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The Grosvenor House hosted an evening called “Haunting Hal­loween readings and Local Lore.” Col­legian| Isabella Redjai

On the corner of Maumee Street in Jonesville sits the dimly-lit and doily-dressed Grosvenor House, where members of the com­munity gathered this past Sat­urday evening, on Oct. 27 to hear local history and spooky tales from the Civil War era.  

Paul Hosmer, pro­fessor of physics at Hillsdale College and board member of the Grosvenor House Museum, hosted the “Haunting Hal­loween Readings and Local Lore” event by intro­ducing and inviting guest speakers, who shared either a story, poem, or his­torical fact related to the local history of Jonesville or the Civil War. The sig­nif­i­cance of the event’s theme finds itself in the very history of the Grosvenor House.

“The house was orig­i­nally built by E.O. Grosvenor, and the reason he is important locally, in pol­itics and business, is that he owned the bank, Grosvenor Savings Bank, and in terms of state gov­ernment, he achieved the rank of lieu­tenant gov­ernor,” Hosmer said. “During the Civil War, he had a com­mission to work for Austin Blair, the wartime gov­ernor, and at that time, Grosvenor was in the state leg­is­lature, and was given the assignment of over­seeing the sup­plying of all the Michigan reg­i­ments that fought in the Civil War. He came back after the Civil War and built that house.”

As vis­itors and guests entered the door, dona­tions were requested and admission charged to help fund the house’s museum, closely asso­ciated with an orga­ni­zation that used to be known as the Jonesville His­torical Society, but now is simply rec­og­nized as the inde­pendent Grosvenor House Museum.  

“We’re not just a house museum,” Hosmer said, “but, we are trying to pre­serve and present the history of Jonesville. I per­sonally think local history is really important.”

In the eerie spirit of the fes­tiv­ities, the evening began with the sug­gestion that there stood a coffin and corpse of a Civil War soldier in the neigh­boring room, fol­lowed by an expla­nation of Vic­torian mourning prac­tices, which were dis­played throughout the venue. For example, glasses and mirrors were to be covered after the death of an indi­vidual, so the deceased image would not remain within the mirror or glass. At the Grosvenor House, every mirror was covered by a black tarp to illus­trate this super­stition.

Fol­lowing the his­torical anec­dotes, the first guest to present a story during the evening was Pro­fessor of History Tom Conner, who read Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occur­rence at Owl Creek Bridge,” orig­i­nally pub­lished in the San Fran­cisco Examiner in 1890.

“Dr. Hosmer picked the story,” Conner said. “When I told him that I would be willing to do the reading, I frankly asked him to choose what he wanted me to read, because he designed the program, so he knew how all the pieces would fit together.”

Serving to fulfill the Civil War era history the event focused on, Conner’s reading was fol­lowed by a brief history of Hillsdale County Fair from local Hillsdale his­torian Cinda Walton.

Serving an overview of the early years of the Hillsdale County Fair and its shifting location from Hillsdale to Jonesville and back, as well as dis­pelling local his­torical myths, Walton con­firmed the fair was not the first fair in the state but that it was actually the four­teenth, and that the first Hillsdale County Fair lasted only two days long from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16, 1851.

The evening con­cluded with Hosmer’s reading of a Civil War era story set at the Hillsdale County Fair. He said during his intro­duction that he had “found the story in the dusty Jonesville archives.” The story detailed a “warm autumn day” at the 1858 Hillsdale County Fair, where a gypsy and local men of Hillsdale witness a strange turn of events.

“I was lis­tening in awe,” Conner said. “This story he wrote was a piece of art. When he intro­duced the piece, he pre­tended he had found it in the dusty old archives, but the more he read, it dawned on me, ‘Gosh, he wrote this!’ It could not have fit so well into the program, if he had not written it.”

Although not ini­tially stated, Hosmer did admit to writing the piece, along with other stories in recent years at the Grosvenor House events.

“That was a story I wrote,” Hosmer said. “Every year I’ve written a ghost story, and so the idea there is what we call it, which is ‘Haunted Hal­loween Readings and Local Lore,’ and because we’re a his­torical museum, we’re looking at Jonesville history. I thought it would be fun to bring in some made-up local ghost stories, and every year I’ve tried to write it to a spe­cific theme.”

Hosmer said after looking at the history of Grosvenor House it felt most appro­priate to make a con­nection with the Civil War, and found that during the Civil War era, it was par­tic­u­larly inter­esting that Jonesville actually hosted Hillsdale County Fair. Tying these ele­ments together, he created his own story, com­ple­mented by dra­matic expres­sions and sudden screams during his reading.

Hosmer felt that ghost stories still serve a sig­nif­icant audience, begging the question of why ghost stories con­tinue to interest lis­teners.

“I think there’s some­thing about the mystery and unknown; everyone has that curiosity,” Hosmer said. “As for me, that curiosity comes out in terms of science and the natural world, but overall there’s a deeper human curiosity for the unex­plainable, and I think that really attracts people.”

Stu­dents who attended the event did expe­rience curiosity, but not nec­es­sarily in the ghost stories them­selves. Many found the event to be an intro­duction to local history, and encour­agement for future support of the local museum.

“I have driven past this house mul­tiple times and never knew what it was,” sophomore Samantha Roon said. “Unfor­tu­nately, the stories weren’t as spooky as I was expecting, but I did learn more about the history of Hillsdale which I find inter­esting. I def­i­nitely want to go back and see the house dec­o­rated for Christmas.”

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    you want to know spooky — should stell the story of the ARB and the killing that took place there in 2001