Near the posted coordinates, you will find a very interesting building circa 1890. It’s hard to find exact construction information as Detroit went through and renumbered all its buildings, making public records difficult to navigate. Currently, the official address is 901 West Lafayette, but the building is also known as 909 and 921 (and shortly you will understand why).
You can tell it is old, with its chipping paint and large factory windows. If you enter the building, you walk along creeky wooden floors and painted cinderblock walls. It smells musty, remnants of old paper and tanning supplies.
In its history, it is currently known to have housed primarily 3 businesses.
- Up to 1929 (stock market crash), it was a hat factory
- From the 1930’s through the 1970’s, it was the Advance Glove Manufacturing Co. You can still see the image of a glove painted on its Eastern side.
- And, since 1983, it’s housed one of the largest used bookstores in the country: the John K. King Bookstore. The store was described as "one of the largest and strangest collections in North America".
And that is fitting for this building and its even stranger bit of history. For you see, this building has not always been here. Up to 70 years ago, it sat about 600 feet to the East, on the corner of Lafayette and the current Lodge Service Drive. And it is an odd tale.
In 1947, while the Advance Glove factory was in full production, the building was moved to its current location to make way for the M-10 Lodge Freeway. (insert glove factory tile) Ted Oresky of Allen Park was part of a construction crew.
According to a newspaper article, “Oresky doesn’t remember how long it took to move the building about 600 feet west of where it was. But factory workers continued making gloves inside the building as the building was moved inch by inch on log-like rollers made of Alabama gum wood. Oresky says workers weren’t allowed to look out the windows.”
In fact, the owners placed tarps over the windows so the move wouldn’t distract the workers, and the factory continued to operate 3 shifts a day! Workers would start a shift in one spot and, at the end of their shift, they would exit the building further West from where they began!
By 1950, 423 residences, 109 businesses, 22 manufacturing plants and 93 vacant lots had been condemned for the first three-mile stretch of the Lodge Freeway from Jefferson to Pallister; by 1958, the Lodge Freeway from its terminus in downtown Detroit to Wyoming Avenue (about 7 miles) displaced 2,222 buildings.
Property owners fared better than renters – many of their houses and businesses were moved intact. In many instances, renters had 30 days notice to move with little or no compensation. It was a death knell for the area called “Black Bottom”, Also, the new freeway system first separated and then divided (with the advent of the Edsel Ford Freeway) Corktown from the downtown area.
901 W Lafayette (due to the move is also called 909 and 921, depending on the map you look at) was one of the structures that was spared the wrecking ball. While visiting, notice the tiny parking lot on the East side. At the time of the move, only the executives could afford cars - workers bussed in – so there was no need [at the time] to build a sizable lot.
And, of course, a building occupied this long, must have a few ghost stories!
On a recent visit to the building, the staff confirmed the visit of several Michigan-based paranormal societies including the Scientific Paranormal Investigations of Michigan, who stayed overnight in the Winter of 2013. The bookstore staff recounted several of the more memorable ghostly discoveries.
According to the staff: a psychic found a ghost named "Tom" in basement, and they had a former manager who worked in the basement called Tom. They thought it must be a recent haunting as the creepy basement was built in 70's.
Trish Lidster, founder of Scientific Paranormal Investigations in Waterford, heard stories about the bookstore from several people and took equipment into the business to check it out last month. A psychic who works with Lidster picked up on a name in the basement. “It turned out that it was the same name as a guy who worked for John, and his office was in the basement,” she said. “He had passed away a couple of years ago.” (Source: Detroit Free Press)
Also according to SPIM:
This past weekend we had the pleasure of doing the reveal for John K King Used and Rare Books in Detroit. We were able to capture 4 EVPs [Electronic Voice Phenomena) at this investigation, one of which occurred while Mr. Kings daughter was with us in the basement. Having the client hear the EVP when they did not hear it during the investigation was very rewarding experience for all of us. (Source: SPIM)
There have been several mentions of ghostly happenings on the 3rd floor.
“… lights have gone on by themselves, and workers have reported hearing doors slam and footsteps. It started a few decades ago when items belonging to a woman who committed suicide were brought into the store and kept on the third floor of the building, store owner John K. King said. “Everything was back to normal as soon as the last of her material was moved out,” he said. “Nothing happened ever again that was weird. It doesn’t mean she’s not there, but I just haven’t noticed her.” (Source: Detroit Free Press)
I told her I hadn't run into anything on the fourth floor, but on the third floor there was a gentle older male entity who had once worked at the book store. He'd been in love with a young woman who also worked there, although she only thought of him as a friend. So the next time Caroline went to John King she told one of the employees what I'd said. The employee immediately remembered two former colleagues, one now deceased, whose friendship seemed like the kind I'd described. (Source: YGS)
The staff even mentioned the story of a gentleman who haunts these aisles due to the unrequited love of a beautiful girl who worked in the hat factory.
Psychics also felt the traumatic souls in the surrounding neighborhood, attributing it to a nearby sanatorium (most likely the now-defunct Detroit Tuberculosis Sanatorium located at 206 Griswold).
The cache location will give you a good view of the building’s former location and current one. While signing the log, you can gaze up into the sad windows and who knows? Someone or something might be gazing back at you!