Tales from the Sacrificial Campfire
Okay, so maybe nothing more than a few marshmallows that won't stay on the stick are usually sacrificed to the flames of the average communal campfire in Michigan. But it's hard to hold your marshmallow stick steady when your'e listening to a particularly eerie campfire tale. So, are all the old legends of road specters and bridge demons true? Well, we don't know. That's what makes them legends. Otherwise they'd be labeled "history," stuck in some moldy textbook, and praised as gospel by the history preachers. But with legend status, they exist in a delicious netherworld of maybe-ness... maybe the hitchhiker did turn into a bat-winged crone and drain the driver's neck, maybe it could happen again. Maybe this time the driver could be....you? Enjoy this assemblage of fire starters and send us your own. I'll start with two you won't see in the Weird Michigan book:
The Legend of Crybaby Bridge - contributed by Sam Orchard Dec. 2009
Here in Algonac,where I live,we have a road called Morrow Road.Its famous around here for having a Crybaby Bridge and was once featured on Unsolved Mysteries.A movie is being made about it by Francis J Sampier.Also they host haunted tours in October.Heres one of the legends: Morrow Road is a small road in southeast Michigan stretching from Clay Twp to Cottreville. (Locals say Algonac to Marine City--the closest cities). Recently the southern half was paved, but prior it was a narrow dirt road and before that an old cow path.
Sometime in the late 1800s a mother had a child and they lived on Morrow Road. Shortly after they went missing, most believe the child disappeared first. The frantic mother searched and searched and never found the boy. Legend says the middle-aged woman died searching for her child. What is even more disturbing is that many people claim that the woman haunts Morrow Road as a ghost in eternal search for her child till this very day.
What makes the legend interesting is that there are many versions of how this story came to be. What happened to the child? What happened to the woman? How did they disappear? Why do people claim to see orbs in the woods at night? Has anyone really seen the woman with bloody hands wandering down the road? Is there a monster in the woods? Is there any validity from those who claim to hear a baby crying near the south bridge? Unsolved Mysteries apparently believed it to be interesting enough, as they did a mini-feature of the legend in the early 90's. Detroit's Channel 4 News covered the story as well not long after.
There have been many claims to sightings of a ghost and/or a baby or child at night. Many teenagers have pranked fellow drive-by's as well by using the legend to scare their girlfriends or simply have some fun at night. They stage elements from the variations of the legend: from the hanging a dummy woman's body from a tree to lighting a fire on the bridge to see her face in the flames. Clay Township police can confirm this. Here's where the versions alter: (See if you've heard any of these :)
Many believe the boy was kidnapped and that the mother searched in desperation, and died searching. Some believed the boy drowned when the mother took her eyes off him for a moment. This version is a rare version where she apparently did find the boy face down in a nearby creek. In despair, the mother hung herself. Some believe that the two-story house they lived in was burglarized and that they were murdered. Some believe that when the mother last saw the child not too far away from a fire...and then he was never seen again. The mother searched for the boy around the fire, fearing for the worse. Never finding the child's remains, she died searching for the boy...some believe she even died in a fire herself. (This is why you see her face in a fire if a fire is lit near the bridge--explained below).
Others believe in an entirely opposite type of death: That they both froze to death. The boy wandered out of the home, the mother unaware. When the mother realized he was gone, she searched frantically for the boy during an unprecedented winter storm, and froze to death in her unsuccessful search. Still others believe in a simple theory: That the boy was murdered, which led to the mother to search for the boy near the bridge they lived near. The murderer (motive unknown, possibly rape) waited for the woman to search near the bridge and kidnapped and murdered her.
Early versions of the legend actually didn't involve a mother! This radically different (and unpopular today) theory involved a monster that ate babies/children! It was called "The Morrow Road Monster" by locals, and was a popular theory in the 1950s. There is no evidence to support this theory.*
Contrasting, a hugely popular theory involved local Natives. Some believe that local Natives savagely attacked the mother while she was searching for her missing child. Some believe she haunts the road to this day because a nearby Indian burial ground may have been near the death site of the mother. There is no evidence to support this theory,* but local Natives of the time included Algonquin, Huron and Erie.
Finally, one of the most popular theories was that the mother had the child out of wedlock. Simply not wanting the baby, she went to the bridge and left the boy under the bridge--abandoning him. Feeling shame and remorse on her way back home, she decided she couldn't go through with it and upon arriving at the bridge the baby was gone. This was the beginning of years of searching, until she finally gave up. Upon her early death, many believed she was cursed for her actions and her eternal punishment is to haunt the road searching for the lost child.
