The Henry Ford Estate/Henry Ford Museum


Dearborn, Michigan

csford - The Henry Ford Estate/Henry Ford Museum

America has, since its beginning, had its own unique brand of royalty. Great minds whose visions shaped the modern world hold their place in the historical pantheon, revered by those who follow and expand on the inventions that most people take for granted. As royalty, such luminaries leave behind not only their castles after death but often a small piece of themselves. The legacy left behind often includes recordings, memoirs, or buildings named for their generous donations. But sometimes there is something more left behind, a lingering presence that reminds everyone just who the king of the castle was or even who served him.

There are places in America where history is celebrated, taking visitors back in time to show how far we as a nation have come. While these places pride themselves on authentic decor and exhibits, some pieces are more than interesting. Some are enough to give visitors pause at their macabre pasts or are memorable for just how bizarre they are. In the town of Dearborn, Michigan, royalty and strange are mixed every day.

Henry Ford was a man with vision enough to form an industry and shape the economic growth of the nation. From the construction of his first “quadricycle” to modern automobiles, Ford’s impact cannot be denied. In 1914 Ford made two momentous decisions that affected not only the nation but his life as well. First, he began producing his automobiles in an assembly-line fashion, allowing the prices to remain low enough for the common man to afford one. Second, he decided that his own workers deserved the ability to buy cars themselves, so he doubled their wages to an unheard of five dollars an hour. The impact was immediate in the form of a constant stream of reporters, salesmen, and job-hunters that arrived at Ford’s doorstep. Their privacy decimated, the Fords decided that it was time to relocate.

Going against the trend of moving closer into Detroit, Ford purchased 1,300 acres as the site of his new residence. Nearly 800 workers labored year-round, completing the mansion in what was then considered record time. By 1916 the Fords were completely settled in their new home.

According to Ford’s wishes, the home was not to cost more than $250,000, but by the end of construction costs soared up to over $1,875,000. For the extra costs Ford’s new 31,000 square foot home featured seven bedrooms, fifteen bathrooms, a hunting lodge, indoor pool, billiards room, and a bowling alley among other amenities. Also included on the grounds were five hundred birdhouses, a skating house, and even Ford’s own version of “Santa’s Workshop” for entertaining his many grandchildren during the Christmas season.

Henry Ford died in his home in 1947 after thirty years of happiness within its walls. His wife died only three years later, leaving the estate to their children. It was bought two years later by the Ford Motor Company, which, in turn, donated the house, 210 acres of land, and 6.5 million dollars to the University of Michigan for the creation of Dearborn Campus.

Several years later a sort of theme park named Greenfield Village was founded just a stone’s throw away from the mansion. Contained within was a museum dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of not only Ford but also many of his contemporaries. A true storehouse for American ingenuity, the museum also houses a few rather macabre exhibits.

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While there have been several paranormal investigations of the building, revealing cold spots and anomalous readings, there has been only one specter positively identified, and it’s not who most people think it would be. He is seen hurrying through the hallways, often following visitors before disappearing before their bewildered eyes. On several occasions visitors have pointed to an old photograph of the building and exclaimed, “That’s him” But the image to which they point is not Henry Ford, or even his wife, but his butler. Still dedicated many years after his death, the manservant continues to walk the hallways, checking to make certain that everything in his employer’s home is just right.

In addition, there have been reports of cold spots and feelings of being watched in several of the private rooms. The master bedroom, for example, has caused many shivers in its time as have the guest rooms. Still, while the general feeling is that the presences in the room are Ford and his wife, there has been no confirmation.

Down the hill in Greenfield Village the museum hosts a few ghastly exhibits that are, no doubt, the cause of ghost stories as well. One such item of curiosity is the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was shot. While it is most often written off as imagination, some claim to see the dead president rocking quietly as if he were enjoying a performance.

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Also present is the car, a Ford by the way, in which President Kennedy was assassinated. Now displayed with the top up, the convertible sits in a place of honor in the hall surrounded by other cars that were in use during other presidencies. There has been at least one report in which a man claimed to see JFK himself standing beside the car. The apparition, he said, told him that there was not just one gunman.

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Perhaps the most curious item on display is also the smallest. A simple glass test tube sits in a Plexiglass case with a sign that reads, “Thomas Edison’s Last Breath?” Verified in a letter written by Charles Edison, the inventor’s son, the test tube is one of several in which he collected the last breaths of his dying father. He presented the test tube to Ford because Ford was his father’s dearest friend.

Present Day:
Tours are offered daily at the house called "Fair Lane" and have been since the 1970’s. It requires some 250 volunteers to run the place, and the tours are well worth seeing. While most of the house has been preserved in its original splendor, the porch has since become a gift shop, and the indoor pool room has been changed into the Henry Ford Estate Restaurant.

Greenfield Village is a thriving business where visitors can see artisans practicing their trades and historic sites that boggle the mind. Available for viewing is the workshop in which Edison invented his electric light as well as glass blowers who still do things the old fashioned way.

As for ghosts, the gift shop sells a videotape of one of the investigations, in which orbs and other anomalies are seen. And the hauntings still continue.

Best Times:
The butler, it seems, behaves like a good butler should. He is always present, doing his job tirelessly. Other phenomena occur most often on the anniversary of Ford’s death. The supposed sighting of Kennedy occurred on the anniversary of his death as well, though one wonders what the late president would be doing in Michigan, and there has been no evidence to support the claim.

See you in two weeks!

Scott A. Johnson

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