Bay City’s ghosts originate from home and afar

If spirits stick around after death, it’s usually due to unfinished business or items of attachment. Bay City has multiple cases of both — and some hauntings aren’t by local ghosts.  

Haunted naval museum

Before setting foot on board the USS Edson museum in the Saginaw River, Bill Randall didn’t believe in ghosts. “I thought that was kind of hokey,” said Randall, volunteer and tour guide for the USS Edson at the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum, located in the river near the corner of Marquette Avenue and the Truman Parkway. Randall is a 6-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and is proud to volunteer on the ship.  

Onboard, Randall described himself and his work as being “a jack of all trades — if I’m not repairing something, I’m doing tours.”

His ghost story began one night when Randall was alone closing the ship after tourists had left. The room he was in had two doors, one on each side of the room. He left for a moment and shortly returned to shut off lights. “I went in one side, one door on the left, and I went toward the bow and turned the lights off,” he said. “I come back out on the other side of the room on the right side, and I look and the left side door is closed and sealed. I didn’t close and seal it.”

“I called the office from the ship and I said, ‘Who’s on the ship?’ They said ‘Nobody, it’s just you.’ So that was the first instance,” Randall explained. “And that was just the beginning.”

The USS Edson has gained fame in recent years among paranormal investigators — such as Metro Paranormal Investigations from Macomb and Destination America’s Ghost Asylum.

During an investigation, a spirit named Paul was contacted — and he soon proved to be outgoing. An investigator came with a spirit box, or a high-frequency radio scanner and placed it on a podium. “I look at this woman and I see she had goosebumps from all over her arms.” Randall said. “She says, ‘Is there somebody in this room with us?’ We hear ‘Yes’ and it’s very faint, it’s through static. And we kind of look at each other like, ‘Did you actually hear that?’ We all heard it, and the next thing this woman says is ‘Can you tell us what your name is?’ And through this box we hear ‘Paul.’ And she says ‘Paul, can you tell us what year you passed away?’ And we hear the number 9.” Randall explained that the rest of the message was garbled.  

After researching, the staff found there was a Paul Spampanato on the ship at one time. Prior to coming to Bay City, the Edson was part of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City where Spampanato served as general caretaker and tour guide. He died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day 1999 while onboard — that may be where the “9” came from. “He loved the ship so much that he actually lived onboard in one of the staterooms back here. And he was noted as saying that he loved the ship so much that if he ever died, he wanted to die on the ship … he got his wish,” Randall said.

Another time, two employees in the office spotted Spampanato on camera before the ship was open one day. “One guy’s facing the monitor and the other guy has his back to it,” Randall explained. “The gate wasn’t even open. There was a man on the port side of the ship on the main deck walking from the back to the forward and he said ‘There’s a guy on the ship! Who’d you put on the ship?’ And the boss says ‘Nobody.’ ‘There’s a guy on the ship walking!’ And he turned around and there’s a guy walking away from the camera in khaki colored clothes clear as day. Then he just disappeared.”

Randall to this day has wondered if Spampanato closed the door on him, “I still wonder about it. Every now and then he’ll show up.”

Haunted jeweler

Shifting to downtown, Bay City’s old buildings have many stories to tell. The old Simmons Jewelers location by the Bijou on Center Avenue is one of them.

“I’ve never been one to sense something, but I have seen things, I’ve heard things, I’ve had things happen to me and I know what I’ve recorded and filmed,” said John Tolles, goldsmith for Nelsen and Co. and formerly Simmons Jewelers. Tolles has also done some paranormal investigating himself. He has a collection of photographs and digital voice recordings from his investigations, “Different voices and footsteps, this and that.”

Orville Ramseyer, a former employee, is rumored to haunt the old Simmons Jewelers location. “Orville was our maintenance man,” Tolles said. “If we needed something brought down from upstairs, he would bring it down.” Orville was the go-to-guy if something couldn’t be found. Being retired, Orville worked to keep himself occupied. Due to budget cuts, he was let go, but then he volunteered to work for free due to his love of helping. “He spent a lot of time volunteering for the Red Cross, Salvation Army … he loved being active in the community,” Tolles added.

After he passed away, the staff concluded Orville’s spirit haunted the building. “So he wouldn’t leave,” Tolles said. “That’s one of the reasons at first we thought it was Orville.”

A common oddity is when watch or jewelry parts would go missing. “We’d say ‘All right, Orville. What’d you do with it?’” Tolles explained. “(I’d) go right back in there 5 to 10 minutes later and there it was sitting right in the middle of the floor — when you know you looked for it.”

Orville was never feared, but during Simmons Jeweler’s going-out-of-business sale the staff and customers experienced his presence. “There were four of us standing where the cash counter was and there was a champagne glass that flew off the shelf, landed in the center of the store, picked itself back up and flew over onto the bottom shelf,” Tolles said. “Never shattered, and it’s a champagne flute … you look at those things wrong and the stems snap. And every time it landed it was straight up. It literally flew over and then back up on the shelf.”

Tolles continued, “The very next day, the man that was running the going-out-of-business sale was showing a customer some of our fashion jewelry.” While explaining this piece of jewelry to him, another piece from across the room detached itself from its display neck, “The piece came off from that, landed on his shoulder, and this is 10-12 feet away, and fell to the ground.” To this day, there has been no explanation of occurrences like these.

Haunted tours

For more ghost stories, Bay City is offering a variety of haunted events.

  • WNEM TV-5 veteran and historian Eric Jylha will be sharing ghost stories around Bay City Oct. 29, 30, and 31 through Sunrise Pedal Trolley and City Grind Coffee. The tours will last for 2 hours and will come with a coffee or other beverage of your choice. Jylha has an extensive knowledge of Bay City’s past and no shortage of ghost stories. Information and tickets can be found here.
  • The USS Edson is hosting “The Edson Incident” every weekend through Nov. 2. The event will take those brave enough through all five levels of the ship through dark rooms, fog machines, scary props and actors. Bill Randall added the event will “scare the ship” out of you. Tickets and more information can be found at www.edsonincident.com
  • The Alice & Jack Wirt Public Library on Oct. 30 will host the Tri-City Ghost Hunters Society (TCGHS) with Nichole Beauchamp at 6 pm in the Kantzler Community Room. This year marks the 10-year anniversary for TCGHS and the team will be sharing their best paranormal finds—some of which is never-before-seen. Prizes will also be given away to a few lucky audience members. Featured on the cover of "Paranormal Underground" magazine in February of 2019, Beauchamp will make an appearance as guest speaker. Recognized by Jason Hawes of Syfy's "Ghost Hunters" for her dedication to investigating the paranormal, Beauchamp hopes to enlighten the public on the spirit realm and the importance of historical preservation through her work. The event is free and will seat 76 people on a first come, first serve basis. Although family friendly, it is recommended that children be at least 10 years old due to some content and evidence containing scary situations. More information can be found here
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