It’s not every day you get to walk through a haunted mansion, but in advance of Disney’s Haunted Mansion (in theaters July 28), Raposa and I got to do just that!
The David Whitney House is a gorgeous mansion turned restaurant located in Midtown Detroit, MI. Formerly the home of lumber baron David Whitney, Jr (1830-1900) the 21,000 SF home was a gift to his wife Flora (1831-1882), though she didn’t live to see it completed.
Built at a cost of $400,000 in 1890, its Tiffany glass and mahogany accents would cost upwards of $14M in today’s money.
After the deaths of David, Flora, and her sister (his second wife, Sarah), the Whitney children bequeathed the mansion to the Wayne County Medical Society where it operated as a hospital from the 1920s through the 1960s, before changing hands to the Visiting Nurses Association, then finally ending up the property of Richard Kughn in 1980. It was renovated and in 1986, opened as The Whitney, “An American Restaurant in an American Palace,” and to this day serves fine dining in an atmosphere of gothic elegance.
On the third floor is the Ghost Bar, where patrons have heard women weeping in the Ladies Restroom, and figures standing in darkened doorways. That’s where we started our tour, with appetizers of Beef Wellington and another savory stuffed pastry, and a strolling cocktail of their signature The Witching Hour, made with Valentine White Blossom Vodka, Limoncello, Lemon Juice, Gin, and other secret ingredients guaranteed to put a spell upon your tastebuds. We also got a sneaky peek at Mrs. Whitney’s Sweet Pea Pillows (tentatively named), which was a ravioli stuffed with sweet peas and topped with a rich tomato-based sauce. I hope it’s on the menu soon!
We toured the mansion, including the Ghost Bar (formerly David Whitney’s Art Gallery), the second-story living quarters, including the bedrooms of David and Flora/Sarah, which became hospital rooms and a pharmacy after the handover to Wayne County. The lower levels are an opulent mix of stained glass and silk-painted ceilings. Dining in the former music and receiving rooms might feel like taking a dainty step back in time.
But you want to hear about the Ghost Tour.
Our guide Deb took us through the individual rooms, the art and furniture that used to decorate them, and the ghosts that currently haunt them. Entities include Flora and perhaps David, as well as former patients of the hospital. We even toured the carriage house.
Located at the rear of the property, small children Timmy and James are said to play with toys and have a tea party. The cheeky ghosts often interact with a Boo Buddy, an interactive stuffed bear with an EMP reader and with the recording of a child that is designed to coax a response from child apparitions. It is environment-activated and reacts to temperature changes, voice, and touch. While our guide couldn’t get the children to respond to us directly, while we were in the other room, we heard the bear respond to be touched.
While communing with spirits sounds exciting, in the moment it’s a little terrifying but also a lot exhilarating.
With our tour concluded, we walked the grounds and took pictures. Despite its Woodward Avenue Address with the QLine tracks just beyond the front gates, not unlike the train that used to bring the lumber and supplies directly to Elder David’s front door, the Whitney is preternaturally serene behind hedges and expertly manicured gardens.
The Ghost Tour is definitely one for the adventurous, but for those wanting a taste before diving in headfirst: I recommend the Virtual Tour (https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=et5ZyEzTqPZ), which allows you to walk the mansion without breaking a sweat.
In person, you can ease into socializing with a drink and appetizers at the Ghost Bar. Also, Summer Garden parties are a fun casual way to soak up some of Detroit’s history. You can then move into High Tea (https://www.thewhitney.com/reservations) and perhaps after that, take a paranormal Dinner Tour (https://www.accelevents.com/e/ParanormalDinnerTour). Or you can screw up your courage for a Late Night Paranormal Tour, https://www.accelevents.com/e/late-night-paranormal-tour) and let the bravest among us haunt the estate with the seasoned professionals.
I will definitely be back and better equipped to make contact. Join me if you dare.
The Whitney is located at 4421 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI. It is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday evenings! Afternoon tea service is offered Saturday & Sunday at 1:30 P.M. Reservations for all events and experiences are available at the website (https://www.thewhitney.com).
Disney’s Haunted Mansion opens nationwide July 28, 2023.