FAMOUS DIXBORO GHOST
legend goes...In the summer of 1835, a young widow, Martha
Crawford, and her small son, Joseph, came from Canada to visit
Martha's sister Ann. Martha was immediately attracted to Ann's
brother-in-law, John and quickly made wedding plans. But when
Ann told Martha a secret about her future husband, Martha
quickly broke the engagement and tried to flee back to Canada.
Ann's husband James told Martha that if she refused to marry
John, she would never reach Canada alive. (The
"secret" to this day has never been learned.)
shortly after Martha's wedding. Martha's husband John died in
1840 and within a year of his death Martha developed the same
symptoms that had caused her sisters death. There was an obvious
feud between Martha and her brother-in-law James over property
that belonged to the deceased John, and Martha's illness
prompted James to take advantage and declare her incompetent to
the court so he could be appointed administrator of John's will.
A quick decline in Martha's health was blamed on the greedy
James and she bordered on insanity. Finally Martha sought help
in 1845 from Dr. Sam Denton at the University of Michigan. She
told the doctor she will tell him her "secret" if he
would in turn bleed her to death. He agreed to listen to the
story and tricked her by saying his lancet had broke and was
unable to bleed her to death but would keep her secret (and
doctors never tell!) Martha became hysterical, crying out that
"they" would kill her. She died soon after and the
community accepted her death as a result of ill-health, but
never forgave James for his cruel harassment.
fall of 1845, Issac Van Woert, his wife, and two small sons
arrived in Dixboro in hopes of finding work and a place to live.
The Van Woerts rented the house that Martha had died in from her
now 15 year old son Joseph, and within a few nights he witnessed
something very frightening. Issac reported, in a sworn statement
in Ann Arbor a few weeks later, that as he was walking through
his yard one night he saw a light through the window. "I
put my hand on the window sill and looked in. I saw a woman with
a candlestick in her hand in which was a candle burning. She
held it in her left hand.....she wore a loose gown, had a white
cloth around her head, her right hand clasped in her clothes
near the waist. She was bent forward, her eyes large and much
sunken, very pale indeed....she moved slowly across the floor
until she entered the bedroom and the door closed. I then went
up and opened the bedroom door and all was dark. I stepped
forward and lighted a candle but saw no one, nor heard any
noise, except just before I opened the bedroom door I thought I
heard one of the bureau drawers open and shut.
spoke of what I had seen several days after, and then learned
for the first time that the house in which I lived had been
previously occupied by a Widow Mulholland, and that she died
second time I saw her was in October about one o'clock in the
morning....as I opened the bedroom door it was light in the
outer room. I saw no candle, but I saw the same woman that I had
seen before. I was about five feet from her. She said 'Don't
touch me-touch me not.'
"I stepped back a little and asked her what she wanted. She
said 'He has got it. He robbed me little by little, until they
kilt me! They kilt me! Now he has got it all!' I then asked her
who had it all and she said, 'James, yes, James has got it at
last, but it won't do him long. Joseph! Oh, Joseph! I wish
Joseph would come away.' Then all was dark and still.
third time I saw her I awoke in the night, know not what hour,
the bedroom was entirely light. I saw no candle, but saw the
same woman. She said "James can't hurt me any more. No! He
can't! I am out of his reach. Why don't they get Joseph away?
Oh, my boy! Why not come away?" And all was dark and still.
fourth time I saw her was a few days later, about eleven o'clock
p.m. I was sitting with my feet on the stove hearth. My family
had retired and I was eating a lunch, when all at once the front
door stood open, and I saw the same woman in the door supported
in the arms of a man whom I knew. She was stretched back and
looked as if she was in the agonies of death. She said nothing,
but the man said, 'She is dying. She will die.' And all
disappeared and the door closed without noise.
fifth time I saw her was a little after sunrise. I came out of
the house to go to my work, and I saw the same woman in the
front yard. She said 'I wanted Joseph to keep my papers, but
they are..........' Here something seemed to stop her utterance.
