Ghost Hunting in the Museum

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2009,
Summer 2009
Original Images:




Author: James Mann

One dark and overcast morning, more years ago than I wish to tell, I was working alone in the Archives, which was then located where the Gift Shop is now. As I worked, I felt a need to get up and use the restroom. Getting up from my seat, I went to the restroom, closed the door and turned on the light, which turned on the ventilation fan. As I stood there, minding my own business, I heard what sounded like a woman singing. I could almost make out the words to the song. I finished what I was doing, turned off the light, which turned off the ventilation fan, and the singing stopped. I stood in the hall, and said to myself: “No wonder so many people believe in ghosts.” I decided I was done for the day, and left the building.

The house that is the home to the Ypsilanti Historical Museum is said to be haunted. The ghost is said to be that of Minerva Dow, as she was the one person known to have died in the house; but there may be others as well. As it turns out, research has shown that Minerva was not the only one to die in the house.

This year three paranormal investigation societies have carried out investigations at the museum. As part of the agreement with each society, the Ypsilanti Historical Society requested that members of the Historical Society be present to observe, to make sure nothing harmful happens to the museum or the society, and that each paranormal society submit a report of their findings to the YHS Archives. The three paranormal societies, each working independently of the others, agreed to the terms. I was the only person who observed all three groups. Here is my report on what happened.

First, a history of the house that is now the YHS Museum
The house, which is in the Italianate style, was built in 1860 by Asa Dow, a business partner of Daniel Lace Quirk. Dow was elected president of the then newly organized First National Bank of Ypsilanti on December 15, 1863. He was also an incorporator and the first president of the Ypsilanti Woolen Manufacturing Company. Dow did not stay long in Ypsilanti, as his wife Minerva died in 1864, and she is the second person buried in Highland Cemetery.

The local newspaper reported on March 17, 1865 that Asa Dow had sold the house and household goods to Aaron Goodrich for $14,000. Dow returned to Chicago, where he lived for the rest of his life. Goodrich and his wife Julia moved into the house on North Huron, and stayed there for ten years. He had come to Ypsilanti to manage the Follett House Hotel in what is now the Depot Town section of the city. In 1866 Goodrich became a salesman for the Batchelder & Company Monument Works, a local firm which fur- nished cemetery monuments throughout Southern Michigan.

The Goodrich family clearly took pride in their home, as noted by The Ypsilanti Com- mercial on May 13, 1865. “Messrs A. H. Goodrich and D. L. Quirk are enclosing their residences on Huron Street with a new fence that is indeed a credit to our city. It is mainly of wood but molded and sanded to imitate iron. It has elegant iron gateposts and is bolted with iron clamps to large square stone posts sunk three feet into the ground. For durability, it cannot be surpassed and we have seen nothing so tasty. We are told its cost was $30.00 per rod.”

The Goodrich family stayed in the house until 1879, when they moved to Saline to open the Goodrich House. The house was sold to Lambert Barnes and his wife Jane. Lambert Barnes was superintendent and later president of the Peninsular Paper Company, and Vice-President of the First National Bank of Ypsilanti. He served as mayor of Ypsilanti from 1875 to 1879. Barnes died suddenly in Detroit where he had gone to have an ulcerated tooth treated on June 30, 1887. His widow remained in the house until 1893. Members of the Barnes family continued to live in the house into the 1920’s.

A Robert Barnes died in the house on Wednesday, January 12, 1921 at the age of 51, reported The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Thursday, January 13, 1921, “after an illness of eighteen months with heart trouble.” Services were held at the house.

A Herbert H. Smith, who is listed in the City Directory for 1922, lived in the house with the Barnes family that year. That was the year the house was sold to Laverne Ross, who began the process of converting the house into apartments. Smith and his wife Ella are listed in the next directory, 1924, as living alone in the house. Smith is known to have left Ypsi- lanti in about 1927. He died in Dearborn on January 11, 1961.

The next directory, 1926, lists only an Eliza D. Cornwell as living in the house. The di- rectory further notes, that she is the widow of Cornelius. The directory for 1927 lists Eliza Cornwell as living in the house, but now she has been joined by Lydia Jones, the Dean of Women at the Michigan State Normal College, now Eastern Michigan University, Margaret Esther Ballew, Professor of Eng- lish at the Normal College and Frederick Alexander, the Director of the Department of Music at the Normal College. As the new people moved in, Eliza Cornwell died on November 22, 1927 at the age of 89. The funeral services were held at the home with interment at Highland Cemetery.

