Weird Wednesday: The Rowdy Ghosts of the Fenton Hotel

Linda S. Godfrey, author of the excellent Weird Michigan and Strange Michigan books is hard at work on her next book. While she is away, we are running a few of our favorites. The following is the first of our Absolute Michigan Weird Wednesday features, published originally in 2007!

The Bearded GhostThe Fenton Hotel, a former inn-turned-gourmet restaurant in the small, mid-state town of Fenton in Genesee County, is an establishment that prides itself on hanging onto things from its historic past. All the original tin ceilings still adorn the dining room, and the foyer looks much as it did back in stagecoach days. The second story’s glory days still exists in its tile-floor ballroom, the communal men’s and women’s bathrooms and the dingy corner room once reserved for Emery, the place’s late, longtime custodian. But the old brick building retains something far beyond old chairs and ancient porcelain fixtures in its aging halls.

Many people say the Fenton Hotel still hosts Emery, himself, along with an entire cast of ghostly hangers-on. People can hear Emery walking around in his former upstairs digs, his footsteps reverberating in the tin ceiling. Sometimes he thumps on the walls after customers leave, as if to tell the staff to get a move on. But Emery was a gentleman, say staff members at the Fenton. That’s how they know it’s some other ghost that sometimes gropes the arms or buttocks of unsuspecting waitresses.

And there are other spooks, each specter with his or her unique “signature” activity. The restaurant hostess told Weird Michigan in hushed tones that the incidents are not a thing of the past, either. “Things are still going on,” she said ominously as she seated us at one of the green linen-covered tables. We ordered baked brie from the extensive menu and waited for the unseen hotel guests to arrive and float around us. Surrounded by intricate stained glass windows and well-preserved architecture, it was easy to envision patrons of yesteryear enjoying the evening alongside the contemporary crowd.

Built in 1856, the Fenton boasts its own official state historical marker, which explains that the interior is still much the same, although the exterior’s old front porch fell victim to a team of runaway horses in 1904. The side of the building that faces the parking lot is embellished with paintings of ghostly inhabitants from another time, which only adds to the feeling of having stepped back into another century.

The bar area on the other side of the foyer is probably the building’s hottest ghost spot. A bartender named Brittany told Weird Michigan that she was standing at her work station one evening when one of the wine glasses hanging by its stem from a slotted nook suddenly flew off its perch and sailed across the bar, crashing and breaking. She has also heard someone call her name when no one else was in the room, felt something brush her leg, and on several occasions, customers have told her they saw someone hugging her at a time when she could see or feel no one.

Besides the phantom cuddler, there is the recurring case of the mysterious man at table 32. Every now and then, a man seated there will order a shot of Jack Daniels on the rocks and the bartender will duly pour one, but upon attempting to serve it to the “customer,” finds nothing but thin air. Speculation is that one of the house ghosts wants a drink badly enough to show himself and order one, but ultimately lacks the cash to pay for it and the throat to gulp it down.

The dining room is active, too. Two waitresses have spotted a disappearing black cat running across the floor. One staff person told us that last December, one of the ghosts decided to make merry by grabbing the posteriors of several waitresses, who invariably whirled around only to find no visible face to slap. December seems to be one of the restaurant’s most active months for hauntings, said one waitress. “It’s like they get excited with all the decorations and the parties,” she noted. She also said that staff have heard ghostly voices admonishing them that “no personal calls” are allowed, and that sometimes a man’s voice comes out of the bar speakers, either singing along with entertainers or making comments to customers.

Weird Michigan was able to take a guided tour of the closed upper level, which generally is not allowed since it is used for storage and many of the old rooms are no longer in good repair. We didn’t see anything unusual; even Emery’s small, cold room was quiet, although we couldn’t help but wonder if the old custodian was upset at our intrusion. But while standing in the darkened hallway, one of us heard a female voice whispering close by that we could not explain. Strangest of all was the fact that after we descended the stairs, we found a small glob of melted candle wax near the viewfinder on our digital camera. There was no candle on our dining room table, and we saw none on the second floor. Hallway GhostThe wax globule was not there earlier while we were shooting other pictures. Perhaps one of the old hotel guests was examining us at closer range than we realized, using the lighting methods available in 1856! Or maybe someone was trying to tell us not to look at the upper story inhabitants through that viewfinder.

The book Haunted Michigan by Gerald S. Hunter devotes an entire chapter to the multi-spirited Fenton Hotel, and includes tales of various apparitions seen by staff and customers, including the face of a bearded man outside a second story window, a tall man in a black top hat, and a strange figure who actually took payment from several customers.

