Mysterious events, bizarre tales from old Ford plant lead to ghost hunting tours – Detroit Free Press

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Jeff Pollock has spent more than a decade working in museums so he is used to “weird and creepy” old stuff such as jewelry made out of human hair, he said.

It’s partly why he refuses to believe in ghosts.

But a couple of years ago, something happened in the early morning hours at the Ford Piquette Avenue plant — where he is the event manager — that he can’t explain.

He was alone on the third floor turning off all the lights after a wedding reception. The rest of his team was downstairs. Suddenly, he startled at the sound of a loud slam. One of the huge, steel fire doors, held open by a rope, had somehow come loose and then crashed shut  — all by itself.

Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Event Manager Jeff Pollock on Wednesday shows a fire door that was said to slam by itself amid vehicles on display at the Ford Piquette Plant in Detroit.. Detroit History Tours will be holding the Ghosts of the Factory Tour and Paranormal Investigation at the historic plant turned museum on Halloween night.

“I honestly thought it was one of my guys slamming the door,” Pollock said. “We didn’t have a security system then where I could look back on video camera. So I asked if any of my guys were playing a trick on me. They swore no.”

He checked the knot on the rope used to hold the door open. It was intact. He did not see any other malfunctions to explain how the heavy door, weighing about 500 pounds, had shut on its own.

“If I wasn’t such a skeptical person, I could put together a paranormal explanation, but I think that maybe the weight of the door threw it off kilter and it slammed.” But, he admits, “It was a very intriguing experience.”

That mysterious incident is just one of some pretty bizarre tales that museum staff and guests have recounted over the last 20 years since the old factory converted to a museum and event venue. 

The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit. A ghostly haunt?

So this summer, a Detroit history tour company decided to focus on the baffling occurrences there, seeing an opportunity for ghoulish tourism to draw in some ghost-hungry customers at the scariest time of the year.

For $70 on Halloween night you can potentially have the crap scared out of you, or be bored senseless depending on what they don’t find, by joining one of two 90-minute tours along with Detroit Paranormal Expeditions — real professional ghost hunters! — through the dim, creeky, old factory in search of ghostly guests. While these aren’t the first creepy tours offered at the plant, the organizers say it’s the first time a team of ghost hunters will lead the way.  

A beer and a good ghost story

The paranormal investigation is the brainchild of the Detroit History Tours company. Normally, this outfit  offers packed bus expeditions around the city. One of the especially popular ones has been the haunted tours at Halloween. But the coronavirus pandemic brought those to a halt. So the staff had to come up with a new idea, said Bailey Sisoy-Moore, executive director for Detroit History Tours.

Detroit History Tours Executive Director Bailey Sisoy-Moore stands with vehicles on display at the Ford Piquette Plant in Detroit on Wednesday. Detroit History Tours will be holding the Ghosts of the Factory Tour and Paranormal Investigation at the historic plant turned museum on Halloween night.

“We started talking in June. … What would be something interesting, fun and exciting, in a large enough space where we can have social distancing?” Sisoy-Moore said. “We knew that this is the year to talk about factories and ghosts and what lingers long after the machines are turned off.”

The Piquette plant had been on Sisoy-Moore’s radar for a while. She and some of the museum’s team of history buffs were regular beer buddies. Often, after a few beverages, tales would tumble out. 

“We’d hear stories of, ‘Yeah we had some weird things happen last night,’ ” Sisoy-Moore said.

Vehicles on display on a floor of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit.

“Ghost stories are so hard because we can’t prove them, but to say they don’t matter is a mistake. They give the building soul,” Sisoy-Moore said. “They give us that moment to remember the people who made that building important.”

Paranormal possibilities

The Detroit History Tours team put together some haunted history tours at the plant for the last two weekends of the month. On Halloween evening, there are two tours that cost $70 a person. The first starts at 5:30 p.m. and tickets were still available; the second is sold out.

Pollock said most evenings at the Piquette plant are  normally booked for weddings or corporate events. But because the pandemic forced those events to be canceled or postponed, it creates an opening for the ghost hunt to happen. 

Wooden floors of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on Wednesday.

 “I think a haunted history buff is a little different demographic and we’re getting people in who maybe never heard of the plant before,” Pollock said.

