Friday, June 22, 2012

Ghost Hunting in Marshall, MI

Once we were finished exploring Colon, we headed back to Marshall to have dinner at the infamous Schuler's. Then we drove to Stuart's Landing to follow the River Walk along the Kalamazoo River. This sounds much more pleasant than it turned out to be.

The Kalamazoo River was once used by many mills, especially paper mills, that dumped all of their leftovers and trash into the river. This resulted in hideously polluted water that could give you a burning skin rash if you touched it, and once, many decades ago, it was debated whether the river should just be turned into an open sewer. This was voted against, and now the river is not a toxic waste dump, though people are still not advised to swim in many parts of it, and we even spotted a sign that recommended we check a website to see if the river was safe that day for swimming or fishing before indulging in those activities. Portions of the river, too, we soon discovered, stink like the Bog of Eternal Stench from the movie Labyrinth. In that moment of covering my mouth and hurrying down the path to get away from the smell, I fully understood why my mother always told us never to go near the Kalamazoo River when I was a child. I seriously believe that if any of my clothing had touched that water, I would have to burn it rather than try in vain to get the smell out.

Anyway! After escaping the river, we headed over to Dark Horse Brewery, a place that a coworker had recommended to me many times. I had heard of them from other sources, as well, as I am pretty sure their beers have won awards. (Not that beer competitions are something I generally follow, but working in a retail establishment that sells many local beers, it's hard not to be at least a little up on these things.) It turns out I like the raspberry, one of their more popular brews that is available elsewhere in the state, too.

We were there in the early evening when things weren't slow, but not exactly busy, either. Since we'd already eaten at Schuler's, we only ordered a few beers and sat around and talked. It was nice just to be out of the sun and sitting down. I noticed a patio out back surrounded by a decent sized yard with a stage, so I can imagine this place would be great on a weekend night with live music, drinks, and food! The atmosphere was casual and fun. Hundreds of beer mugs of various shape, color, and style hung from the ceiling and comprised their mug club. If you wanted, you could purchase one of these mugs and it would be yours to use every time you visited. Pretty cool, I thought. The walls were also covered by drawings and scrawlings of past patrons.

One such mark alerted us to the presence of “a freaking bidet in the bathroom,” which, of course, I had to investigate. It was true. Not only that, though, the toilets had a rinse “for the ladies” and a drying option. Plugged into an outlet by the wall, the toilet reminded me of the ones I used in Japan and Google HQ (yes, Google HQ has Japanese toilets, and yes, I've been there so I know), but the seats weren't heated, the instructions weren't in Japanese, and the control panel was mounted to the side of the toilet, not the wall next to the toilet. On the underside of the toilet seat lid was a block of text that informed me that not only was there a risk of shock in using this toilet (how uncomfortable would that be?), but that before I use it, I should read all instructions and notices in full. I did not. It's a freaking toilet. Why does it come with a warning manual the size of a sheet of computer paper?? I did not get shocked, nor did I try out any of its advanced features. I also did not take a picture, so you're just going to have to take my word for it, or visit the brewery yourself, which is not a bad option if you are a fan of good beer.

Finished with our beers, we headed back downtown to meet up with our ghost tour guide. She was a very friendly woman with quite a bit of knowledge about the history of Marshall and also a lot of personal experience stories that were interesting and enjoyable. This tour was far and beyond the best ghost tour I have been on, and I firmly believe Marshall is possibly the most actively haunted city I've visited.

We started out at the tour's headquarters and were introduced to a haunted doll, a goddess, I believe, from India. While the guide addressed the doll, offering it a marble to play with, its nose ring started to swing back and forth. There was no breeze in the room that I could detect, and even if there were, the doll's earrings should have also been swaying along with the nose ring, and they were perfectly still. The spirit of the doll has been said to follow people home and cause mischief until an offering is left to her. Greg and I both left offerings of small change, but Kimmy did not. I think she was hoping the spirit would turn up at our apartment. As far as I can tell, it has not.

From there, we walked down Michigan Ave and learned that at least half the buildings have reports of ghosts, some of which she was asked by the owners not to discuss, which she did not go on to do. We also learned quite a bit about the history of Marshall. Growing up, I was used to thinking of Marshall as a backwoods sleepy town with no sophistication, which turned out not to be true. As I said before, it is only off the beaten path now because I-94 was built just a few miles north, shifting the bulk of traffic away from the center of cities. Kalamazoo is rather unique in that is has maintained its hub status, probably due to the presence of so many huge national industries (Stryker, Pfizer, Summit Polymer, etc), though that has also lead to a shift to the suburbs, leaving downtown rather shuttered.

Marshall used to be a summer vacation town for the well-to-do. This is also how Colon got into its magic capital status. There was good fishing in the area, it was close to larger cities like Kalamazoo and its State Theater (still a concert venue today) where vaudeville and magic shows were performed during the cooler months, and, earlier in history, the ladies of Marshall insisted on such theaters and even an opera house being constructed on Michigan Ave right downtown. Quite the decent little vacation spot a hundred plus years ago. It was quite remarkable to me how well preserved the buildings are today, though, granted, Kalamazoo lost a lot of its downtown buildings to a giant freak tornado back in 1980. Marshall has been lucky to escape such tragic weather.

At least, we didn't hear of any tornado victim ghosts on the tour. We did learn about an actor who still practices his lines today, two sisters who ran a clothing store for the better part of the 20th century, only recently passed away, and haunt both their old home and the store, a Civil War soldier who haunts the basement of a shotgun house that might be built over the site of his grave, a man who likes to sit on his porch fully naked now that he is beyond chastising by his still living relatives, a lady in red who is known to terrorize women who stay in “her” room at a downtown inn, but gives the male guests quite the good time (sadly, our guide would not elaborate), and many, many more. There were also a number of speakeasies in the city's history, and the underground of Marshall is riddled with hidden rooms and tunnels that were once part of the Underground Railroad. (The tour group hopes to have an Underground Railroad Tour put together soon. I can't wait!) The ghost tour is supposed to take 90 minutes, but I believe ours took over 2 well-enjoyed hours. Definitely worth the $15!

Next time, probably around Halloween when activity is at its highest, I think we may spring for the carriage tour. The walking tour mostly covers just the north side of town, and given the stories we heard, I am anxious to hear about the south side and the cemetery, as well, both covered by the carriage tour. Once the tour was officially over, our guide took us back inside the store and showed us pictures of alleged demons in the cemetery and the aforementioned lady in red, though she was difficult to see in the darkness of the late evening. Kimmy is supposed to email for a digital copy of the pictures, but I don't think she has yet since we haven't had internet in our apartment for about two weeks now.

Thus ended our day of Magic and Mystery in Colon and Marshall, Michigan. I think we all decided that we definitely need to return. Who knew such a little town would be packed with so much to do? Any fan of history, ghosts, architecture, magic, antiques, or beer should visit Marshall. I think you, too, will find more to do than you anticipated you ever would. 

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