Wednesday, January 20, 2016

HGB Podcast, Ep. 98 - St. Cecilia Music Center & the Ada Witch

Moment in Oddity - The Ghostbuster Ruling

Stambovsky vs. Ackley is a ruling that went through the New York Appellate courts in 1991 that has come to be known as the Ghostbuster Ruling. Helen Ackley owned a home in Nyack, New York. Between the years of 1977 and 1989, Ackley reported numerous poltergeist events at the home. There was enough activity that it caught the attention of Reader's Digest and the publication wrote a story about the haunted house. Ackley claimed that there were numerous ghosts in the house and that the  poltergeists woke her every morning by shaking her bed. They left gifts for members of the family apparently also. In 1989, Ackley decided to sell the home. Neither she nor her real estate agent, Ellis Realty, disclosed that the property was haunted to the interested buyer, Jeffrey Stambovsky. Stambovsky put down a down payment of $32,500 and agreed to pay $650,000 for the house. The contract was drawn, but then Stambovsky found out about the haunting reputation and he sued to get out of the contract. The New York Supreme Court dismissed the case, but Stambovsky appealed. The Appellate Court ruled that the house was indeed haunted because the haunting had been reported in a national publication and in the local papers, but that the seller was not required at the time to disclose the haunting. So no damages were paid to Stambovsky. But the court did break the contract. A court that rules that a house is indeed haunted certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Prohibition Starts

On this day, January 20th, in 1920, the 18th Amendment is put into effect and Prohibition begins. The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 29th, 1919. The Amendment read, "After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited." The movement to ban alcohol began with the Temperance Movement and the hope was that prohibition would curb the drinking of alcohol. The amendment did not make drinking alcohol illegal, just the manufacturing and selling of alcohol was illegal. The effort worked for many years. It wasn't until the end of Prohibition that drinking started to increase again. Speakeasies became prevalent and gangsters rose to power using the distribution of alcohol as their chief means of money making. The 18th Amendment was the only amendment that was ever repealed and this took place in 1933, when the 21st Amendment was ratified.

St. Cecilia Music Center & the Ada Witch of Grand Rapids (Research Assistant Sharon Spungen)

Our research assistant Sharon Spungen experienced two tours with Grand Rapids Ghost Tours that were hosted by Robert and Nicole DuShane and Julie Rathsack, who also are the authors of "Ghosts of Grand Rapids." Sharon found the tours and the book invaluable for research.

Grand Rapids, Michigan has been known as Furniture City because of the industry upon which the city was built. People might be surprised to find that this city is considered the world leader in the production of office furniture. Grand Rapids is a city awash in history, murder, mayhem and urban legends. And these factors tend to lend themselves to tales of hauntings. There are a couple of fairly well-known "urban legends" concerning Grand Rapids and its haunted history. The first comes from the St. Cecilia Music Center and the second is known as the legend of the"Ada Witch." Come with us as we explore the history and hauntings of these.

The Hopewell Indians lived in this area of Michigan and built their huge burial mounds over 2000 years ago, which can still be seen outside the Gerald R. Ford Museum. It is believed that these peaceful mound builders may have been annihilated by another tribe, perhaps the Sioux. Around 300 years ago, the People of the Three Fires (the Ottawa, the Chippewa, and the Potawatomie) inhabited the area. In 1825, the first white permanent settler came to the future Grand Rapids. That settler was Isaac McCoy who was a Baptist minister. A trading post was established in 1826 by French trader Louis Campau. Louis was born in 1791 in Detroit, Michigan. He was a descendant of Etienne Campau who was born in La Rochelle France in 1638 and came from Picardy to Montreal, Canada, in the seventeenth century. Etienne's sons traveled to Detroit, Michigan and the Campau family became enmeshed there. Etienne's son Jacque was Louis' great great grandfather. So this family goes way back here. Louis fought in the War of 1812 and established the first trading post in Michigan in Saginaw and then he moved south to establish the trading post in the future Grand Rapids. He traded fur pelts for metals and textile goods. Louis became the city's most prominent founder after purchasing the entirety of the downtown area in 1831 from the federal government for a whopping $90.00. He named his parcel Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids, Michigan was incorporated as a city on April 2, 1850. After a global showing in Philadelphia in 1876, Grand Rapids' reputation as the city of fine furniture was solidified. Thanks to the Grand River, wood was readily available and transported to factories. Grand Rapids was also the first city to fluoridate its water – in 1945.  But it was a cutting edge city in other ways as well. During the Great Depression, before the federal government instituted a program to help workers find jobs, Grand Rapids created a jobs program. And in 1916, after removing an outdated aldermanic governmental system, the city implemented a Commissioner-Manager form of leadership still used today. *Fun fact* Grand Rapids was also the hometown of President Gerald R. Ford, who, with his wife Betty, is interred in a burial mound just outside the museum bearing his name.