The building is more than a century old. It has housed Ford and Studebaker automobile assembly, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company and the Cadillac Overall Company. So, just maybe, there is potential for restless souls to be lurking in dark corners. 

Ford built the building in 1904 as its first purpose-built factory, after renting manufacturing space on Mack Avenue. It was at the Piquette Avenue Plant that Ford created and first produced the famous Model T in 1908. That’s the car credited with putting America on wheels. It is also where Henry Ford conducted his early experiments using a moving assembly line.

Vehicles on display in the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on Wednesday, just a few days before Halloween. Detroit History Tours will be holding the Ghosts of the Factory Tour and Paranormal Investigation at the birthplace of the Model T in the historic plant turned museum on Halloween night.

“A place as historic as the Piquette plant had a lot of people who were in and out of it over the years,” said Jeff Adkins, cofounder of Detroit Paranormal Expeditions. “That’s a lot of energy, and over time that energy can stay embedded in the building. So when you hear a place is haunted and you hear of a spirit going up and down the hallway, it might not necessarily be a ghost, but rather energy that is embedded there.”

A ghostly ‘Magneto Girl’

The most consistent story Sisoy-Moore said she heard came from female Piquette plant museum staff members. 

Vehicles on display in the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on Wednesday, just a few days before Halloween. Detroit History Tours will be holding the Ghosts of the Factory Tour and Paranormal Investigation at the birthplace of the Model T in the historic plant turned museum on Halloween night.

Many of the women reported feeling like they were not alone, like someone was watching them, even though they were the only ones in the plant. 

“It wasn’t a scary or leery feeling. It was just like they were not alone even though there was no one else working,” Sisoy-Moore said. “They all said, ‘I’d feel like someone was there and I’d turn around expecting to see someone and no one was there.’ But they said it never felt like it was malevolent.”

The connection to female staff could lie in the plant’s unusual history with women.

In late 1905, Henry Ford and one of his engineers, Edward “Spider” Huff, started hiring women to help make the magneto flywheels used to help power the cars. 

A flywheel magneto developed by Edward "Spyder" Huff that allowed the Model T to be driven without stalling is seen at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on Wednesday.

“It’s very delicate work to make them and Henry and Spider felt women could do it, they had smaller hands,” said Sisoy-Moore. “So they hired the ‘Magneto Girls’ who had to work in a separate area of the factory away from the men. They were all together in a room. They had a lot of pride in what they were doing and felt a sisterhood.”

That room, on the second floor of the factory, is where the female museum employees reported most often having that feeling of someone watching them.

Photos on the wall of the room where women worked on building magneto flywheels that allowed the Model T to be driven without stalling is seen at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on Wednesday.

“We all said, ‘It’s gotta be a Magneto Girl,’ ” said Sisoy-Moore of a ghostly guest. “It is to the Ford Motor Co.’s credit though, the Magneto Girls were paid the same as the men. That was a prestigious job — to be able to earn their own living in 1906, when very few women were earning a living then.”

Henry’s haunted office

When Studebaker bought the plant in 1911, the company tore apart Henry Ford’s office, also on the second floor across the hall from where the Magneto Girls worked.

But the Piquette Museum team re-created his original office several years ago, Sisoy-Moore said. They put in a chaise lounge because Ford was known for working long hours and taking naps. Also, an avid bird watcher, he kept a telescope in his office, so the staff added a telescope to the display too. 

A telescope in the office of Henry Ford at the Ford Piquette Plant in Detroit a few days before Halloween. It is said to have been moved by ghosts. Detroit History Tours will be holding the Ghosts of the Factory Tour and Paranormal Investigation at the birthplace of the Model T in the historic plant turned museum on Halloween night.

But that telescope would soon be the subject of an unsolved mystery. Museum staff would leave the telescope pointing down at night, only to return the next morning and find it pointed in a different direction, often toward the window, Sisoy-Moore said. 

“There is no one there overnight and I did grill the staff and I said, ‘Who’s moving the telescope?’ They said, ‘It’s not us,’ ” Sisoy-Moore said. “That thing is heavy. We looked at the breeze of the heat vent, but that’s not strong forced air by any means. Three people reported it happening in the seven years since the office was rebuilt.”