The Ada Witch: Fact or fiction?

5:24 PM, Oct 31, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: PHOTOS: The Ada Witch

ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WZZM) -- For nearly 150 years, an urban legend has been shared in a West Michigan community.

The tale of infidelity, murder and mounting paranormal experiences, has drawn interested from all over the country. It's the story of the Ada Witch.

Ghost hunters, historians and journalists alike have spent decades trying to prove the legend to be fact or fiction. A ghost hunter from Grand Haven, Nicole Bray, recently co-authored a book entitled, "Ghosts of Grand Rapids", where she spent a chapter detailing her intense research on the Ada Witch Legend.

"She's believed to be still roaming the area," Bray said, referring to the ghost of the Ada Witch.

The Ada Witch Legend originated back in the late 1800s.

"A married woman was having an affair," Bray said. "According to lore, her husband suspected the infidelity, so one day he decided to follow her into the woods inside Seidman Park. He caught her in a little tryst with her lover, became angry, confronted them, and killed her straight off."

The legend goes on to say that her husband then turned his rage on her lover.

"With the two men fighting, they ended up causing enough injuries between the both of them that, the legend states, they both died as well," Bray added.

Over the last century and a half, the legend continues to be told in Ada, Michigan, and many reported sightings of a female apparition, near Findlay Cemetery (where legend states is where she, her husband and lover are all buried), and along many of the streets and roads near the cemetery .

"[The female apparition] is seen wandering up and down the 2 Mile Rd., which is where Findlay Cemetery is," Bray said. "She's also been seen along Honey Creek Rd, which is where the legend states her body was found, and Conservation Ave., where hunters claim to have heard footsteps in the woods, or being tapped on the shoulder, but when they turn around, there's nobody there."

Her haunting grounds are numerous and the reported sightings all detail the same thing - seeing a woman dressed in a long white or blue dress, with long, flowing hair.

It's been 12-years since Ada resident Julie Wiley experienced her sighting.

"I was driving home from work, heading down Bailey Dr.", said Wiley. "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.'"

Wiley immediately called and told her boss.

"He said, oh my gosh, you just saw the Ada Witch," added Wiley.

So, who might this woman be, and is the legend of the Ada Witch true? In 2003, a paranormal group thought it had identified the Ada Witch. "The name Sarah McMillan," said Bray.

Thrill-seekers from all over West Michigan and the United States have traveled to Findlay Cemetery and have been drawn to Sarah's grave.

"A few years ago, a group from California called," said Susan Burton, who is the Ada Township Clerk. "I think people are drawn to stories like this."

Unfortunately, the people visiting the gravesite did more than visit.

"There's absolutely nothing left," Bray said, describing Ms. McMillan's tombstone. "People have vandalized and destroyed the headstone. In 2005, I found on eBay a mention where somebody was selling pieces of the stone saying, 'You too can own a piece of the Ada Witch.'"

The vandalism activity in Findlay Cemetery has been a concern for Ada Township officials since Sarah McMillan's name was connected to the Ada Witch Legend.

"Anybody that is in that cemetery after hours like that, they are trespassing," said Burton. "It is Township property."

Fueled by her deep interest in this legendary tale and her anger over the destruction of Sarah McMillan's grave, Nicole Bray decided to launch a personal crusade hoping to find some evidence to support the legend.

"I began my research by digging through death ledgers at the Kent County Clerk's office," said Bray. "[Sarah McMillan's] maiden name was Chilson, and she was born in New York."

As Bray's research intensified, she found evidence in the Kent County death ledgers to prove that there was no way Sarah McMillan could be the Ada Witch.

"According to the 1860 census, it looks like [Sarah Chilson] was working as a housekeeper or a nanny," said Bray. "In the 1870, you now find her married to Archibald McMillan and she had a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old son."

"The census was taken in July of 1870 and unfortunately in November of that year is when Sarah died of typhoid fever," Bray said. "Here's her grave getting desecrated because somebody decided to name her as the Ada Witch, which she never was."

Bray's research didn't end there.

"We looked at the entire history of Ada from 1850 all the way to 1950, looking for two or three deaths that might coincide with the legend and none of them did," said Bray. "There was nobody that died mysteriously or even accidentally within the same day. The closest I found was there were two elderly people who died of accidental deaths a week apart. That was the closest I could find to the legend in 100 years."

During her investigation, Bray says she discovered several mistakes connected to Sarah McMillan in the Kent County Death Registry.

"Her first name is listed as 'Sally', not Sarah," added Bray. "So that's the biggest reason why none of us have been able to find her. I called Ada Township to confirm all the information I found for Sally and it completely matched Sarah's information. Another mistake I found is that Sarah's death certificate and her death record wasn't even documented until 9 months [after her death]."

Bray's lack of evidence in trying to connect fact to fiction in the Ada Witch Legend led her on a new mission.

"I put feelers out to many monument companies," Bray said, describing her intent to get a new headstone for Sarah McMillan.
It didn't take long for Jeff Wilterink from Lowell Granite Company to contact Bray and begin discussing the idea of donating a headstone, free of charge.

"It's due," said Wilterink. "[Sarah] deserves it; I didn't think twice about donating a headstone for thus cause."

Bray says this was a chance to right a wrong and give back to Sarah McMillan what so many have taken from her in recent years.

"We even put on her new headstone that she died of typhoid fever," Bray said proudly. "[Jeff Wilterink] made sure it was extra in the thickness to make sure it was going to be harder to break."

Sarah McMillan's new headstone was placed on her plot in Findlay Cemetery on Tuesday, October 1st. The hope for Nicole Bray and Ada Township officials is with the new headstone in place, maybe this could finally be the end of the legend.

"I don't think it's ever going to go away," Bray added. She believes because people are continuing to witness something along Ada roads, the Ada Witch Legend will live on.

"There's just too many reported cases," said Bray. "Who knows who this apparition could be."

For Julie Wiley, who believes to have seen a ghostly apparition along Bailey Rd., she says she'll never forget that night 12-years ago.

"I'm a 100% believer of it, "Wiley said. "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."

Sarah McMillan can finally rest in peace. Her new headstone is in place signifying the end of her connection to the Ada Witch Legend. But, can the legend rest in peace now, too?

"Just as long as people keep seeing this female apparition on the side of the road, [the legend] is never going to be closed", said Bray.

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