Ghost stories are fun. It says something about our humanity that, even as kids, we had the uncanny ability to give ourselves goosebumps with stories even as we concocted them from thin air.
A story on spooky Saline legends and seemed timely with Halloween fast approaching. Every town has “haunted” houses and terrifying tales. Some are rooted in real tragedy, the kind that shakes a community. Others are nothing more than fictional ghost stories passed on from friend to friend and then, perhaps, from generation to generation.
I put out the call to Saline natives on Facebook, asking to hear about the haunted houses and creepy folk tales.
The two that came back, over and over, were the Troll Bridge and Satan Houses. Salinians didn't provide many details about these spooky sounding locales. If they're anything like the legends I grew up with, there weren't any details to share. We just tried to think of the most terrifying story, and then we stuck it on the house of some old man who wondered why everyone averted their eyes and crossed the street as they walked by the house.
The Satan Houses
The Satan Houses, according to Jim Ohren-Hoeft, were the old Teamster houses that were allegedly haunted. Pinning down an exact location proved to be difficult. The Teamsters bought Saline Valley Farms, the somewhat famous farming cooperative, and turned it into the Teamsters Local 299 Recreational Center. The property is located between Maple and Saline-Milan roads, at Milkey Road.
“I don't remember the story behind it, I just know that bad things happened there. A lot of evil,” said Aimee Bingham.
Many of the old farm houses on the property were vacant for years, which made for good teenage story telling.
Today, there's no evidence of evil lurking in the shadows. Homes are once again under construction in the long-awaited Saline Valley Farms subdivision. South of Milkey Road and south of Ella Lee Lake, people live in restored small houses in a tiny circle at the end of Ella Lee Drive – in what might be one of the prettiest locations in the Saline area.
Books have been written about the Saline Valley Farms cooperative farm, created by the rich son of an automotive titan. When World War II ended and wages rose with the manufacturing boom, Saline Valley Farms couldn't compete for workers. The property was sold to Teamsters Local 299 in 1969. The rec center including the construction of a children's train which traversed the property and the Jimmy Hoffa Swimming Pool, which was dedicated while the late union leader was in prison. Mardi Gras and Labor Day parties at the park drew up to 500 guests.
The union bought the property for $800,000 and then sunk $1.5 million into developing the property according to an old edition of the Saline Reporter. Still, the property was plagued by sewer and drainage issues. The union membership turned down a monthly $2 dues increase to fund improvements for the rec center. With the Teamsters mired in controversy, enthusiasm for the park vanished. The pool was fenced off with barbed wire and weeds grew over the children's train before the Teamsters completely abandoned their rec center.
Saline resident Mary Hess said that some residents suspected Hoffa was buried at Saline Valley Farms. Nick Gieske said that the day Hoffa disappeared, the old Jimmy Hoffa Swimming Pool was filled.
The Troll Bridge
The original Troll Bridge is gone. It crossed the Saline River on Maple Road, south of Milkey Road. A new bridge has taken its place.
So why was it called the Troll Bridge? Details are sketchy, of course.
According to writer Elizabeth Downie, legend has it that a couple was driving at night when the car broke down on the bridge. The husband got out and never came back. The wife eventually left the car and found her husband's body behind the car. She, too, was found dead. All the bones in their bodies were broken. It was the work of trolls, according to legend.
Saline resident and historian Bob Lane, who believes in the spirit world, said he's felt something sinister at the Troll Bridge.
“Before I'd ever heard about the 'Troll Bridge' I was at the bridge and I could sense something wrong – that something bad had happened here,” Lane said.
For years, it was a place where teens drank and challenged each other to fights, people say.
The Bridge has been known as the Troll Bridge for quite some time. In 1973, a group of teenagers built a pipe bomb and planned to blow up the Troll Bridge. Instead, they tried to detonate the bomb at a Judd Road bridge. The bomb didn't go off. Joe Nelson took the bomb to his Tower Drive home and was killed while working on the bomb in his garage.
The bridge was also in the news last week when Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office detectives announced they were seeking clues about the 1981 murder of Adrian resident Theral “Skip” Heidt, who was found dead underneath the Troll Bridge.
On Halloween, just before sundown, I drove through Saline Valley Farms and then visited the Troll Bridge. There was nothing spooky about Saline Valley Farms. In fact, I'm thinking about inquiring about one of the old farm houses in on the Ella Lee Drive circle. There's something incredibly serene about the area.
I must admit, though, that just for a second, I felt a little bit of electricity that made the hair stand on the back of my neck as I stood on the Troll Bridge snapping pictures.
No, I don't believe in ghosts or trolls. But that brief tingle of electricity was just enough to convince me to get back in my car and off the bridge and back to town.
And with that, here's haunted memory from Angelique Lash.
The Ouija Board and Oakwood Cemetery
When I was in high school myself and two friends decided to mess around with a Ouija board. We thought it was silly, nothing serious, just a game by Milton Bradley.
We made up questions for a while and about a half hour into it the mood changed and ultimately ten board spelled out murder. We're still not believing this. We were all barely touching it, we all questioned each other and sometimes none of us would touch it at all. After our initial confusion, we asked some questions about the word murder:
Are we in danger?
Is someone we know in danger?
Is there going to be a murder?
Was there a murder?
We couldn't get an exact year but narrowed it down to the late 1800's. I'm still not really believing any of this. After questioning it for a while we were ultimately given the name Wampler. Not Wampler's Lake, that was one of our questions :). We then asked if it was a murder that was still unsolved.Yes! After more questions we were informed that the person was buried in Oakwood Cemetery and given some directions as to where in Oakwood we could find the grave. Still not really believing any of it.
It was already dark so we decided to go to Oakwood the next day after homework and dinner. The day after we met up and drove to Oakwood before it got dark. We knew generally where the grave was supposed to be but got turned around a few times. We ended up finding this grave and it said "Wampler" and died in 18-something.......we almost fell over! We decided we had to get out of there because by now, we were scared. It was evening and just beginning to get dark and we were spooked. We made note of the names on the gravestones on either side and made a little mark in the bark of the tree that was next to it. It was to the east of the mausoleum, not far from Monroe Street. Still not believing, but scared as heck now :). We threw the board in the trunk of my friends car because we were afraid to be near it. Teenage logic.
I believe the next day was a Saturday because we went back in the middle of the day. Sure enough, we found the familiar names on stones and the mark on the bark of the tree, but NO WAMPLER!!! We looked forever. Nothing. We knew we were in the right place but kept looking for a long time. We never found it. We got ourselves so scared that we took off in the car and found a place to dump the board.
We talked about it for a while and went back one more time but still never found it. We never talked about it again, we were all so scared.
One of those friends I have always stayed in touch with. The other moved out of state while we were still in high school and later got married and moved again. We lost touch. I reconnected with her on Facebook recently. I sent a message to both of them and asked if my imagination created that story or if it really happened. They agreed that it happened. Not long after, the friend I had reconnected with emailed me with a picture attached and said "do you remember throwing the ouija board away?" I said yes, none of us wanted it in our house. She said, "I just found it in my closet!"
I am pragmatic. I'm logical. I don't really believe in psychics or ghosts or the like. I usually think there is a rational explanation for everything and I still believe that the ouija board is just a game by Milton Bradley. But I know this really happened and I know it scared us enough to not speak of it for 25 years.