Here’s an excerpt by Linda S. Godfrey from that fascinating tome of Michigan mysteries: 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 listen to Linda’s latest podcasts and read her blog at uncannyworld.com and also check out her new book Strange Michigan.
Just south of the Lake Erie port town of Monroe in Monroe County, the Plum Creek opens up to reveal an overgrown little island choked with weeds and boasting little else but a rusted-out school bus and the charred remains of an old mansion. Although many Native American artifacts have been found there that date back to the 12th Century, locals have known the place as Dog Lady Island at least since the 1960s. That’s when Monroe teenagers discovered the 8-acre slip of land was an ideal, secluded place to party. Disconcertingly, they also learned that sometimes, a pair of deep-set eyes would be peering suspiciously at them from the bushes as they sat around their campfires. Once in a while they would get a glimpse of the old woman the eyes belonged to – disheveled, dressed in ancient, ragged clothing, and always accompanied by a small pack of snarling hounds. The unknown woman became The Dog Lady, and her legend grew as teens continued to encounter her.
She lived alone on the island in a tiny shack, they said, and had grown to have more in common with her dogs than she did with humans. Almost feral, she was, and had learned to go about on her hands and knees, tearing at the flesh of dead animals right along with her motley crew of mutts. Some teens swore she growled at them and licked her chops. Until she lost her tongue. Seems her one of her dogs chewed it right out of her mouth as they tussled over a morsel of raccoon. Evidently the lady had a phone, however, because a few insiders knew a secret number that when dialed, would be answered by her brutish grunts and growls.
Truth is, there really was a lone, elderly woman living on the isle that the first settlers called Fox Island. According to local newspaper files, the island was purchased in the late 1800s by a family named Kausler, who took over the large home that had been built by a previous owner as a summer retreat for a religious school for young women. They re-named the place Kausler Island, after themselves. Their son, George, was born there in 1905 and spent his boyhood playing on its marshy shores although the family had moved into Monroe. Sometime, probably in the 1930s according to one Monroe old-timer, a couple was hired to live in a small cottage and watch over the Kausler house. The couple, whose names are unknown, lived a fairly isolated existence, keeping to themselves.
The island changed hands several times, and over the years, new owners built some inexpensive housing units, and a few more people moved in. Someone else started a pig farm, and another, a garbage dump. Everything seemed to fail, however. Eventually even the villagers moved away, but caretaker couple stayed through it all although the mansion burned to the ground after a gas explosion in 1961. By the mid-60s, the husband had passed away and his now-elderly wife was the only one left on the island. The woman’s only companions were her dogs, a wildish, flea-ridden lot.
According to the archivist at the Monroe Historical Society, there is no evidence that the lady actually went feral, however. The archivist attributed that legend to embroidered stories of drunken teenagers. Other rumors, such as one that insists the lady slept in a coffin left for her by members of the Iron Coffin motorcycle gang in the 70s, might have some kernel of truth to them, although it’s doubtful any teens were actually caught, tortured and murdered by the gang as alleged in the Dog Lady lore. Most locals scoff, too, at the oft-repeated tale that she grew fangs and fur and began to resemble a werewolf. But a number of teens claimed to have seen her leap to the roofs of their cars and scratch at the windows with her claws, spittle flying from her curled lips.
A development group purchased the island in the late nineties and sought unsuccessfully to have its name – and hopefully its image – legally changed to Utopia. Although the place already was a utopia for teen alcohol and marijuana fests, their plan was to create an official party facility with concerts and other entertainment. Another doomed name was proposed, ‘Croakie’s Party Island’. A few concerts were held, but mainland neighbors objected to the loud noise, and the city finally denied the necessary zoning permits.
Wherever the Dog Lady finally went, her forbidding island is still there. The old timers still know it as Kausler’s Island, but the younger set won’t stop calling it Dog Lady Island. Weird Michigan was unable to find anyone who knew the true fate of the Dog Lady, whether she was ever buried in that coffin or just went to sleep in it one night and never woke up. The one thing known for sure is that the Dog Lady’s legend has taken on a life of its own. Many have claimed to still feel her watchful presence on Dunbar Road, near the old island causeway. And the fact that eerie howling is sometimes heard coming from the direction of the desolate island when the moon is full doesn’t help at all.