Lydia Jones moved out of the house in about 1930, as she is listed in the 1931 directory as residing at 222 North Huron. Remaining at the house were Margaret Ballew and Freder- ick Alexander. Frederick Alexander is known to have lived in one of the apartments on the first floor of the house. Alexander, who never married, was considered by the co-eds of the college to be the second handsomest man on campus. He lived in the house until he retired in 1941, when he moved first to Santa Fe, New Mexico and later to Lemon Grove, California. There he died on October 14, 1955. The Alexander Music Building at Eastern Michigan University is named in his honor.

Margaret Ester Ballew joined the faculty of Eastern in 1923 as Assistant Professor of Eng- lish. She was described in a letter as a “young woman, 35 years of, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall, and weighs 120 pounds.” The letter to Normal College President Charles McKenny noted she was “of excellent qualities, and in character, she is above reproach in every way.” She remained in the house until about 1940, but stayed on the faculty of Eastern until 1949. She died on August 4, 1987 at the Claremont Manor in Claremont, California just one month short of her 100th birthday.

A number of tenants lived in the house over the years, some for a short time, including students, and some for the long term. The City Directories for 1941, 1942 and 1943, list a Christopher Brien as living in the house with his wife Emily. Then the directories for 1945, 1948, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1957 and 1958 list Bessie Bien, widow of Christopher as living in the house. No information has been found concerning the death of Chris- topher. The house was converted to the museum in 1972.

First Paranormal Society
The first paranormal society was scheduled to carry out its investigation of the house on a Friday night at the end of January. This group was a student organization of Eastern Michigan University, recently recognized by the university. I arrived at the house before the building was closed, so to be on hand when the others arrived. Alone in the house, I de- cided to do a “walk through” of the house, to make sure all was well. There was no need to do this, but it gave me something to do while I waited for the others to arrive.

I began the walk through at the front door of the museum, and went into the front parlor. As I passed into the next room, I heard a tin- gling sound from the glass lamp on the piano. I carried out the rest of the walk through, looking forward to the arrival of Bill and Karen Nickels, who were the other observers for the evening. As soon as I could, I had Bill retrace my steps from the front parlor to the next room. We concluded that the weight of the piano, plus my weight, had affected the floor, and caused the lamp to shake, which caused the sound I had heard.

The members of the paranormal society ar- rived, and began the process of setting up their teams. We were informed that we would have to stay in the Archives in the basement of the house, as the investigators had to account for the position of everyone in the house should anything happen. For this reason, Bill, Karen and I spent a pleasant time in the archives, reading, talking and snacking on the treats Karen had provided. From time to time, we heard the teams move from one position to another, but little else. The society had planned to conduct their research from 6:00 P.M. to midnight, but ended the investigation early. We were told the teams had recorded some sounds that needed to be studied. A report from the paranormal society was prom- ised, but has yet to appear.

Second Paranormal Society
The South Lyon Areas Paranormal Society (S.L.A.P.S.) arrived at the house on the evening of Friday, March 28, 2009. The members set up in the Archives in the base- ment of the house. Present to observe were Al Rudisill, President of the Historical Society, his wife Jan, and myself. This time the observ- ers were allowed to accompany the members of the paranormal society as they carried out their research. The members made their way through the house, holding their equipment and flashlights. The K-2 detectors showed high levels of electromagnetic fields in the basement of the building. Electromagnetic fields, each paranormal society reported, can cause headaches, nausea, hallucinations and paranoia.

Jan Rudisill and I followed the members of the society as they walked up the stairs from the Archives to the first floor. There, in one of the parlors, Jennifer Redfern, President of the Society, tried to communicate with the ghosts. Holding her K-2 detector in one hand, she asked the ghosts questions. The K-2 detector has several lights in a row, the number of lights glowing showing the level of energy present. To answer a question the ghost could make the lights glow once for no, twice for yes. There was no response at this time.