Then she said, 'Joseph! Joseph! I fear something will befall my
boy.' And all was gone.
sixth time I saw her was near midnight. It was the same woman
standing in the bedroom. The room was again light as before, no
candle was visible. I looked at my wife, fearing she might
awake. The woman then raised her hand and said 'She will not
awake.' She seemed to be in great pain; she leaned over and
grasped her bowels in one hand and in the other held a phial
containing a liquid. I asked her what it was. 'The Doctor said
it was Balm of Gilead.' And all disappeared.
seventh time I saw her I was working at a little bench...I saw
the same woman. 'I wanted to tell James something, but I could
not, I could not.' I asked her what she wanted to tell. 'Oh, he
did a awful thing to me.' I asked her who did. 'Oh! He gave me a
great deal of trouble in my mind. Oh they kilt me! They kilt
me!' I walked forward and tried to reach her but she kept the
same distance from me. I asked her if she had taken anything
that had killed her. Sh answered 'Oh, I don't...Oh, I
don't.....' The froth in her mouth seemed to stop her utterance.
Then she said 'Oh, they kilt me' I asked her 'Who killed you?'
'I will show you' she said. Then she went out the back door near
the fence, and I followed her. There I saw two men whom I knew,
standing.....I saw them begin at their feet and melt down like
lead melting, until they were entirely melted; then a blue blaze
two inches thick burned over the surface of the melted mass.
Then all began bubbling up like lime slacking. I turned to see
where the woman was, but she was gone.
"The next time I saw the woman was in the back yard about
five o'clock p.m. 'I want you to tell James to repent. Oh! If he
would repent! But he won't, he can't. John was a bad man. Do you
know where Frain's Lake is?' She then asked another question of
much importance, and said 'Don't tell of that.'" (Van Woert
later revealed that this latter question pertained to a well at
the corner of Main and Mill Streets, directly across the street
from the Dixboro General Store, and near Martha's house.)
asked her if I should inform the public on the two that she said
had killed her, and she replied 'There will be a time. The time
is coming. But, oh, their end! Their end! Their wicked end!'
last time I saw her was on the sixth of November, about
midnight, in the bedroom. She was dressed in white....she looked
very pale. She said 'I don't want anybody here.' And then
muttered something I did not understand and then she said 'I
wanted to tell a secret, and I thought I had.' And then she was
gone." (The Van Woerts moved out of the house the next day.)
was duly sworn to before William Perry, Esq., at Ann Arbor,
December 8, 1845.
believed that Van Woert's imagination had run away with him, but
others argued that he was a man of good character and a member
of the Dixboro Methodist Church. When Van Woert's statement was
released to the public, the residents of Dixboro demanded that
Martha's body be disinterred to determine if she had died of
poisoning, and it was done. At a coroner's inquest in January of
1846, a verdict was handed down stating that the deceased had
died of poisoning "administered by some person
unknown." Frain's Lake and the well at Main and Mill
streets were searched for bodies, but none were found.
there was no concrete evidence to prove that James Mulholland
was guilty, he disappeared from the area and was never seen
again. His property was sold at a sheriff's sale in 1852.
upon reaching the age of 21, was owner of his mothers property.
In the 1850 census he was listed as a farmer living in Superior
township and owning property worth $1,000.
most of us would give this story little credence, but in the mid
1800's, many held a firm belief in the supernatural. The
Ypsilanti Sentinel and the Ann Arbor True Democrat printed
accounts of Martha's mysterious visitations in 1846. And over
the years many more newspapers have recounted the story,
including Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Whitmore lake
haunted house burned under suspicious circumstances around 1860
Across Cherry Hill Rd. from the Dixboro General Store stood a
tavern, on the same property as the Mullholland house and the
well. The legend tells of a tin peddler who stopped over night
there. The next morning he could not be found, although his
horse and cart were still tied out front undisturbed. Rumor has
it the peddler was murdered and his body thrown down the well.
Could this have been part of the secret Ann revealed to Martha?
That either James or John were responsible? Although no body was
ever discovered, the well was filled in and the Mulholland name
was always connected with the suspected murder. Emmett Gibb, who
ran the Dixboro General Store from 1924 and continuing for many
years, told a reporter in the 1960's that on a still, cold night
one might still hear the tinkle of the peddler's bell if one