Sharon said that one of the particular highlights from the Grand Rapids Ghost Tour was the St. Cecilia Music Center. St. Cecilia is considered the patron saint of music. Many musical organizations take on the name of St. Cecilia for that reason. Grand Rapids had the St. Cecilia Society and in 1890 they decided to find a permanent home. They purchased a lot on Sheldon Avenue, but their dreamed dissolved as a zoning issue forced them to sell the land. After a couple more years passed, the Society purchased the property at 24 Ransom NE, which is the present home of the music center. Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb designed the St. Cecilia Music Center and he was directed to design a “simple and dignified” temple of music.

Construction on the building began in 1892 and society members started an ambitious fundraising effort to gather the funds needed to build the building. Cookbooks were written, calendars were designed and a souvenir silver spoon was produced by Herkner Jewelers and they were sold as part of the fundraiser. Chicken and oyster dinners were sold to the public and performances were staged in the old Powers Opera House as well. A special edition of the Grand Rapids Evening Press was even created to help gain funds. The building was completed in the spring of 1894. The total cost, which included furnishings, came to $53,000. Dedication of the St. Cecilia Music Center took place in November of 1894. The incredible fact about this building is that it was the only place in the world built by women solely for the appreciation, study and performance of music. There is an extraordinary Tiffany window that was installed in 1895.

The structure was built in the classical style and the facade was divided into three parts: a base, a middle and the top. The base was constructed of sandstone, while the middle section was brick. The top has been crowned with a cornice and terra cotta frieze that is graced with plump cherubs. And in musical tradition, those plump little angels are holding trumpets. Inside the center is the Library, which is called the Idema Room, that has built-in storage for music. There is the Reception Room that is called the Presidents Room, and features a wonderful fireplace with mantel and a several large arched windows overlooking Ransom Avenue. Originally, the center of the building was the auditorium. It featured 500 main-floor seats that were lit by beautiful chandeliers, intricately looped and gathered draperies over the proscenium arch and a skylight that caused a warm glow due to its sixteen stained glass panels. The upstairs ballroom had windows that could be opened out into the auditorium to accommodate balcony seating.

Major repairs were needed in 1901 to reinforce the roof beams. Renovations in 1925 removed the skylight and two large pillars in the middle of the auditorium and the balcony was closed off. These renovations improved the acoustics to the point that even today, the music center is considered one of the finest recital halls in this country or abroad. The heating and electrical systems were renovated in 1974, along with the auditorium, which was named for the Royce family that had donated a large amount of money to the society. The stage and building became barrier free in 1984 with further upgrades. The Opus 2 capital campaign was launched in 1996 to help maintain the building. The center hosts world renowned musicians and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Descriptions of the haunting activities at St. Cecilia's include hair being tugged as well as jackets and sleeves, hair being stroked and disembodied whispers in the ear that include demands like, "Get out!" There are disembodied grunts, groans and growls. Shadow people are seen. Seat 106 is said to always be in the lowered position for no apparent reason. On two separate occasions, in the lower level of the space, a woman's voice has been recorded laughing in the background. This woman was not present while they were recording. The elevator goes up and down without assistance and things go missing. And then there is the mysterious woman sitting in the auditorium and a janitor in a jumpsuit that is seen backstage. A janitor that is not employed by the center and who disappears.

