Just when you think you’ve heard all the ghost stories on the Old Mission Peninsula, one pops up that you’ve never heard about. Such is the case with the ghost of Grace Bacon, which I learned about when I overheard Glen Chown mention her in passing at the “Harvesting History” event this past August. Oh boy, did my ears perk up.
I asked Glen to tell me the story that day at Fire Station 3, and then I followed up with a phone call with Glen and his wife Becky (our Peninsula Township Clerk) a few weeks ago. I so appreciate them entrusting me with their story, and hope I do it justice. Every story is unique and sacred, but never moreso than when you’re talking about a spirit who inhabits your house.
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Some Background on Grace
As a bit of background, Grace once owned the historic farmhouse that the Chowns currently own. Grace was married three times and had no children. The story goes that she was the oldest of many siblings whom she helped raise. By the time Grace got married, she decided that she’d already raised a family and had no need of doing it again.
According to Ancestry.com, Grace was born Grace Virginia Kelsey in Toledo, Ohio, in 1905. Her parents were Floyd Kelsey and Frances (Reed) Kelsey. She married Julius Paige Marshall in 1935. His parents were John Marshall and Ella V. Eiman (also recorded as Della Eiman).
After Julius passed in 1952, Grace married Carl Pratt in 1954. Carl’s parents were William Rosecrants Pratt and Mary Lawson Marshall.
Upon Carl’s passing in 1968, Grace married Edgar Bacon in 1973. Edgar’s parents were Joshua Edgar Bacon and Mary E. Hubbard.
Grace passed away in 1985, and Edgar outlived her by a few years, passing in 1989.
Grace Adored the House
The Chowns said that Grace absolutely adored the farmhouse, which was built in 1870 and was the 14th house built on the Old Mission Peninsula. (As a point of reference, I believe the first frame house on the Peninsula was the Dougherty House, built in 1842).
During her last months on this earth, Grace was no longer able to live in the house, but the day before she died she asked someone to drive her out to the house so she could say her final goodbyes. As noted above, Edgar was still living at the time and they were still married, but he was no long able to live in the house either.
“She was a real lady,” said Becky. “She was beautiful. She wore hats and gloves and was always dressed to the nines. Her mother used to come and stay with her in the room we call the Lilac Room – we call it the Lilac Room because you can see the big beautiful lilac bush out the window. Apparently, that was their sewing room.”
As a side note, I have a vague memory of Grace when she was married to Edgar Bacon, and am quite sure that she knitted a beautiful pair of mittens for me. It seems to me that she gave me those mittens one day when I was at our neighbor’s house in Old Mission – Mary Bagley (always “Miss Bagley” to us kids). If I’m not mistaken, Miss Bagley was Ted Bagley’s aunt, and the Pratt/Marshall roots run deep in the family tree.
It also seems like I did some sort of writing and/or editing project for Edgar in the 1980s, but I’ll have to keep thinking on that.
But I digress…
Becky Gets Interrogated
When I talked with Glen and Becky, they told me the story of a ghost in their house whom they believed was Grace. The supernatural events first occurred around the time the Chowns purchased the home in 1995.
They bought the house from Jeannette Shambaugh Elliott, who had acquired the house from the estate of Grace Bacon. Jeannette knew Glen through Convervancy ties. She helped start the Old Mission Conservancy, and I believe this group folded into the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, which Glen has been the executive director of for many years. Jeannette was also a supporter of many land preservation projects, including Pyatt Lake: The Bill Carls Nature Preserve near Bowers Harbor.
When Jeannette learned that Glen was going to be married, she wanted to know all about this person who would become his wife. So she invited Glen and Becky over for dinner at her home on West Bay and proceeded to grill Becky with questions, learning that she was a farm girl who had spent her formative years detasseling corn and hoeing soybeans in DeKalb County, Illinois.
“She was so intent on asking me questions that Glen got up and left the room,” said Becky, with Glen adding, “I took my wine and went down to the beach and looked at the bay.”
After the interrogation, Jeannette invited them to walk up the hill and look at the house. “What house?” they said. They had no idea what she was talking about. This is when they learned that she owned the farmhouse formerly owned by Grace Bacon, and that she intended to sell it to the Chowns because she knew they would be good stewards of the house and land.
“The reason she interviewed Becky for two hours – I was just a sideshow – is because she wanted a woman with the kind of background and intellectual capacity and hands-on skill that would take care of that property,” said Glen.
He added that they were in complete shock that she wanted them to have the house. “I thought she was joking.”
“The Place is Haunted”
After Jeannette purchased the house, it sat vacant for a decade or so, other than the occasional summer guests. During that time, she made some improvements to the house, with local builder Jack Sweeney doing the work.
So the Chowns invited Jack over to assess the house and see what needed to be done, as they knew nothing about restoring an old farmhouse. After assuring them that buying this money pit was a huge mistake, then came the bombshell.
“He said, ‘Half my crew won’t even go in this house because it’s haunted,'” said Becky. “And we said, ‘What?!!'”
“And he was not even joking about that,” said Glen. “You can tell when people are putting you on or stretching the truth, but he was very matter of fact.”
“He said, ‘Yeah, the place is haunted, and a lot of my guys won’t even go in the house because they see the old lady in the upstairs bedroom,'” said Becky. “‘My people won’t come out and work on this house, so you’ll have to find someone else.'”
The Coward of DeKalb County
But here’s the thing. In Becky’s words, she’s “the biggest coward on the planet. I can’t watch scary movies. I wouldn’t sleep for a month. But we’d been in the house a few times with Jeannette, and we were already committed.”
