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Haunted history: Spooky attractions in metro Detroit rooted in actual events

Posted at 5:20 AM, Oct 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-29 07:08:06-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — There's no short supply of places to get spooked for Halloween in metro Detroit.

This year despite another Halloween in the pandemic's shadow, there's several haunted houses people can choose from including Azra Chamber of Horrors in Madison Heights and the Eloise Asylum in Westland to name just a couple.

You can also enjoy spooky attractions outdoors by checking out one of the many haunted corn mazes and hayrides, like those at Blake's Big Apple in Armada.

But if you're someone who doesn't want the fake blood, costumes, and fog machines, there's also plenty of spooky spots in and around Detroit which rely on local history to do the haunting.

“Significant things happened here in Detroit that are known worldwide," said Karin Risko, who runs City Tour Detroit.

Risko, a local history buff, has hosted tours around the city for years including at the supposedly haunted former Sixth Precinct building.

Due to COVID and the loss of her business partner some events have been scaled down, but this October's unseasonably warm weather has helped boost some of her outdoor walking tours.

“It’s just people who want a different aspect of history and want to get out and enjoy the outdoors in the evening," she said.

Halloween night, Karin will host a virtual live stream recounting the chilling tale of the so-called "Witch of Delray."

The details of the story are traced back to actual events in the 1930s in Delray, a neighborhood in southwest Detroit.

"She was accused of killing 12 men in her boarding house," Karin said of Hungarian immigrant Rose Veres. “But then there’s a whole other aspect to this. You know, was she targeted because she was an immigrant?” 

Veres was tried and convicted of the crime, but eventually exonerated after serving more than a decade behind bars.

Risko will review the case's history and it's impact at the time. She'll be joined by author Karen Dybis who wrote a book about the murder mystery and it's aftermath.

Those interested in listening can join the live stream for free by vising Notorious 313 Sinister History Tours Facebook page. The conversations begins at 7 p.m.

Another free event is happening Nov. 3, also starting at 7 p.m. It's an educational and spooky look inside the Mortuary Science Museum on Wayne State University's campus. Risko will be on-site, touring the place alongside a WSU professor. People can participate virtually at either the Notorious 313 Sinister History page or City Tour Detroit's page.

Another notable local haunt can be found in the heart of Midtown, in what's now known for fine dining and a "ghost bar" upstairs; The Whitney mansion.

“Lots of people have passed on on this property," said General Manager Tony Muzzi. "Mr. Whitney himself was the first. But we were a tuberculosis ward in the 1920s.”

The Whitney is a marvel for many reasons, starting with the lumber Baron's state-of-art design vision and the materials used to build a home for one of the state's wealthiest families at the time. But these days, it's the property's carriage house that draws the most attention from spook-seekers.

Director of Operations Dave Duey gave Action News an impromptu look around.

Jenn Schanz feels cold air while touring Carriage House at The Whitney

“I’m going to walk you through the top floor of the carriage house to get you back to spot where most of the paranormal occurrences happen here," he said. “It’s the biggest place where we focus our paranormal tours.”

Those tours are picking back up again after a bit of a lull due to COVID. It's welcome revenue and interest for The Whitney, which now operates as an upscale restaurant.

“We stage nothing. We don’t come in here and try to create an experience for people. We let the experience take itself," he said.

The bulk of the "activity" that ghost hunters have detected in the carriage house occurs in the same corner, where a tea set sits covered in dust.

The most common occurrences, Duey said, are reports of childrens' voices.

"Anything that happens during this tour is authentic and real. And if nothing happens, nothing happens," Duey told Action News.

Most of the people who come on the tour are either paranormal believers already, or they're joining a date according to Duey.

Duey considers himself more of skeptic, but said he too has been touched by tales of the property and chooses to not be inside the main house or the carriage house alone.

Muzzi has followed suit.

“I was a skeptic when I first came on board here. But there’s been some things that have happened to me that I cannot explain away," Muzzi said. "I won't be in the mansion alone at night here anymore."

A believing-skeptic talks about the possible haunted Whitney Mansion

He recalled one night when he was closing up, counting money alone in his office.

He heard a distant piano playing.

"We have a piano on all three floors."

At first, he assumed he'd left the PA system on. But quickly realized he hadn't.

"Then it hits me that somebody is in here playing the piano right now," he said. "So I get up from my desk and as soon as I get up from my desk the music stops."

The Late Night Paranormal Tour at The Whitney is booked through 2021 however, Duey said they leave some tickets for those dining who decide to join afterwards. Click here for more information.

Other ways you can educate yourself on local history while enjoying a bit of a spook include Detroit History Tours and Michstory Tours, which offers recounted stories of local people delivered by actors graveside.