I do know: the building is very old. It’s built with heavy timber and a slate roof. Michigan has extreme variations in temperature. Things creak, and pop, and shift all the time.”
Taylor Mull, an employee at the Firehouse, adds that there is a strange feeling attached to the building. “Being alone at the museum gives me the creeps sometimes,” says Mull, 25. “It can be unnerving, and when it’s windy, the whole museum is breezy, which is commonly attributed to Alonzo.”
But ghost or no ghost, Dyer thinks the legend of Alonzo is good for business. “It’s a different aspect of the museum that you don’t get at a lot of other museums. So I think as far as business goes, it’s a great thing for the museum. It brings in a group of people who wouldn’t regularly visit this specialty, niche museum.... This (legend) was here long before I was, and it was never tapped into. So it’s good to bring a new demographic in of people who believe.”
If you’re interested in checking out more local haunts, visit michigansotherside.com, which blends local history with haunted locations. To visit the Ann Arbor Brewing Company, check them out on 114 East Washington Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, 11 a.m. – 12 a.m. To check out the Dixboro General Store, visit them at 5206 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. To learn more about the Ypsilanti Firehouse Museum, come by 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, at 110 West Cross Street, Ypsilanti, MI 48197.