Haunted Locations in the Midwest

Get into the spirit of spooky season with a visit to one of these (allegedly) haunted Midwest destinations.
The historic Holly Hotel chills visitors with the eerie scent of cigar smoke and the sound of disembodied voices. // Photograph courtesy of Holly Hotel

With a rich history that dates back more than 320 years, the city of Detroit has more than its fair share of locations that are said to be haunted. But what about the terrifying tales outside of the city — in other areas of Michigan or even farther out in the Midwest?

Here, we explore the lore (and history!) of some of the most haunted places in the region, plus five of the spookiest places in Detroit.

Michigan Ghosts

From a furniture store that once served as a morgue to a battlefield Downriver, these are some of the places where specters hang out in the Mitten State.

Michigan’s First State Prison, Jackson

Approved by the Legislature in 1838, Michigan’s First State Prison was originally erected as a temporary wooden building enclosed by a fence of tamarack poles before its permanent structure was built in 1842. In its heyday, it was the largest walled prison in the world, sitting on a lot of about 60 acres and housing some 2,000-plus prisoners, including members of the notorious Purple Gang.

The prison, which used inmates for cheap labor, had its fair share of harsh punishments and dark historical moments, most notably the 1912 riot, which lasted six days and took the lives of four prisoners and two guards.

The prison shuttered in 1934. Today, the building serves as Armory Arts Village, a residential artists’ community. Visitors claim to have seen apparitions and heard screams and moans along with doors slamming and banging. Some even claim to have been touched by an unseen presence.

Book a tour at historicprisontours.com.

Holding over 2,000 inmates in its heyday, Michigan’s first state prison was the backdrop for dark historical moments including the 1912 riot, which raged on for six days and resulted in six casualties. Photograph courtesy of Experience Jackson

Holly Hotel, Holly

The Holly Hotel, originally known as the Hirst House, was built in 1891 as a railroad hotel that catered to passengers and railroad workers on the 25 trains that passed through the area on any given day. Brawls were so common around the hotel that Martha Street, which is where the hotel is located, was and still is called “Battle Alley.”

In 1913, the hotel had its first of four fires, with the second happening a year later and the third occurring exactly 65 years to the day and hour from the first. The building was damaged by fire again in 2022 and is currently being restored.

Those brave enough to visit the Holly Hotel may experience strange happenings, including the smell of cigar smoke, which is largely attributed to the spirit of the original owner, John Hirst, who died in the 1920s; the scent of flowery perfume; and the sounds of disembodied voices.

Guests also claim to see the ghosts of hostess Nora Kane, two young girls, and the Hirsts’ dog. One woman also claimed to see a Native American with no feet, but no other reports of this apparition have been made.

For more information, visit hollyhotel.com

Mackinac Island, Lake Huron

From a student called Harvey who either was murdered or died by suicide (no one really knows) to three soldiers inside Fort Holmes, inhabitants of a Native American burial ground, victims of witch trials, and a young girl named Lucy, this popular Michigan vacation destination, which was voted the most haunted small town in America on The Shadowlands Haunted Places Index, has no shortage of alleged spectral residents.

The ghosts of Mackinac Island are said not to be menacing, but there is said to be an “evil entity” that appears as a black mass with red eyes at the Grand Hotel. Other reports include orbs, deep feelings of sadness, phantom limbs, babies crying, ghost children, being touched, and more.

Book a Haunts of Mackinac tour at mackinacisland.org

River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Monroe

The Battles of the River Raisin, also known as the Battles of Frenchtown, which together were one of the “largest and bloodiest” battles of the War of 1812, took place in southeastern Michigan, in what is now Monroe.

During this battle, American troops surrendered to the British. Those uninjured were led away, but the injured and dying were left behind to be killed in a surprise attack by Native Americans. More than 500 soldiers died.

Today, the battlefield is a national park — one of only two in the Lower Peninsula — where visitors say they can hear screaming and see apparitions of soldiers, glowing lights, and orbs.