Later some of the members of the society and I were in the second floor Dress Room, where the dress of Florence Babbitt, which she wore as part of the city centennial celebration in 1923, is on a mannequin. As I was telling the story of Florence Babbitt and her role in the history of the city, we heard a strange noise, like a knock, from another room on the second floor. We were the only people on the second floor at that time. The investigation was concluded at one in the morning.

Third Paranormal Society
The Huron River Paranormal Society is a student group from Eastern Michigan University, but is not affiliated with the university. This is a society of students who wish to carry out investigations of the paranormal on their own. The first members of the society arrived at the museum at about 6:00 P. M. on Friday, April 3, 2009. This group arrived with an electromagnetic field detector, a K-2 detector, one infrared thermometer, two video cameras and a digital audio recorder. This society did not use flashlights during its investigation, but allowed the eyes to adapt to the darkness of the museum.

The first members to arrive carried out pre-readings which showed the building to have high electromagnetic fields in the basement where the Archives are located. The readings were very high in the basement storage area. The investigation began at 8:00 p.m. when Chad and I entered the first floor restroom, where I had heard the sound of a woman singing years before. As Chad and I stood in the restroom, with the light on and the ventilation fan running, two other members of the society, Anna and Ashley, went to the other floors of the museum. As Chad and I stood in the restroom, Anna and Ashley were on the other floors singing. Chad and I could not hear the singing of Anna and Ashley over the ventilation fan.

Later, Chad, another member of the society and I were in the second floor Dress Room, where the dress of Florence Babbitt is on display. Chad tried to communicate with the ghosts by asking them to make a knocking sound in response to questions, once for no and twice for yes. To illustrate what he meant, Chad got down on his hands and knees in the hallway, and, as he explained, knocked once on the floor for yes, and twice on the floor for no. At once his cell phone went off. It was Anna calling from the basement to say they could hear footsteps on the first floor. Chad told Anna what he had been doing, and knocked on the floor again so Anna could compare the sounds. The “footsteps” were the sound of Chad knocking on the floor.

Sitting on the couch in the Dress Room, I watched as Chad got back on his feet and returned to the room. Once again the members of the society tried to communicate with the ghosts. As they tried, I began to feel cold on the right side of my face and down the right arm. The paranormal investigators each placed their hands in the space beside my head and noted the air was colder there then in the rest of the room. There was no draft or open window which could explain the occurrence.

Later we were in the basement Archives, in the reading room section, when holding a K-2 Detector, an effort was again made to communicate with the ghosts. The ghosts were asked to signal by means of the K-2. In an effort to learn the name of the ghost, some- one began to recite the letters of the alphabet. The lights of the K-2 flared at the letter B. No further information was forthcoming. Late in the evening we were sitting around the table in the research section of the Archives. Chad held the K-2 in one hand and tried to communicate with the ghosts. Once again the lights of the K-2 Detector flared at the letter B. Questions were asked, but there was no response. Then I felt another cold spot, again on the right side of my face and down the right arm. A K-2 Detector was placed in the space beside my head, and all the lights flared. As the K-2 Detector was raised toward the ceiling, all but the first light indicating background went out. At this time Anna was using a video camera to record the session. As she did the green light on the K-2 Detector appeared to be covered by a red light. All the lights in the museum were turned off, and there was no apparent source for this red light. The red light is clearly visible on the video, but could not be seen by any of us in the room, except through the camera viewfinder.

Two members of the society were walking through the first floor kitchen area and noted the lights on the K-2 flare. They asked the ghost if it would like to talk with them, again using the K-2, once for yes and twice for no. The K-2 flared twice, so the two left the room. I for one was very happy when midnight arrived and it was time to call it a night. For the first time I had come to feel there might be some truth to the idea that paranormal activity existed in the house.

Conclusions
Each of the two paranormal societies who turned in reports concluded there was some paranormal activity in the museum. The Huron Valley Paranormal Society and the South Lyon Area Paranormal Society concluded that the spirit or spirits intend no harm to anyone. The Ypsilanti Historical Society takes no official position on the question of whether or not there is paranormal activity in the Museum, but welcomed each group doing the investigations.

(James Mann is a local historian, a regular volunteer in the YHS Museum and Archives, and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo 1: James Mann, local historian, came to the conclusion that there may well be some type of paranormal activity in the Museum.

Photo 2: K-2 Detector – a device used to measure the level of electromagnetic energy present.