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Want history, architecture and beheadings? Try Detroit's haunted bike tour

Wheelhouse Detroit, a bike shop right next to the Renaissance Center, puts on all sorts of guided bike tours through the city — tours of churches, urban agriculture, and painted murals. But for those looking for something, well, a little more creepy, the shop also offers a haunted bike tour that takes brave riders through cemeteries, ghostly spots, and long-gone homes with a murderous past.

The ride takes you to the cozy, produce-filled confines of Eastern Market down to St. Aubin Street, which, as the tour guides will tell you, was once a hot spot for the Purple Gang, a gang of bootleggers and hijackers who ran booze from Canada to Detroit. The gang, which got its start when Michigan banned alcohol in 1917, remained active up until the early 1930s.

Back on St. Aubin, the tour guides point out where one house, 3587 St. Aubin, used to stand. The house belonged to Benny Evangelist, a self-proclaimed prophet who had “disciples” all over town. One day in July 1929, police entered the home, and found Evangelist, sitting in his home office — with his severed head between his legs. And as for his wife and children? According to the guides, “They weren’t given the fortune of just your head severed off. They were completely thrashed and slashed” (For more about the murder, check out this piece from Hour Detroit).

The bikers also ride through historic Elmwood Cemetery. Former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young is here, as well as U.S. Senator Lewis Cass, radio personality Martha Jean McQueen, and members of both the Stroh and Woodbridge families. The cemetery is also the spot of a final shoot out in 1973’s cult classic “Detroit 9000” — which featured McQueen.

But for riders, it’s not just the cemeteries or the possibly haunted sites that make the tour — it’s getting to see, up close, what Detroit used to be.

“To imagine back when the city was in its heyday — that’s where the real haunting was to me on this tour,”  rider Sean Kuruvilla said. “When you’re in a car, you don’t feel that. But when you’re on a bike, that vibe just goes through you.”

“I just felt the pulse and beat of Detroit today.”

Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a substitute host and producer at KNKX.
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