One other strange incident happened as Weird Michigan enjoyed the bizarre ambience of the Fenton Hotel. A dining room guest said she was in the ladies’ room, sitting in the third stall, when she felt someone touch her hair and lift up a few strands. She thought that was odd, so we asked the waitress about it and her eyes grew wide.

“Back when the hotel was open,” she said, “the cheaper rooms on the third floor were rented by working girls in the town. Rumor is that one of them got pregnant by a hotel patron, and she hung herself in the hotel. Other people have seen her in that third stall.”

According to a hotel brochure, several séances have been performed on the premises, but the ghosts seem determined to stay. Perhaps for them, the Fenton Hotel is like the Eagles song hit song Hotel California… “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

You can order Weird Michigan online from Barnes & Noble and at fine bookstores everywhere. Check out a whole lot more Michigan oddities from ghosts and goblins to people and places that are just a little bit – or a lot – strange!

Linda Godfrey grew up in Milton, Wisconsin, spending the majority of her time doing the same things she does now; reading, writing, making art and reading comics. She continues to create commercial art (represented by Tom Stocki at artfactoryltd.com) and fine art, and often illustrates her own books, specializing in cut paper collage and forensic drawings of strange creatures from witness descriptions. She lives in rural Elkhorn with her husband, Steven, with whom she has two grown sons who are remarkably tolerant of their mother’s weird career.

Artwork for this article by Andy McFarlane, who enjoys Photoshop probably a bit too much.

Weird Wednesday: Michigan Sea Monsters

The last Wednesday of every month is a “Weird Wednesday” on Absolute Michigan. Usually we get a feature from Linda S. Godfrey, the author that fascinating tome of Michigan mysteries: Weird Michigan. Linda is hard at work on her latest book so we’ve gone down to the vault and pulled out some watery weirdness! Stay up-to-date with the uncanny at weirdmichigan.com and on Linda’s twitter.

at Mackinac
at Mackinac
:: a composite from -3 and -43 by Emery Co Photo

Sea Monster of the Straits

The authorities tried hard to convince the public what they saw were only giant catfish, but even the oldest, orneriest cats would be hard-pressed to attain a length of forty-five feet! The owner of a resort along the Cheboygan lakefront reported seeing something of just that size, and two of them, frolicking in the Mackinac Straits on Lake Huron in front of his property, about 600 feet from shore, according to an article in the June 25, 1976 Grand Rapids Press. The day after the resort owner called authorities about it, Cheboygan County Sheriff Stanley McKervey stopped by to have a look for himself. To his surprise, he also was able to observe one of the creatures. “I went down to the beach, and sure enough, I’m looking at something 20, maybe 30 feet long, swimming just below the surface,” he said in the article. “I was amazed. I didn’t know what it was, but it sure wasn’t a publicity stunt.”

The sheriff continued watching the creature through binoculars. It only rose about an inch above water level, he said, but any disturbance on shore would cause it to dive deeper again. And that’s exactly what happened when the sheriff ordered a couple of deputies to surveil the thing in a canoe. It was gone long before the pair got there. Unfortunately, rough water conditions set in the next few days and no one could go out for another look. It wasn’t observed again, and other experts theorized that perhaps it was a giant eel or carp. But neither of those sound like what the sheriff and the resort owner saw!

Lake Leelanau Monster

The story of an early 20th Century sea monster sighting was sent to The Shadowlands Web site by a reader whose great-grandfather was the witness. The boy was fishing for perch one day in 1910 in the shallows of Lake Leelanau in Leelanau County. The lake had been dammed in the late 1800′s to provide water power for the local mill and to enable logging. The dam also flooded much surrounding area, turning it into swamps and bogs punctuated by dead, standing trees.

On that particular day, the young great-grandfather, William Gauthier, rowed out to a new fishing spot near the town of Lake Leelanau. Looking for good perch habitat, he paddled up close to a tree that he estimated to stand about five feet tall above the water, with a six-inch trunk. He was in about seven feet of water, and after deciding this would be a good place to stop and cast a line, began tying the boat to the tree.

That’s when young William discovered the tree had eyes. They were staring him dead in the face at about four feet above water level. The boy and serpent exchanged a long gaze, then the creature went, “Bloop” into the water. Gauthier said later that the creature’s head passed one end of the boat while the tail was still at the other end, though it was undulating very quickly through the water. Uncanny RadioThe writer noted that Gauthier always admitted to having been thoroughly frightened by his encounter, and that the event caused him to stay off that lake for many years.