A startling fact is how many people claim to have seen the woman, heard the child, or witnessed other paranormal occurrences on or near the road. These include many witnesses to seeing the ghostly woman herself, always wearing a light blue nightgown (believed by many to be the outfit she wore on her death) searching with bloody hands for the child. Many claimed she has morbidly asked or screamed "Where's my baby?" as driver's drove past. Others claim she has slammed her mysteriously bloody hands on their car window in addition. Many locals have claimed "if you start a fire on the road where the southern bridge was, you will see her face in the flames." (That is illegal by-the-way, so don't try it). This supports the theory that something tragic happened to her and/or the child on or near the bridge and their lives ended in flames.
Currently this element to the legend hasn't had an eye-witness account in many years. Many believe that if you honk your car-horn three times on the bridge you will hear the baby cry. Also, many claim to have vehicle trouble when driving down the road. There are more eyewitness claims to seeing "orbs" on the road and in the woods than any of the above. Many other people also state the orbs went as far as to chase their vehicle. Most claim the orbs were light green, but some say they've seen them red, purple and light blue, all in small, varying sizes. Naturally, local police have had many "false claims," that turned out to be young adults playing pranks. All accounts are claimed to have been seen or heard only at nighttime. -Sam Orchard
The Constipation Curse and How to be a Hoodoo
In his book, Negro Folktales in Michigan, Richard Dorson tells the tale of the African-American ³hoodoo² man who was asked by a Muskegon family to help catch the thief who had raided their woodpile the previous night, and then had the nerve to relieve his bowels copiously on the same spot. The hoodoo man, or person with supernatural gifts, stuck a long nail into the pile left by the thief, then drove the fouled nail into a nearby tree. He told the family that the manıs intestines would remain inactive as long as the nail stayed put. Sure enough, after several days had passed, word came that there was a man at the local hospital who was severely ³backed up.² The family, relenting, resolved to pull out the nail. But during that time, the tree had been felled by the local conservation department due to diseased bark. With no way to remove the nail, the bowel-bedeviled wood-napper was doomed to a painful death. It seems that sometimes things just donıt come out in the end. The book also details the legendary method of becoming a hoodoo. The instructions were to ³throw nine grains of corn in the creek before sunrise; then go back the ninth morning and wish your soul was as far in hell as the water was that hit the grains of corn.² This wish, the man was assured, would bring the devil to welcome his newest apprentice and commence the hoodoo lessons, including ³how to make poison, and how to make people crazy.²
The Treasure of Poverty Island
Thereıs gold in them thar watersat least thatıs what no fewer than five different legends would have people believe about the point of a small, Lake Michigan island ironically named ³Poverty.² Author Fred Stonehouse tried to sort the stories out in his book, Great Lakes Lighthouse Tales, and they involve everything from a shipment of gold sent by Napoleon to the Southern Confederacy and attacked by pirates, to a military payroll sunk during the War of 1812. In every case, the booty is the proverbial kingıs ransom of gold. Men have killed bosom buddies for far less, and rumors of the lost fortune have drawn treasure hunters to the treacherous shores of Poverty Island throughout the past century. But Wisconsinite Richard Bennett, a professional diver and former diving equipment store owner, has been obsessed with finding the treasure for the greater part of his life.
Now in his 60s, Bennett was featured on NBCıs Unsolved Mysteries in 1995 along with the two-man submarine he kept in his Wauwatosa garage, and has self-published a semi-fictionalized version of his odyssey called Deep Quest. When Weird Michigan interviewed him, he shared what he feels is the real story of the Poverty Island treasure. His research goes back to the early 1930s, he says, when a Chicago businessman put together funding for a consortium designed to find the lost gold. They had somehow discovered that there had been a last-ditch effort by the French to fund the Confederacy during the final days of the Civil War.
³In a nutshell,² he said, ³gold went overland to Escanaba and was then put on board some kind of vessel which was chased around Poverty Island by French braggartsı or bad guys,ı and the four or five chests of gold were pushed overboard.² Bennett is still searching for documentation of the exact number of chests. At any rate, the Chicago group sent an old, refurbished vessel named the Captain Lawrence, equipped with a diving bell, to Poverty Island where its crew toiled there for three years. A young boy named Carl Jensen, son of the Poverty Island Lighthouse keeper, would often sit near the shore, watching the boat lower the bell and drag it back up. He was around eleven years old when the process began, said Bennett.
One day, as a storm began to brew over Lake Michigan, he watched the crew haul the heavy bell on board the ship as usual, but then sat amazed as several large objects were removed from the bell and all hell broke loose on board. The crew began to hoot and holler, jumping and dancing, clinking beer bottles together in triumphant toasts, and otherwise looking very much like men who had just won the lottery. At about that point, the storm began to gather in earnest and Carl was dragged back to the safety of his house by his watchful parents. Reluctantly, he left the crew to their rejoicing.
