“Man Beats Wife to Death with Wooden Leg” – the Haunting of Michigan Bell: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Man takes off wooden leg and beats wife to death. Film at eleven.
That was part of the story as to why the old Michigan Bell Telephone Company building in downtown Grand Rapids is haunted…but what’s the truth? What’s the fiction?
The most circulated version says the couple in question was Wallace C. Rowland and his wife, Vishti (other sites say the couple was named ‘Randall’…but the gravestone indeed says ‘Rowland’). Taking place in the second half of the 1800s, Wallace and Vishti just couldn’t seem to work out their marriage…Wallace thought Vishti was having an affair, due to Wallace’s wooden leg. He thought she wanted a man who was more “complete.” So they filed for divorce. However, once they calmed down, they reconciled and decided to celebrate.
The celebration consisted of going back home and having some drinks. Okay, a lot of drinks. Vishti got so smashed, she passed out. Seeing Vishti sprawled out and lifeless, he freaked out, believing she must have drank herself to death. Drunk and despondent over the thought of losing his wife, he decided to end it all,,,you know, like in “Romeo & Juliet”. So he turned on the gas to asphyxiate himself and as extra death insurance, he slit his throat.
But Vishti was not dead…yet. Still passed out, Vishti was soon overtaken by the escaping gas that filled the house and she died. Weeks went by and the smell coming from the house brought police, who could only identify the rotting corpses by Warren's wooden leg.
The press had a field day with this one. Headlines screamed “Used Wooden Leg to Stun His Wife” and stories related how he ripped off his leg and beat her to death with it. But what the actual circumstance was mostly due to drinking too much and not thinking clearly. Vishti’s body was found covered in blood which was thought to have been caused by the wooden leg beating, but ended up being Wallace’s blood, spilled on her thanks to the slitting of his own throat.
But is all that fact or fiction? Maybe on both counts…but how is that possible?
According to grhistory.org, "this popular urban legend stems from a real event that took place in the home of city pioneers, George and Sarah White." In 1853, their house was built on the northeast downtown corner of Division Avenue and Fountain Street, where the old Michigan Bell Telephone Company building currently sits. A well-to-do couple, George made his living with dry goods, lumber, plaster, and was mayor of Grand Rapids from 1861-1862. So I guess we’re supposed to substitute the White couple for the Rowland couple in the above story. Yes? No? Maybe?
Since then, the strange occurrences began in the old house:
1) Female screams were heard, said to be begging for her life
2) Strange lights
3) Thumping of a wooden leg
4) Miscellaneous sounds and noises
The house was purchased by the Michigan Bell Telephone Company in 1920. The house was torn down and the new Bell building was erected in 1924. Since then, residents have been the recipients of prank phone calls in the middle of the night; upon investigation, these calls were traced back to the telephone company.
EPILOG: Warren C. Rowland is buried in Garfield Park Cemetery in Grand Rapids, Vashti was buried in Pontiac. The dates match – both died in 1909, so the name "Randall" is a moot point. But what about George & Sarah White? Where do they fit in? Or is their involvement just BS? Either way - whoever the real culprits are - the haunting persists.
Haunted Michigan Bell, Grand Rapids
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