History tour tells of Detroit's skeletons in the closet
Detroit has a rich and storied past. Some of those stories take a dark turn, leaving behind legends, rumors, and maybe even something more supernatural.
Detroit History Tours hosts the Historically Haunted Detroit bus tour. Tours sell out, and if there are seats left on the bus, it's most likely because those people arrived late. Whatever departure time is listed on the event is the time the bus pulls away from the Detroit History Club in Hamtramck.
Bailey Sisoy Moore is the executive director of the club, which puts on the tours. She also guides the haunted tours. She said she loves the spooky stuff.
The first stop is at Turkey Stearns Stadium. It's kept up by volunteers and still hosts youth baseball tournaments. While standing just off first base, Sisoy Moore tells a story of the little leaguers of the past.
Sisoy Moore said the grounds crew will rake the field the night before games, only to find shoe prints like someone ran the bases, and a divot dug into the pitcher's mound. She said the crew will say, "Oh, that's our field of dreams. Every now and then, our players come back."
Some people on the tour take a moment to walk the bases, others visit the stands, and then it's back to the bus.
Sisoy Moore said she wants to use the tours to make history more exciting. "We wanted it a fun day out. And if we wrap it up in a ghost story, but at the end of the day you're learning a lot of history; I'll use the ghost stories to get you to learn the history," she said.
Sisoy Moore is a historian and a life-long Detroiter. She said she started the company twelve years ago, hoping for the best. She said it surpassed her wildest dreams. Detroit History Tours has 22 guides and hosts over 600 tours a year. Some run year round, others seasonally, and then there are the one-time special events. They change up the locations and bus stops so repeat customers get a different experience every year.
While on the bus, going from place to place, there are creepy stories to accompany the sights. As the bus rolls past the final, final, final, final resting place of Colonel Hamtramck, Sisoy Moore recounts his life and legacy. And also his afterlife, since his remains were moved four times.
Sisoy Moore said she likes to include local stops and community-owned businesses. The second stop is Buddy's Pizza, where everyone will get a slice of Detroit Style pie. Sisoy Moore told a story on the way.
"It started as an ice shack," Sisoy Moore said of the original Buddy's Pizza building. She said selling ice was a cheap, dangerous way to supplement a family income. Ice shacks were typically tacked on to a house and this one was no different.
Once prohibition started in Michigan, "The old ice shack at the old house starts sending some of the boys across the river into Canada to bring back other things they can sell cold from the ice shack." She said there was a special knock that meant "more than ice, please."
In 1946, Gus Guerra bought the building, started Buddy's Pizza, and continued adding to the building. According to Sisoy Moore's stories, some of Buddy's staff still hear the knocking late at night. She said it's famous as the Buddy's Ghost of Eras Past.
There are also stories of one employee who hasn't left. "They say that one of those women who's featured in a lot of their Buddy’s advertisements, her name was Martha. She was in charge of the sauce. She's still around in the kitchen," Sisoy Moore said.
"And when they're making sauce, they get this real feeling that someone's kind of behind them looking over their shoulder. Someone's there, checking in."
Sisoy Moore says she really just wants people to know more about Detroit and fall in love with it. "I'm a kid from the town. I'm a kid from the city. And this is what I love. And this is the honor of a lifetime to get to show off your hometown history," she said.
The next stop is the Detroit Riverwalk.
"I brought you here today because there's a few very good ghost stories when it comes to the Ambassador Bridge. There have been stories for years about the horn of a freighter blowing to warn someone only to have no freighter visible," Sisoy Moore said.
For those on the tour, some came for a fun time with friends, and others heard about it from Facebook. But there was one reason given over and over. "Bailey is like, by far the best guide. Ever," said Dara Goucher. She's a repeat tour-taker and had high praise.
Sonja Francese is from Warren. She came with her sister and loved the stories. "I didn't know any of the history growing up here, so now I'm looking at it with new eyes. It’s amazing," she said.
While some stories were paranormal, others were more morbid or strange. Like Rose Barron, the demon of Detroit, the murderess of the Alhramba. Barron allegedly took revenge on her employer by feeding poisoned cookies to the swanky apartment residents, killing three children and two adults.
She told the story of George Mason, builder of the Masonic Temple. She said, contrary to the legends, he did not throw himself off the building in despair. He lived to 91 and built several more buildings in Detroit. "But," Sisoy Moore said, "He is still around." Mason had all the faces of the gargoyles made to look like his own, so he can keep an eye on it.
And then there's the demise of escape artist and master showman Harry Houdini. "Halloween, 1926! He died right here in Detroit! Magic has died in the Motor City. Harry Houdini, 52, is dead in Detroit," Sisoy Moore announced. He arrived at Michigan Central Station in Detroit with a burst appendix and the rest is history.
The last stop is at the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 10. The PLAV. It's now a private club, but for an hour everyone on the tour was a member. Above the bar, on the second floor, is the first wedding hall built in Hamtramck. Sisoy Moore said it's rumored that polka music will waft down from time to time.
By 6:00 pm, the bus arrived back at the Detroit History Tour offices. It's in an old funeral home. After everyone’s gone, Sisoy Moore tells her own ghost story. She said she was alone at Historic Fort Wayne, getting it ready for rehab. Part of that process involves making noise the whole time to scare away the critters.
"The building is empty and there's very little power. It's emergency lighting only. And I'm sort of with my flashlight like, ‘Oh, Jeez Louise.’ And I’m doing the Lord's Prayer and I finish, and I hear ‘Amen.’ Out of that building as quick as you could be and I wouldn't go back after dark for about a year," she said.
For more information on tours, visit to Detroit History Tours.
Editor's note: Some quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity.