or not you’re a believer, everybody
enjoys a good ghost story. If you’re
in the “spirit” for a few scary
tales, start with some local lore.
Photography by Johnny Quirin
The Ada witch
One can’t say “haunted West Michigan” without
hearing the story of the deadly love triangle
that spawned the “Ada Witch.” During
the 1800s in the settlement of Ada, a young
married woman would sneak out to meet her
lover near the area now known as Seidman
Park. One night when her husband followed
and caught her in the arms of her lover,
he started a fight, during which all three
“People have reported at various times
seeing a woman in a long white dress walking
along the roadside. When people draw close, she
dissipates,” said Deb Millhuff with the
Ada Historical Society. “The legend goes
that on a full hunter’s moon, you see the
woman. Sometimes she’s alone and sometimes
with both companions.”
Stories place sightings near Honey Creek and
Conservation Drive, or within a few miles of
the Findley Cemetery. Though the story has grown
to include broken tombstones, sounds of a mysterious
being taking flight and a ghostly reenactment
of the fatal scene, the sightings live on.
Built in 1925 as a summer home for millionaire
Dorr E. Felt and his family, the Felt Mansion
in Saugatuck is home to many resident spirits.
“There are a lot of ghost stories about
Felt Mansion,” said Patricia Meyer, manager
of the Felt Estate Restoration Project. “What
is true is that Agnes Felt died here in the master
bedroom six weeks after the house was completed.
That happens to be the room where many things
One such incident occurred while Meyer was prepping
the estate for the 2005 Christmas holiday. Each
time she laid a decorative rug in Agnes’ bedroom,
she returned to find it crumpled and pushed aside.
She and her assistant, alone in the house, decided
to test the theory that something paranormal
“We stayed downstairs within eyeshot of
each other, then two hours later went back up
to the room,” Meyer said. “The rug
was balled up and pushed into the adjoining sunroom.
Needless to say, we left for the night.”
Meyer had another encounter near the top-floor
ballroom, now used for weddings and receptions.
When she and a male visitor reached the top of
the stairs, they saw a shadowy figure floating
in the vestibule. Meyer and her guest wasted
no time fleeing the building.
“He tore down four flights of steps and
ran out the door,” she said with laugh. “I
quickly ran after him.”
Jack the lumberjack
The week before the Travel Channel planned to
stop by The Grill House in Allegan to review
the steaks, the establishment’s resident
ghost, nicknamed Jack, started a ruckus. Patting
and pulling on legs and feet, knocking on walls,
tossing bar glasses, turning on faucets and
televisions and lighting candles are all common
occurrences when Jack makes his presence known.
He’s called Jack because he’s believed
to be the ghost of a lumberjack who was murdered
in the taproom in 1847.
“Everyone who has seen him has described
him exactly the same,” said owner Marcia
Wagner. “Six feet tall, dark pants, white
shirt, with dark hair. You never really see his
facial features, but when he shows up in pictures,
he is an image of a person,” she explained,
referring to the proudly displayed image of the
ghost captured by the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Built in 1836, The Grill House has been utilized
as a boarding house, sawmill, stagecoach stop,
tenement house and a private home to several
eye witnesses of the ghost.
Jack seems loath to stray from the scene of
his demise. “He’s always here,” said
Wagner, “but we never know if he is going
to be a good or bad mood.”
Old Allegan Jail
of Allegan jail
Built in 1906, the old jailhouse in Allegan has
served as the area’s prison, been home
to the local sheriff, the set for a movie, and
more recently, a museum run by the Allegan Historical
Society. A paranormal conference and several
investigations have taken place on the property
to find answers to unexplained activity that
“There’s been some weird things
that have happened here, such as hats being knocked
off and other things,” said Brad Fisher,
Filled with a myriad of antiquities and relics,
including the mast of the 1895 shipwrecked Chikora
and posts marred with Civil War shrapnel, the
Old Jail Museum offers fodder for ghostly lore.
Above the layers of prison chambers are the ladies’ and
juveniles’ cells, an eerie confinement
cell (complete with scarred padded walls) and
an infirmary filled with voices and cries of
the inmates who have died there.