Learn more at nps.gov/rira

Chocolay River Trading Co., Marquette

The building on South Front Street in Marquette that currently houses the Chocolay River Trading Co. furniture store and Elizabeth’s Chop House was once the space of the H.R. Oates furniture store, which also served as an undertaker’s parlor and morgue.

The basement is where the bodies were embalmed or, in the winter months, stored until warm weather rolled in. Employees say they have seen the ghost of a woman who, as the story goes, was mistakenly thought to be dead and suffocated in a coffin. She’s often heard saying something along the lines of “Let me out.”

Flickering lights, the sound of a baby crying, doors closing on their own, and moving objects have also been reported.

Eloise Asylum, Westland

No list of Michigan or Midwest haunted locations would be complete without the mention of Eloise Asylum. The building’s history dates to 1839, when it opened as the Wayne County Poor House before expanding into a psychiatric hospital that would grow to include 75 buildings on just over 900 acres.

At the height of its operations in the 1920s, the hospital housed 10,000 patients and employed 2,000 staff members. A cemetery operated on the grounds from 1910 to 1948 and became the final resting place for some 7,100 patients who died at the hospital and whose remains were unclaimed by family or friends.

Since closing in 1984, people have reported otherworldly occurrences including the ghost of a woman in white, moaning, screams, and roars. Some also claim to have found jars containing human body parts and evidence of strange medical procedures.

In 2021, Eloise Asylum reopened as a Halloween attraction that offers escape rooms, a haunted experience, history tours, and paranormal investigations.

Visit eloiseasylum.com to book a tour. 

Midwest Spooks

Looking to learn about ghost stories outside of Michigan? Check out the post office built on the land of the H.H. Holmes “murder castle,” a train station that saw a massacre, and more.

Villisca Ax Murder House, Iowa

It’s been more than 100 years since an unknown killer broke into this old white-frame home in the middle of the night in 1912 and bludgeoned prominent businessman Josiah Moore; his wife, Sarah; their two children; and two of their kids’ houseguests with an ax as they slept.

Today, a weather-worn sign greets those visiting the Murder House for day or night tours and overnight stays. Paranormal investigators, including Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures, have reported everything from children’s voices to falling lamps and flying objects.

To book your tour, visit villiscaiowa.com

H.H. Holmes Murder Castle, Illinois

Herman Webster Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, is known as America’s first documented serial killer. He confessed to 27 murders but may have taken the lives of as many as 200 people — though that number has been debated by historians.

Most of his murders took place inside his “murder castle,” which he built in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago and was completed in 1892. A year later, Holmes was promoting the castle as a place to stay during the World’s Fair — an event he may have used as a hunting ground. The sinister building was said to have been a “labyrinth” of booby traps, soundproof rooms, secret passages, trapdoors, acid vats, gas chambers, and other heinous features.

Holmes was hanged for his crimes in 1896. His castle was gutted by a fire in 1895 and demolished in 1938 before being replaced by the Englewood branch of the U.S. Postal Service, where ghost hunters claim to have experienced ghostly figures in the basement, in the area where many of the murders were said to have taken place, and unusual noises and screams.

While the post office does not officially acknowledge the history of the land it sits on, there are walking tours that will take you by it.

Book a tour with American Ghost Walks, which will take you to a variety of haunted locations in Chicago, at americanghostwalks.com. To read a historical nonfiction account of the crimes, check out Erik Larson’s ‘The Devil in the White City.’

Kansas City Union Station, Missouri

Construction on this train station was completed by 1914, and by 1917, during World War I, the station had up to 79,000 trains passing through each year. Fast-forward to 1933, and the station’s history gets bloody with the Union Station Massacre, when convicted mobster Frank Nash and four law enforcement officers were killed during a shootout.

In 1972, the station was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s now home to a science center, planetarium, movie theater, and more. Guests are invited to explore the historic space free of charge and potentially experience paranormal activity, including a lady in white and a well-dressed man. Some even claim to have seen the ghost of Frank Nash himself.