Still, she had no feeling of being afraid about the prospects of sharing her home with a ghost. “I have no feeling of doom or that there’s an evil presence or anything like that,” she said. So to Jack’s comments about the haunting, she replied, “Well, ok. Thank you. Good to know.”
The Chowns have never seen any ghostly apparitions of a woman like Jack’s workers described, but they’ve had many paranormal occurrences “that made it very clear to me that there was a presence in our home, and it was a very friendly presence that simply wanted to be noticed,” said Becky. “My feeling all along is that she just wants to be acknowledged, and that she was watching to see that somebody would come in and take care of this home that she loved so much.”
Most of the supernatural events that the Chowns experienced were directed at Becky. “Again, I can’t emphasize enough what a chicken I am,” she said. “If I had ever felt for a split second that somebody wanted to frighten me or hurt me or my family, I would have been out of there so fast. But the goal wasn’t to scare me away, the goal was just to be noticed.”
“A Box Was Shoved Toward Me”
The first event took place in the summer of 1995. The Chowns had closed on the house and were in the process of moving in, bringing boxes and things out from their home in Traverse City. At the time, there were still lots of boxes filled with things that had come with the house that needed to be sorted through – things left over from Grace and Jeannette’s tenure with the house that might possibly be of use to future owners.
One rainy day that summer, Becky was in the small garage sorting boxes, with her beloved 17-year-old English Setter named Pepper by her side. All of a sudden, a heavy cardboard box from the other end of the garage was shoved toward her.
The garage door was closed. There were no raccoons or other animals in there. And if there had been, “Pepper would have gone nuts,” she said. The dog picked up her head and looked toward the noise, but she seemed unconcerned. She also had a history of protecting Becky, and there was no sign of a threat in that garage.
“I might have been scared if Pepper hadn’t been there,” said Becky. And because of what Jack Sweeney had told them, she surmised that a spirit might have pushed that box, and that spirit might have been Grace.
“I figured it was the ghost,” she said. “And for me not to be terrified is pretty remarkable. I was a little jumpy, but I thought, ‘Oh, wow, what’s going on here?’ But again, I can’t tell you how much it impacted me that Pepper was calm. If I had been alone, I probably would have run shieking from the house. But I had Pepper, so I wasn’t scared.”
“Why Do You Keep Moving My Doily?”
Another incident also involves an object being moved. Glen recalled, “I came home from work one day, and Becky asked, ‘Why do you keep moving my doily?’ And I said, ‘What’s a doily?'” He had no idea what it was, and confirmed that he would never have any reason to move it.
The lacey rectangular matt was located underneath a lamp on a bureau near the front door, and it was continually being moved askew. Becky came from a family where there was “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” so there was no denying that the doily was being shifted to and fro underneath that lamp.
“I was really kind of irritated with Glen, because every day when I came home from school (she was a teacher at the time), the doily would be askew,” she said. “And he’s like, ‘I put my keys in the kitchen. I don’t use this bureau. I never touch it.’ So we think that was Grace. It was like she’d take the lamp and twist it a little bit, so that the doily was no longer square with the lamp.”
Note that while the doily was a family keepsake from Becky’s grandmother, the bureau was once owned by Grace.
The Oven Incident
One evening after a long day, they decided to throw a pizza in the oven and walk down to the bay and back while it was heating up.
“We knew we had just enough time to walk down and walk back up,” said Becky. So she preheated the oven, confirmed that the oven was indeed heating up, put the pizza inside on a tray, and she and Glen headed toward the bay.
By the time they returned, the oven had been turned off, there was no heat coming out of it, and the oven had cooled down.
“This was the kind of oven that to turn it on, you had to push a knob in and turn it,” she explained. “So it had been pushed in and turned off. There was no way to explain that.”
“The Ring Fit Perfectly”
A few years after they moved into the house, Glen recalls that every weekend was spent working on the house and barn, painting and doing other restoration work. One weekend, a friend who knew about the history of the house brought his metal detector over to see what he could find on the farm.
“All of a sudden, his metal detector starts going crazy beeping,” he said. “He was over by the barn and I was at the house. He comes over to where I was painting and he says, “I’ve got something for Becky.” And I said, “Oh, what’s that?” And he said, “It’s something from Grace.”
The friend opened his hand and revealed a gold wedding band, unearthed from five or six inches below the ground. He took the ring over to Becky, who was working in the garden, and said, “I have a gift for you from Grace.”
He asked her to hold out her wedding ring finger, “and it fit perfectly,” said Becky.
“Like a glove,” said Glen.
While he can’t remember who made the comment at the time, Glen said that upon finding the ring and seeing that it fit perfectly on Becky’s hand, one of them said, “Grace approves.”
The Hauntings Stopped
After that day, doilies stopped moving, ovens stopped turning off, and boxes stopped being pushed across the floor.
“I can honestly tell you that we’ve missed her,” said Becky. “She didn’t come around anymore, and I like to think that she no longer worried about the house. That she knew we cared, and that we were going to do our best to take care of it.”
She added, “Glen and I both have always felt so specially chosen to live in that home.”
“We feel like we’re caretakers of the history,” said Glen.
“And we know we’re not going to be the last ones either,” said Becky. “It will continue, and it’s our turn right now. We want to live up to the legacy that Grace created, and certainly live up to her expectations. We really feel like we did, because she felt that she could move on.”
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb