GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Long before the city of Grand Rapids was established in 1850, there have been endless tales of ghostly encounters, vanishings and other mysterious activities that have survived the generations.
At the turn of the 18th century, Native Americans considered the land on which downtown sits as, "The Haunted Valley of the Grand."
Is the city truly haunted or is every tale just another slice of urban legend that's stood the test of time?
A local tour guide not only believes the city is haunted, she'll take you on a downtown ghost tour that she's certain may turn you into a believer, too.
"We seem to have an unusually high number of spirits that get mistaken for live people," said Candice Smith, owner and operator of Tours Around Michigan. "People will see them, maybe make eye contact, maybe have a small conversation with them, and then they'll just disappear."
Smith, who offers a two-hour ghost tour along the streets of downtown Grand Rapids, says the city was considered haunted as far back as the 1700s.
"Sometimes entire hunting parties were known to disappear in the forest," Smith said. "They'd never be seen again."
Smith's tour escorts those interested in haunted history to numerous downtown locations, of which three seem to garner the most response from both the spirit world and the tour-goers.
"I've found that St. Cecelia Music Center is the most haunted building in the city," Smith said. "One of the better known stories surrounds a Victorian woman who still occupies her favorite seat in the auditorium."
Smith says her favorite was seat #105, second row back from the stage.
"Sometimes she has been seen sitting in that seat so people will be there for an event and they'll sit down and kind of look down a couple seats and there she is," Smith said. "They'd make eye contact and then she'd disappear."
Smith says she also make sure that seat #105 is always available for her to sit in.
"Back when they printed tickets, all of the tickets for seat #105 would always be missing," added Smith. "There would be sold out events and seat #105 would be empty from the front of the house all the way to the back."
Another ghostly encounter that seems to happen regularly during the downtown tour is with a man named Amos.
"One can actually experience Amos on the whole tour," Candice said. "But there's a certain spot down along the Grand River where he makes is presence known."
It's along the river walk where Lyon St. dead-ends into the river, between the Civic Auditorium and the Amway Grand Hotel.
"Most say Amos looks like he's from the 1800s and has a bushy mustache," says Candice. "One time, a tour-goer said Amos approached her and wanted to make sure he knew his full name.
"I remember her telling me she heard him say his name was Hawthorne or Rathbone."
Candice says she started researching Amos Hawthorne and Amos Rathbone and soon discovered there was a man named Amos Rathbone who helped build Grand Rapids.
"Amos used to use teams of oxen to help drag rocks up from the Grand River which still to this day are a part of St. Mark's Episcopal Church," Candice said. "His house was where the Michigan Bell building stands today.
"People tell me they've heard Amos walking behind them on the tour. I've heard him walking behind me."
Amos Rathbone is buried at Oakhill Cemetery.
Another eerie visit on the tour is McKay Tower which is located on Monroe Center, cross from Rosa Parks Circle.
"Once the building was finished in the 1920s, a man named Frank McKay purchased it and named it after himself," Candice said. "McKay was essentially a mob boss disguised as a political leader.
"He ran the Republican Party in Kent County."
Candice adds there were many investigations into McKay for corruption and his possible connection to random, execution-style killings.
"He wasn't a guy you wanted to mess with," added Candice. "There are many stories of prominent people in the city who were under his thumb because he was so powerful and vicious."
Candice says many people have claimed to see Frank McKay roaming around inside the building.
"People will walk past him in the hallways," she said. "There was a woman on an elevator inside the building and when the elevator doors opened, a ghostly Frank McKay stepped into the elevator with her.
"The doors closed and the two traveled up a few more floors. The elevator doors opened and Frank stepped off."
While perusing the bank vault inside McKay Tower, Candice took a photo which she believes captured an orb, which many paranormal investigators say is a spherical, celestial body.
"Spending a length of time inside McKay Tower isn't for the faint of heart," Candice added. "That said, it's a staple on my tour."
Candice says she does downtown Grand Rapids ghost tours all year - not just during the Halloween season. If you're interested in joining one of the tours, click HERE and you'll be taken directly to her website.
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