Learn more about Kansas City Union Station at unionstation.org

Akron Civic Theatre, Ohio

The Akron Civic Theatre is an “atmospheric theater” (a type of theater that mimicked European theaters) built in 1929 that still operates today — and legend has it that not all its patrons are from this world.

Among the ghost stories are those of a longtime janitor who gets upset if anyone messes up the bathroom, a man dressed in his best sitting in the balcony, and a young girl who walks along the canal behind the theater. A feeling of sadness and despair in the basement has also been reported.

Visit akroncivic.com for more information. 

Three of Door County’s 11 lighthouses are said to be haunted. Visitors have reported apparitions, footsteps, and the sounds of moaning and teacups clinking. // Photographs by Jon Jarish, courtesy of Destination Door County

Door County Lighthouses, Wisconsin

Door County, Wisconsin, has 11 lighthouses, some of which have been guiding ships to safety since as far back as the 1800s. Three of them — Sherwood Point, Chambers Island, and Pottawatomie — are said to be haunted, with reports of apparitions, footsteps, and inexplicable noises like moaning and teacups clinking.

Learn more about Door County’s lighthouses and how you can visit them at doorcounty.com

Ghosts of Detroit

Looking for spooks and specters that stalk the Motor City? Visit one of these haunts in Detroit proper.

The Masonic Temple

Originally built in 1926 as the largest Masonic temple in the world, Detroit’s Masonic Temple is said to be haunted by its original architect, George D. Mason.

Legend has it that Mason went bankrupt financing the construction of the temple and threw himself from its roof. According to the Detroit Historical Society, this story is untrue and Mason died in 1948 at his home on Grand Boulevard. But that doesn’t stop the reports of Mason’s ghost climbing the stairs, closing windows, and stealing and hiding things.

Learn more at themasonic.com

The Whitney

This extravagant historic mansion, which was built in 1894, was once the home of lumber baron David Whitney and now operates as an upscale restaurant.

Over the years, the mansion has seen its fair share of tragedy, including the deaths of David Whitney and his first wife, Flora. It was also once a tuberculosis ward and may have witnessed the deaths of some of those patients.

Guests and staff of The Whitney have reported several strange occurrences, including apparitions and disembodied voices, sobbing in the women’s third-floor bathroom, things moving on their own, the elevator traveling between floors without explanation, and unexplained coughing.

Find more at thewhitney.com

Historic Fort Wayne

Prior to construction of the star fort in 1842, the 83-acre site of Historic Fort Wayne was a landmark for Native Americans with around 19 burial mounds dating from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1600 — one of which is still on-site.

The grounds of the fort had many purposes over its history, including serving as a training ground for soldiers during the Civil War and providing housing for African American troops in World War I, and were the site of the signing of the Treaty of Springwells, which officially ended the War of 1812 along with “hostilities between the U.S. and the assembled Native Nations,” according to the National Park Service.

Michigan Ghost Watchers reports that approximately 1,500 soldiers died at the site and that visitors have reported everything from footsteps and voices to apparitions and moving items.

Visit historicfortwayne.org for more information.

Two Way Inn

Detroit’s oldest bar dates all the way back to 1876 and has served as many different establishments, including an inn, a general store, a jail, a dentist’s office, and possibly a brothel.

Those who frequent the bar say that they’ve seen a young boy, perhaps the son of the dentist, and a lady in white, who may be the daughter of Civil War veteran Col. Philetus Norris, who built the bar. Others claim to see a cowboy who may have stayed at, and died in, the inn.

Check out 2wayinn.com for more. 

Cadieux Cafe

This speakeasy-turned-Belgian bar opened in 1933 and is one of the few places that hosts feather bowling outside of Belgium.

The former owner of the bar believes the Cadieux Cafe is haunted by the spirits of her mother, the matron of the cafe, who sits at a table near the bar area, and her husband, who has been known to frequent the basement. Other reports include a man that “freaks people out” as he enters the door and objects moving on their own.

More at cadieuxcafe.com

This story is from the October 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.