The writer added that his great-grandfather came from a prominent area family and was very well-educated, and that he knew others who would admit privately but not publicly that they, too, had seen the creature. No sightings have been reported in recent times, but who knows how many people have believed they were passing by a rotting old cedar when in fact they had just grazed the Leelanau lake monster?

Weird Wednesday: Michigan UFO Sightings

Michigan UFO Sightings Michigan is full of UFO’s, from numerous sightings over Lake Superior (especially around Saulte Ste. Marie) to the tale of a radio announcer who observed one over the freeway near the Detroit airport in 1978, so close that the radio host, Marc Avery, described it as “looking up into the belly of a craft.” (read Close Encounter of the Detroit Kind from Weird Michigan on Google Books)

Michiganders continue to send their sightings to Weirdmichigan.com. One recent letter read:

Dear Weird Michigan,

A saw something strange coming home from my parents house on Brinton Rd, going south towards Airline Rd. – towards Mt. Pleasant on October 15th, 2006. I feel like I’m crazy just for typing this, but I can’t get it to leave my head it was so bizzare! I was driving down Brinton Rd. when I looked up into the sky and saw a very large object flying over the trees. It looked to have bright orange for the top half and white for the bottom, but this was daytime, so I have no idea about flashing lights or if they were there. It was hanging very low, and it was making NO SOUND at all. None, and for something that low and large you should be able to hear… something, right?! That was especially creepy. I sped up as it quickly flew past the road I was on and over the trees. As I looked over though, it was gone. Completely out of site. There was no way it could of been an airplane, hanging that close to trees with no sound and going that fast.

I’ve never been a believer of UFO’s, but after seeing that I might reconsider.

Thanks,
Katie

Michiganders may not know what UFO’s are, but they know one when they see one. – Linda Godfrey

Linda S. Godfrey, author of that amazing compendium of the unexplained Weird Michigan. The last Wednesday of every month is a “Weird Wednesday” on Absolute Michigan, so be sure to stay tuned and send us or Linda your Michigan weirdness.

You can explore Michigan UFOs through Weird Michigan’s UFO page and also Absolute Michigan keyword UFO, where links include the Michigan chapter of the Mutual UFO Network. For a cool read on Michigan’s UFO wave in March of 1966, check out The Great Michigan UFO Chase from the Detroit News Rearview Mirror that looks at the Hillsdale & Dexter incidents. If you would like to spend your entire day watching videos, check out The Crystal Lake Cover-up which alleges to be an account of how the “swamp gas” explanation was coined in Michigan by Air Force UFO expert Dr. J. Allen Hynek and leads into a huge list of related videos.

Weird Wednesday: The Mysterious “Bad Egg” Exorcist of Utica

The latest of our Absolute Michigan “Weird Wednesdays” (held the last Wednesday of every month) is an excerpt (I think) from the forthcoming Strange Michigan: More Wolverine State Weirdness by Linda S. Godfrey and Lisa Shiel. Linda is the author of Weird Michigan.

A Bad Egg from Utica, Michigan

In May, 2005, in Macomb County Circuit Court, one Elaine Lee, aka Elaine Reed, age and birthplace unknown, was ordered to repay thousands of dollars to former customers of her business, Elaine’s Psychic Readings.

One woman had forked over hundreds of dollars to Lee after being told she had a “bad aura,” but that Lee could fix it as long as the woman kept making payments. She even bought Lee a $300 TV set to keep the mojo moving.

Lee told others their problems were caused by “evil spirits” hanging around them, and that she had a sure-fire method to shoo them away. She would secretly inject red dye into an egg, then place the egg on the client’s shoulder. She next suggested the client smash the egg on the floor, and if the yolk was blood-colored, that meant there had indeed been a bad spirit which now was crushed along with the spattered red egg yolk.

The method wasn’t foolproof, evidently, because at least one woman told Lee she was still bothered by her spirit despite the egg ritual. Lee then informed the woman, who had already paid over $3000 for Lee’s services, that she needed $10,000 to build a new altar to try a more sophisticated method of exorcism. Luckily the woman wised up about that time, along with another client who went to the police. Lee’s office was raided, and the self-proclaimed psychic pleaded guilty to a felony charge of obtaining between $10,000 and $20,000 under false pretenses.

So who was Lee, really? Authorities told at least one local newspaper they didn’t really know due to her lack of personal documents. But what does seem certain is that from now on, the only dyed eggs found in Utica will be the ones brought by the Easter bunny.

Image credit: Photoshoppage by Andy McFarlane, who leaned heavily on this awesome photo titled EGG by Paul Hitz.