Detroit, MI

The history and haunting of The Whitney

Author Ed Anderson
Some experts believe that the iconic restaurant is hauntedPhoto byAnnie Scaramuzzino via Wikimedia

The Whitney is one of Detroit's most iconic institutions. Today, it is a high-end restaurant that draws in tourists, business leaders, and paranormal investigators alike. The draw of the building is as strong now as it ever was, and the lines of people wanting to get in prove it.

Employees explain to guests who are touring the grounds that the house is symmetrical to within a thousandth of an inch. The electric system was installed by Thomas Edison, who happened to be a dear friend to David Whitney Jr.

It was and remains a marvel for the Motor City.

Historic Detroit used a 1894 quote from The Detroit Free Press in an article about the mansion: "All the splendid houses which have been erected before and which adorn the broad avenue of town (Woodward) are fairly eclipsed, and the new home enjoys the distinction of being the most pretentious modern home in the state and one of the most elaborate houses in the West.”

Whitney began construction on what was to be one of the first mega mansions in Detroit in 1890. It lasted four years and the finished product was unveiled to the public in 1894.

Vice reports that there are 52 rooms, 10 bathrooms, an elevator, and more Tiffany windows than what one could comprehend. Some reports suggest that the glass is worth more than the value of the house itself.

It had all the hallmarks of being an opulent home. And later it would be named one of the most haunted places in Michigan.
Some diners say they have seen apparitions while they ate at The WhitneyPhoto byStefano PollioonUnsplash

Haunted History

During the construction of the mansion, Whitney's first wife, Flora, died. Shortly after he became a widower, the lumber baron married his deceased wife's sister, Sara. The marriage is said to have been strained from the beginning.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Flora had wanted to live in the mansion and be the woman of the house. However, Sara wanted something a bit quieter and more homey. She objected to having an elevator in the house, but Whitney insisted that it would be a wonderful addition to the house.

In 1900, Whitney himself died in the house. Sara passed away in the mansion, having lived in it for 17 years after her husband died, Vice reports.

Grace, Whitney's daughter with his first wife, was in Europe at the time and unable to make it home to say goodbye to her father. It drove her mad. It wasn't long after she returned home that she passed too, Audacy reports.

By 1932, the Wayne County Medical Society had taken possession of the home. Med students and doctors took up residence in there. Eventually, the Great Depression ended, and the house once again went through a change.

It became a hospice for tuberculosis patients. Once again, death visited the mansion more than a typical residence.

Curbed Detroit says ownership changed hands again, in 1979. Richard Kughn, an entrepreneur, bought it. He feared that it would be torn down, and he wanted to ensure that Detroiters would be able to continue to come by and see the mega mansion.

Eventually, he turned it into The Whitney restaurant.
The Whitney is the most haunted site in the city, according to some people.Photo byWilliam DugganonUnsplash

Haunted House?

Some employees have claimed that they have seen the ghost of Whitney on the second floor. When asked to leave, the ghost disappears without a word. There are also claims that silverware can be heard clanging together, even when no one is in the kitchen.

Some ladies who have gone to the third floor powder room have claimed to have seen Flora's spirit there. She is said to be weeping because she never got to live in her dream home, while her sister did, MLive says.

Some patrons who have made their way out to the outhouse claim it is the most haunted part of the property. That is where Whitney's slaves lived. Reports in recent years have indicated that he was not kind to them.

The rumor that the table was set for tea in the outhouse appears to be true. Walking in, the table is set. Though it is covered in dust, Vice reports.

Are the stories of haunting true?

While some people believe and the SyFy show, Ghost Hunters, appears to prove that there are spirits living in the restaurant. Not everyone is convinced that the stories are accurate.

Many of them come from the staff. Their accounts could be true, but there's also a chance that the stories are adding to the ambiance. After the economic recession of 2008, many businesses suffered and had a hard time staying afloat.

Leaning into a paranormal backstory could have been a clever way for the restaurant to make headlines and gain publicity without causing a controversy. It also helps keep part of Detroit's history alive and well.

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Financing Doubt.

Rochester, MI

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