The Grand Rapids Press reported:
"'Something's happening, and either we have homeless people living here or we have ghosts,' said [Cathy] Holbrook, the center's executive director. So she invited the West Michigan Ghost Hunters Society to come in and conduct three investigations of the building. Society members brought all sorts of equipment, including computers and audio recorders, and stayed late into the night, she said. '(Investigators) definitely found what they would say was paranormal activity in the building,' Adding that most of the incidents seemed to occur in the auditorium. Some of the investigators reported seeing strange shadows in the building, and glowing orbs showed up in a few photos they took, according to a society report. A psychic felt like the elevator was a "portal" used by the spirits, and she sensed a housekeeper, soldier and a variety of performers in different parts of the building, the report says. Holbrook said the investigation's creepiest finds were recordings of unexplained voices, or EVPs. She said that in one, a male appears to say, 'Move it.' 'The hair on the back of your neck stands up,' she said. 'That was the most shocking, to be able to hear someone speaking.'"
 Elizabeth wrote:
 "I had a paranormal experience at the music center in 2011. I was walking back through the hallway from looking at the tunnels that are underground and all of a sudden I felt as though I had a spider web brush my shoulder and arm. At first I didn't think anything of it and kept walking then it happened again. I think I asked the people I was with if I had anything on me and it turns out I didn't. I then talked with the paranormal team that was with me and found out that sometimes when being touched, it can feel like spider webs. I also found out that the hallway I was walking in had reports of common experiences. Also the same night my friend and I went up to the ballroom. I was taking recordings as I asked questions. A few days later I reviewed the recordings and heard a lady laughing. No one was in the room at the time other than my guy friend and me."
A famous piece of Grand Rapids lore is the story of the Ada Witch, which has been told for 150 years. The story begins in the rural area of Ada Township in West Michigan. It was the late 1800s and a married woman was allegedly having an affair with a local man. They would meet clandestinely in what is known as Seidman Park. Her husband suspected that something was awry and he followed her and found the lovers together. In a rage, he killed her and battled with her lover. Both men died there as well. While it made for a great story, there were no names connected to the story, so people wondered if it was true. A group of paranormal investigators declared they had discovered the Ada Witch to be Sarah McMillan who was buried in Findlay Cemetery in Ada. People visited the cemetery and soon the tombstone was desecrated and broken up. Pieces of it were even being sold on eBay. But was Sarah really the Ada Witch?

The historically accurate facts are that Sarah McMillan was simply a victim of typhoid. Researcher Nicole Bray searched Ada records to find any evidence of two or three people all dying on the same day due to murder. She found nothing. While there were many stories of tragic losses that were uncovered, there was no evidence of the deaths of three individuals that match the details of the legend. But legends, unlike the rest of us, seem to refuse to die. And the good news is that Sarah got a brand new headstone and the cemetery is now secure. But what of the Ada Witch legend? There are enough sightings to make one wonder if there really is some truth to the legend.

Ada resident Julie Wiley believes she saw the Ada Witch when she saw a ghostly apparition along Bailey Rd and she says she'll never forget that night 12-years ago. "I'm a 100% believer of it. I know what I saw. I didn't drive that way for the longest time because I was afraid I was going to see her again. I was driving home from work, heading down Bailey Dr. I was coming up the crest of the hill and all of the sudden I see a woman sitting in the middle of the street. She had a long, flowing blue dress on. She was sitting there waving her arms, and the words coming out of her mouth, to me, looked like she was asking, 'help me; help me.'" When Wiley got to work, she was very shaken and she told her boss what she had seen. He said, "Oh my gosh, you just saw the Ada Witch."

There are many reported sightings of a female apparition, near Findlay Cemetery, which is more than likely how Sarah found herself connected to this legend. This female spirit is seen along many of the streets and roads near the cemetery particularly up and down the 2 Mile Rd. This is the road where Findlay Cemetery is located. She's also been seen along Honey Creek Rd. According to the legend, this is where the Ada Witch's body found. And she is seen on Conservation Ave. Hunters claim to have heard footsteps in the woods near this road and some have even said they were tapped on the shoulder, but when they would turn around, nobody would be behind them. The Ada Witch appears as a woman dressed in a long white or blue dress, with long, flowing hair.

There seems to be no reason for the hauntings at the music center, but there definitely are reports of unexplained activity. Is the St. Cecilia Music Center haunted? Is Grand Rapids home to a true urban legend? Is the Ada Witch real? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Grand Rapids Ghost Tour:
To order the book click here!
Grand Rapid Ghost Investigators sent this video they made of an investigation at this location:

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