The crewıs elation didnıt last long. In a twist of fate only Mother Nature could have arranged, the storm proved so fierce that the Captain Lawrence was sunk along with whatever the heavy objects might have been. The captain and crew all survived (several of the crew were ashore at the time purchasing supplies, which led to untrue rumors that some of them had drowned) but their expedition was ended. Years later, diving expert Bennett became interested in the various ships sunken and preserved in the Great Lakes, and came across the Poverty Island legend. People accused him of making it up. To prove that he wasnıt, he and a friend traveled Michigan, pawing through old newspaper offices and libraries, quizzing everyone they could find, hunting for some written confirmation of the story. Finally, in the library of a tiny town Bennett does not wish to disclose, a librarian brought them a tattered folder that contained a 1941 newspaper article which detailed exactly what Bennett was looking for.
By the time Bennett appeared on Unsolved Mysteries, he had spent over thirty years and a small fortune of his own seeking the treasure. Bennett also had received quite a bit of publicity in the mid-90s after a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter wrote several stories about him. The articles prompted an elderly woman living in Wauwatosa to contact Bennett She was the former girlfriend of Carl Jensen, and wanted to tell him that she remembered when the diving bell washed ashore, and that she and all the island children played in it for years until one day another storm rolled it back into the sea.
Bennett had also interviewed the daughter of one of the Captain Lawrence crew members in 1990, and she told him that her father had always said that he wanted to go back to Poverty Island, ³because he knew itı was there.² In fact, the Captain Lawrence had already been rediscovered by a group called Fairport International Explorations. Fairport was forced to admit the find after they applied for an exclusive search area and the State of Michigan turned them down, so again Bennett felt vindicated.
Bit by bit, the pieces were coming together for him, and that only entrenched his desire to haul up the bullion. So far, though, despite his diving expertise, Bennett hasnıt come up with so much as a sou. Bennett, ever the optimist, says he is still determined to keep trying and may mount another expedition of his own in the near future. After all, the value of four to five chests of gold bullion has been estimated to be around $150 million in todayıs prices (a number that fluctuates wildly with the gold market), but Bennett says that is not what motivates him anymore. ³The matter of just finding the gold, that alone would satisfy me,² he said. And if the lake ever does give up its Civil War hoard, the battle over who finally gets to claim it will probably start a whole new round of legends.
Luke the Spook: The romantically named Romeo Plank Drive in Clinton Township, not far from Detroit, is lit on dark nights by a wavering light reminiscent of a guide carrying an old fashioned lantern. Seems there was a Dr. Lucas in the late 1800s who was returning from a late night call one evening when his horse buggy missed the bridge and he was killed. Some have sworn they've seen an old-fashioned buggy wending its way through the trees. Others say that a railroad worker killed in the same era still walks the old plank road with his lantern, helping people find their way in the dark, and that is the source of the mysterious light.
Grosse Pointe's Devil's Mill: A classic tale of brother and sister rivalry; two siblings built a grist mill in the late 1700s on Lake St. Clair at Windmill Pointe. The sister became ill, but suspected her brother of poisoning her to get her half of the mill. After declaring she would will her part of the business "to the devil," she died. As if to seal her pact, the mill was cloven in two by a giant bolt of lightning, then it burnt to the ground . The distraught brother, surveying the remains of his property, saw the horned Satan himself hoofing a French quadrille amid the flames. When the evil one finished dancing and returned to his fiery abode, he spirited away one of the giant millstones; the other can still be seen in the Grosse Pointe War Memorial-Gardens.
The Paulding Lights of Dog Meadow: When a Yooper urges someone to "walk toward the light," he's probably not trying to assist someone having a near-death experience. He's most likely describing how to see the famous, glowing light bubble that's been witnessed by thousands from a hill near Watersmeet west of US Hwy. 45, in a section of wilderness called Dog Meadow. There are several theories about the bright light that sashays from the northwest to the northeast horizon at two-to-fifteen minute intervals on clear nights. The most popular tale claims a murdered railroad engineer still walks the meadow with his lantern. Another tells the tale of an old time postal carrier who once traveled the area by dogsled, but was killed on his route in the 1870s. The more scientifically-minded ascribe the lights to swamp gas from nearby marshes, but most skeptics agree the lights are probably caused by automobile headlights shining from a highway hill up the road, possibly distorted by rising gases. True believers point out that the lights are still there in winter when it's too cold for vapors. The only sure thing is that the lights continue to appear, and so do the onlookers. It's the best free show in Michigan.
MORE TO COME