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.”