“Some groups that have done various investigations
here have found photographic and audio evidence — in
one of the cells, in particular,” explained
“They used to call this side of the tracks ‘Tickleville’ — most
likely because this building was a bordello,” laughed
Georgie Roth, owner of Georgie’s Consignment
Shop in Ada.
Rumor has it that a man was murdered in the
house, and although the details of his demise
are foggy, it was enough to warrant an investigation
by the West Michigan Ghost Hunter Society.
recorded a woman’s voice saying ‘spook
house’ of all things,” said Roth.
To be on the safe side, Georgie had a “cleaner” come
into the building to coax any unwanted spirits
“I’ve never personally experienced
anything paranormal but my husband refuses to
be in the building alone,” she explained. “It
creeps him out.”
Heritage Hill haunts
“The Heritage Hill District has been classified
as one of the most haunted neighborhoods in the
country,” said Nicole Bray, author and
founder of the West Michigan Ghost Hunter Society. “Probably
because over half the homes have claims of a
haunting, and at last count there were roughly
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House and
the Voigt House — both open to the public
for tours — are rumored to be haunted.
“In the Voigt house parlor, everybody
comments on the strange feelings they get in
there,” said Bray about the reported eerie
sensations, chest constrictions and nausea afflicting
many visitors. “What’s even more
interesting is the claims of a dark figure roaming
around one of the upstairs bedrooms.”
One of the better known privately owned haunted
houses is the Phillips mansion, built in 1864.
Incidents include people being pushed or having
their feet grabbed in the middle of the night.
Others have seen balls of light flying through
the house and dark figures moving about.
“James T. Phillips, who passed away in
the mansion, is believed to be one of the apparitions,” said
Bray. “One of my investigators experienced
a very odd feeling as soon as she walked in.
She said the air seemed heavier and it felt like
you were being followed room to room.”
One possible source of the haunting is linked
to a former owner, Dr. John Burleson, who purchased
the estate in 1912. His daughter was into spiritualism
and routinely performed séances and other
occult-based activities rumored to have led to
a devastating fire that drove the family from
“Who knows how experienced she was,” said
Bray. “Perhaps she successfully brought
forth entities still trapped in there.”
The Holmdene House at
Maybe it’s the image of Leonetto Cappiolla’s
grinning devil looming overhead or the barred
stairway leading to a mysterious chain-locked
door. Whatever the cause, the second floor of
the Kirby House Grill in Grand Haven is a haven
for haunted lore.
“When I started here, people would come
up to me and say, ‘You’ve heard about
Emily, haven’t you?’” said
Tim Reilly, manager. “The main story is
that after the building was built in the 1860’s
as a hotel by the Kirby family, a young girl
called Emily died by falling down the stairs.”
The legend has grown to include “Emily” banging
on the basement walls, grabbing people’s
arms and even shutting and locking doors.
Employees (who asked to remain anonymous) recounted
first-hand experiences of lights turning on and
off, a white cloud floating above the rafters,
and a shadow moving swiftly around the bar and
“I don’t believe the claims,” said
Reilly, “But now that I’ve heard
the story, there’s a lot of times when
I’m closing at night, the hairs on the
back of my neck stand up.”
Little Boy Lowe
Not only does it house the administrative offices
for Aquinas College, the Holmdene house, built
in 1905 by Edward Lowe, also harbors many mysteries.
Everything from a child’s cry to sightings
of apparitions climbing the stairs make up
the stories shared by students and staff.
“There’s a lot of folklore surrounding
this building,” said Gary Eberle, professor
of English and author of “Haunted Houses
of Grand Rapids.”
“The most popular legend is tied to the
elevator, which seems to operate with a mind
of its own. The students believe that one of
the Lowe children fell down an elevator shaft
and died here, and now he haunts the property
roaming around in a little World War Two army
suit. They hear voices, and although no one is
in the elevator, it will move or the doors will
slam shut.” GR
Kimberly Monaghan is contributing writer
for Grand Rapids Magazine.