"Amazing Tales from Southwest Michigan" shares news of the weird

Jan 8, 2013

Old newspapers from Kalamazoo
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Steve Ellis, the publisher and a contributor to Southwest Michigan’s Spark magazine, will read from his collection of about 600 odd and amazing tales from Southwest Michigan Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Parchment Community Library.

Ellis says he started collecting these stories after reading a tale in Stranger Than Science by Frank Edwards that happened in Pontiac, Michigan. According to the story, a man spontaneously combusted in his garage—just to be clear the man’s car didn’t explode, he combusted. To find out if the story was true, Ellis's mother drove him to Pontiac and they looked up the man’s death record in an old paper. Ellis says though it didn’t say the man spontaneously combusted, it did say he died of mysterious causes related to a fire in the man’s garage.

“That started a whole life of digging up weird, oddball stories,” says Ellis. 

Steve Ellis at WMUK
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Before Spark, Ellis worked at the Kalamazoo Gazette for about 24 years, where he dug up tons of stories from the old Kalamazoo Gazette archives. He shared a few of his tales with WMUK, which you can hear in the full interview. One of the most notable was the story of the man who claimed to be the Long Lake sea monster:

“Back around the turn of the century, a sea monster—basically a dragon-looking head—popped out of Long Lake and spit some water out and basically scared everyone to death on a July 4th weekend, thinking ‘This is the craziest fish or monster we’ve ever seen!’ And everybody that had been swimming quickly got out of the water. All of the men that were able got in rowboats with shotguns and patrolled the lake for the next hour or two, looking for this horrible sea monster that was going to kill everybody out at Long Lake. And it wasn’t spotted or they never could find anything. The police came out, it took them a while to get out there back then. Then about a week or two later, all at once this Long Lake sea monster pops out of the water again, spits water, scares everybody, get everybody out of the lake. Not one kid would swim on it for three or four days and then it would disappear. And this happened over the next 10 or 15 years, it would make periodic appearances typically at busy times about when people had forgotten about the sea monster. And then a man—I believe his name was Colonel Jordan—passed away in the ‘40s sometime and admitted on his deathbed—and I’ve got the obituary somewhere—that he was the Long Lake sea monster. And back around 1900, he was sitting around with some friends and thought ‘What would be kind of a fun practical joke to play on the lake?’ So he took some cables and some pulleys and some weights and he sunk this sea monster out 50 yards off shore. But he had it tied with cables and pulleys that led into his basement with some type of pedaling contraption. And so anytime he wanted, he could go in his house, down in his basement and start pedaling this thing and the sea monster would pop up and scare everybody.”

You can hear more stories from Steve Ellis at his program Amazing Tales of Southwest Michigan at the Parchment Community Library, Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m.