Story by Anna Johns, Reporter
Photos courtesy of Aquinas College Historical Commission
Every student at Aquinas College knows Holmdene Manor. Each day students pass by the manor on the way to class and for years the Holmdene Manor has been subject to many legends. Paranormal enthusiasts claim the manor is haunted by the ghost of a young boy while others say this is untrue. While students know the stories, is there any truth to these hauntings or are these just legends?
The property’s story started with the Lowe family. Edward Lowe and his wife, Susan Blodgett Lowe, were prominent figures in Grand Rapids and came from prestigious families. The Lowes were responsible for funding both the Blodgett and Butterworth hospitals in Grand Rapids. For the beginning of their marriage, they lived at a home in Heritage Hill; however, they wanted to upgrade.
In 1905, they purchased the McCoy dairy farm and began construction on what we know today as the Holmdene Manor. The construction was completed in 1908 and at the time was considered one of the finest estates in West Michigan. The estate was once a movie set in 1915 and was once even visited by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1911.
The manor was home to the Lowe family until 1939 when the estate was sold to The University of Grand Rapids and then was sold again in 1945 to the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids. In the 1950s, the estate became home to the Dominican sisters working at Aquinas College and in 1980 was given its well earned status as a Historic Landmark by the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission. Today the manor houses the college’s administrative offices and has been in the process of renovation since the 80s.
Because of its long history, many are aware of the legends surrounding Holmdene Manor. According to the legends, a boy drowned in the pond on the estate and now haunts the property. But is there any truth to this legend? The book “Ghosts of Grand Rapids” by Nicole Bray and Robert DuShane investigates supposed hauntings of the manor, and they believe this story is fake. When researching deaths in the Lowe family, it was found that none of the children actually died on the property. James Lowe, their youngest child and the center of the hauntings, actually died at age sixty-five in San Francisco. While the authors were not able to prove that any of the Lowe children died on the property, they cannot say the same about the servants’ children.
Visitors claim spirits still linger at the manor. For years guests have reported flickering lights, hearing children laughing and footsteps; some claim they have seen the face of a young boy in the attic window. In 2005, paranormal investigator John Zaffis visited the campus to investigate the supposed hauntings of the manor. He claims he felt the presence of numerous spirits including a white woman and her black servant, along with a spirit residing in the attic. Zaffis claimed there was a “nasty, negative male spirit in this house,” and additionally, that there was a murder that took place in the first floor bedroom. However, there is no proof of this actually happening.
One story by Bray & DuShane claims that in 2003 one professor refused to visit the manor alone. She claimed that when she was alone she would hear children giggling. It’s reported that is a common occurrence and it is believed to be the energy of the Lowe children. They also detail the experiences of a safety officer named Dan. One night after leaving Holmdene during his rounds, he was one hundred feet away and turned back noticing all the lights on the third floor were on.
For years security and housekeeping staff have claimed they had odd experiences in Holmdene. They have reported phantom elevator rides, flickering lights, slamming doors, and apparitions. Several current Campus Safety and Housekeeping staff said they had not had any supernatural experiences at Holmdene. “I personally have never seen any ghosts in Holmdene or on campus, but I know many others have,” said staff member Ryan Wendt.
Though the legends of Holmdene have been debunked, they still live among students. Next time you walk by Holmdene Manor be sure to take a double look, especially at night.
Photo courtesy of Aquinas College