You may have heard of the Romanian story of Dracula or the El Chupacabra of Puerto Rico – heck, you may have even heard of creatures closer to home like the Mothman of West Virginia. But are you familiar with our own Detroit urban legends?
Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor and the surrounding areas are packed full of creepy legends, bloodthirsty creatures and unbelievable myths that are sure to make the hairs on your neck stand on end – and Halloween is the perfect time of year to bust them out.
Here, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 of the spookiest tales from our area. Turn the lights on and give them a read. Then, keep them in your back pocket for your next bonfire, sleepover or Halloween party.
Reader warning: Some of these tales are a bit grisly. That’s why we suggest them for older kids. Please use your discretion!
The athletic apparition of Indian Village
Several ghostly spirits are said to inhabit Detroit’s Indian Village, including a young girl who stands in the window of a house on Seminole and a ghostly athlete who wanders Parker and Coe at the crack of dawn.
Local residents say an apparition of a man in tennis gear, with racket in hand, is known to walk dangerously close to cars in this area. Cars catch him in their headlights before he vanishes into thin air.
Weirdlectures.com says that there used to be a tennis club in this area but it burned down in a fire in 1984. No one is believed to have been killed in this fire… but then how do you explain this lost player?
Belle Isle’s lady in white
There have been tons of reports of ghostly female specters dressed all in white around the world and, Only in Your State reports, Detroit’s urban island is the home of one.
According to Native American legends, Chief Sleeping Bear had a beautiful daughter that was constantly being pursued by suitors. To protect her, he wrapped his daughter in a blanket and sent her down what is now the Detroit River.
The winds blew her off course and she was kidnapped, but, as fate would have it, the winds would win her back and return her to her father.
Her father then put her on Belle Isle, which was then known as Rattlesnake Isle, and asked the Great Spirits to protect her. The Great Spirits put snakes on the isle to protect her – and the rest is history.
To see the lady in white, guests on Belle Isle should honk three times and then wait for her to appear as either a woman or a white doe.
Dog Lady Island
If you head into Michigan from Ohio, take the exit onto East Dunbar Road. Follow it to Plum Creek and you’ll see the decrepit Fox Island or, as the locals refer to it, Dog Lady Island.
This island was used for a number of things, including a religious retreat for women, the Kausler family homestead, a pig farm and even a garbage dump. But Fox Island never became a thriving community.
By the ’60s only one couple lived in a mansion on the island. As the story goes, a gas leak broke out in their house, burning it to the ground. Shortly after, the man passed away, leaving his wife and her beloved pack of wild dogs to fend for themselves.
Over the years, it is said that she lost her mind and eventually became part of the pack – chasing those that ventured on her island away on all fours. Eventually, it is said that her dogs turned on her and ripped out her tongue.
Many Monroe teens have visited the island over the years and claim to have seen glowing eyes from the brush, along with hearing animalistic growls and howls.
According to reports, there was even a phone number on which you could call the Dog Lady.
The Dogman of Michigan
If you ever hear a human scream echoing through the woods, watch your back. It could be Michigan’s Dogman.
This fearsome beast is supposedly 7 feet tall with piercing eyes and the torso of a man and is said to have wandered the Manistee River area back when the Odawa Tribes lived in the area.
The Hell Bridge
A creaky, narrow footbridge nestled in the woods of Algoma Township, a bit north of Grand Rapids, is known to harbor more than safe passage over Cedar Creek.
The story goes that a deranged old preacher named Elias Friske once tethered a group of children to the trees in the woods before murdering them and throwing them into the creek below.
He was eventually caught by the parents of those kids who would hang him. But before he met the gallows, he is said to have told them he was possessed by demons.
Reports say that those who make their way over this bridge at night claim to hear the screams of old Elias’ victims and are sometimes met with a black figure with glowing eyes.
Luke the Spook
In the late 1800s, one Dr. Lucas was requested to give some medical assistance. He obliged, but on his way home, his horse and buggy careened off of a bridge and the good doctor was killed.
Since then, travelers on Romeo Plank Road have reportedly seen a strange old-fashioned lantern light that seems to be guiding them down the road. Others claim to have seen a horse and buggy moving through the trees.
Murder victims of East Buno Road
East Buno Road, which is just outside of Milford, is said to be the site of the grisly slayings of eight girls. Local stories say that the bodies of these girls were hidden in the woods near the road and, if you pull over and turn your engine off, you may encounter a paranormal fright.
99.1 reports that motorists get the feeling that they are being watched and that they begin to see shadows flittering around the car. Particularly brave souls that enter the woods have said they see human shapes either watching them or wandering aimlessly amongst the trees.
And when you pull away, take a peek in your review mirror – some claim to have seen a human standing behind the car.
The Nain Rouge
Perhaps the most well-known of the Detroit urban legends is the devilish red dwarf that is said to be a harbinger of doom. Its origins are fuzzy, having either come from Native American folklore or an early French settlement in the area.
According to some legends, a fortune teller told Antoine de la Moethe Cadillac (aka the founder of Detroit) that he must appease the creature.
Instead, Wikipedia reports, Cadillac hit the creature with his cane and yelled, “Get out of my way, you red imp.” As payback, the Nain Rouge is said to have cursed Cadillac with a bout of bad luck that ended in him being imprisoned and destitute.
It is also said to have appeared before some of the city’s most violent events, including the Battle of Bloody Run and the Detroit Rebellion.
Each spring, the city hosts the Marche du Nain Rouge parade to chase the Nain Rouge out of the city and prevent further misfortune.
The Troll Bridge
The original bridge, which crossed the Saline River on Maple Road, that is the basis for this terrifying tale.
The story goes that there was a couple – a man and a woman – traveling down this stretch of road when their car broke down. The man got out of the car to seek help – and never came back.
The woman eventually went looking for him and allegedly found his body behind the car. Both were later found dead with all of the bones in their bodies broken. Legend says trolls did it.
Reports say that the original bridge has since been replaced, but many who go up to that area say they feel uneasy.
Warlock Willie’s Grave
In a hidden cemetery somewhere near Huron Rover Drive and Zeeb Road in Scio Township in Washtenaw County, you’ll find the 1840 grave of a man who was rumored to be a warlock.
According to reports, this old cemetery has been neglected for many years – but this particular grave is of interest because there is no stone, and the body of the man is said to be tangled up in the roots of an old tree that has overtaken his grave.
Those who are brave enough to lay on the grave are said to experience some kind of supernatural entity flowing through their body – some even say that they saw a dark shadow appear before they felt it.
Those who don’t lay on the grave are said to see apparitions and hear voices and other otherworldly sounds.
Note: Like all urban legends, the origins of many of these stories can be fuzzy and some may vary from what you’ve been told. Got a different version, or perhaps a story not listed? Keep the freaky fun going and share them in the comments!
This post was originally published in 2019 and is updated regularly.