“THEY JUST DISAPPEAR”: Travel Guide Tales of How “Grand Rapids is a Haunted City”


At the turn of the 18th century, Native Americans viewed the land on which downtown Grand Rapids sits as “the haunted valley of the Grand.” Is it true?

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – Long before the city of Grand Rapids was established in 1850, there were endless tales of ghostly encounters, disappearances, and other mysterious activities that spanned generations.

At the turn of the 18th century, Native Americans considered the land on which the downtown core sits as “the haunted valley of the Great.”

Is the city truly haunted or is each tale just another slice of urban legend that has stood the test of time?

A local guide not only believes the city is haunted, but she’ll take you on a downtown ghost tour that she’s sure could turn you into a believer as well.

“We seem to have an unusually high number of spirits mistaken for living people,” said Candice Smith, owner and operator of Tours Around Michigan. “People will see them, maybe make eye contact, maybe have a little chat with them, and then they’ll just disappear.”

Smith, who offers a two-hour ghost tour through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids, says the city was considered haunted as early as the 1700s.

“Sometimes you knew whole hunting parties were going missing in the forest,” Smith said. “We would never see them again.”

Smith’s Tour escorts those interested in haunted history to numerous locations in the downtown core, three of which seem to garner the most responses from both the spirit world and visitors.

“I discovered that the St. Cecelia Music Center is the most haunted building in town,” Smith said. “One of the best-known stories is about a Victorian woman who still occupies her favorite place in the auditorium.”

Smith says his favorite was the No. 105 seat, second row back from the stage.

“Sometimes we’ve seen her sitting in that seat so people will be there for an event and they’ll sit and kind of look at a few seats and there she is,” Smith said. “They would make eye contact and then she would disappear.”

Smith says she also makes sure seat # 105 is always available for her to sit down.

“Back when they were printing the tickets, all of the 105 seat tickets were still missing,” Smith added. “There would be sold-out events and seat # 105 would be empty from the front of the house to the back.”

Another ghostly encounter that seems to happen regularly while visiting downtown is with a man named Amos.

“You can really experience Amos the whole tour,” Candice said. “But there is a certain place along the Grand River where he makes his presence known.”

It is along the river promenade where Lyon Street opens into the river, between the Civic Auditorium and the Grand Hotel Amway.

“Most say Amos looks 1800s and has a bushy mustache,” says Candice. “Once, a tour participant said that Amos approached her and wanted to make sure he knew her full name.

“I remember her telling me that she heard him say his name was Hawthorne or Rathbone.”

Candice says she started researching Amos Hawthorne and Amos Rathbone and quickly discovered that there was a man named Amos Rathbone who helped build Grand Rapids.

“Amos used to use ox teams to help bring rocks up the Grand River which, even today, is part of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church,” Candice said. “His house was where the Michigan Bell building stands today.

“People tell me they heard Amos walking behind them on the tour. I heard him walking behind me.”

Amos Rathbone is buried in Oakhill Cemetery.

Another odd sighting on the tour is the McKay Tower, located on Monroe Center, across from Rosa Parks Circle.

“After the building was completed in the 1920s, a man named Frank McKay bought it and gave it his name,” Candice said. “McKay was essentially a Mafia boss disguised as a political leader.

“He led the Republican Party in Kent County.”

Candice adds that there have been numerous investigations into McKay for corruption and its possible connection to random execution-type murders.

“He wasn’t a guy you wanted to play with,” added Candice. “There are many stories of eminent people in the city who were under his control because he was so powerful and vicious.”

Candice says many people have claimed to have seen Frank McKay wandering inside the building.

“People will walk past him in the halls,” she said. “There was a woman in an elevator inside the building and when the elevator doors opened, a ghostly Frank McKay entered the elevator with her.

“The doors closed and the two traveled a few more floors. The elevator doors opened and Frank got off.”

While browsing the bank vault inside McKay Tower, Candice took a photo that she said captured an orb, which many paranormal investigators say is a spherical celestial body.

“Spending some time inside the McKay Tower is not for the faint of heart,” added Candice. “Having said that, it’s a staple of my tour.”

Candice says she does ghost tours of downtown Grand Rapids year-round – not just during Halloween season. If you are interested in participating in any of the tours, click HERE and you will be taken directly to their website.

If you want to be spooked by all the haunted “Our Michigan Lives” stories we’ve been doing over the past decade, please visit: hauntedplacesinmichigan.com

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