The Phantoms of Six Mile Road
I was going through a box of personal belongings a couple of weeks ago, when I stumbled across some pictures of my 1978 high school graduation. My daughter Vonnie laughed at those pictures and asked me if everyone dressed that way in the old days. The old days? 1978 is now the old days? I guess it’s only fair since I used to look at my dad’s high school year book and laugh, thinking he lived back in the Dark Ages. You reap what you sow I guess. In that same box I happened across a batch of photos of my best friend Brian. We were the inseparable dynamic dual always neck high in mischievous trouble, but never to the point of lawlessness or destruction of any kind. The event I am about to discuss here is one of the most daring of all the stunts we pulled.
Brian called me one night in May of 1978 and read a section from a James Harriet novel, the title of which I cannot recall, about a guy who dressed like a phantom and walked the country side with a lantern scaring the locals. He thought that would be a great stunt for the two of us to pull. What could I say but “Count me in Bro, sounds like a plan!” The setting was perfect for this copy-cat stunt we were planning. The setting was An old two story farm house built in the mid-1800s, a primitive frontier cemetery crowded with spooky looking tombstones, and an old frontier style church house on the far western edge of Livonia, Michigan. What made the atmosphere so fitting was it’s isolation from civilization, out in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but farm land as far as the eye could see.
Brian and his family lived in the old farm house, and his father was the Pastor of the old Church, which had been renovated for regular use. This little church was one of three locations for Trinity Baptist Church, and it was also the location I attended as well. The two lane dirt road that ran by the farm house, cemetery, and church never had much traffic in those days, and since we were planning our mischievous deed for late at night, we knew we were in business.
The plan we had in mind was to sneak out of Brian’s room at around 1:30 AM, and to get inside the church where we could throw on an old monk’s robe I had found a couple years before at a garage sale. Just why someone would have a monk’s robe in their garage sale is beyond me, but I thought it would be novel to own it. Brian’s room was on the far eastern end of the second story of the farm house, and his parent’s room was at the opposite end. We had to make sure that they were fast asleep before we commenced to climb out his window with the help of a big hemp rope. We felt like regular Army Rangers on their way to an exciting top secret adventure, hopefully without bloodshed. We crept through the old cemetery and made our way into the old church where Brian pulled on the monk’s robe. We brought with us a rather large railroad oil lantern that we would use as our prop. I lit the lantern and Brian set out across the road about a hundred yards from the front of the church. The cemetery was just behind the old church, with tall hedges that lined a couple of paths into the woods, it made for a great escape route in the event we had to hightail it away from trouble.
It was about 2:15 AM when I saw the headlights of the first car coming up the road. The excitement was more than I could stand, and when the car got closer, Brian started across the road hunched over carrying the lantern out in front of him. He crossed in front of the car not more than fifty feet when the driver slammed on his brakes. Brian made his way around the back of the church and I opened the door to let him in. We decided to stay put as we unscrewed the fuses in the breaker box. We figured that if anyone got into church, at least they wouldn’t be able to turn on the lights. The car slowly pulled into the driveway and stayed there for what seemed like an eternity. Whoever it was did not attempt to get out of the car. They finally left and we were both in stitches, laughing like a couple of juvenile hyenas. Now it was my turn to spook the next driver.
We waited a while to make sure the previous car didn’t return, and then I made my way across the road into the ditch. The next car came along and once it got close enough I started across the road like a lonesome spirit in search of a home. This time the car stopped in the middle of the road and someone yelled, “Hey you! Hey! Hey who are you?” I made my way up into the Church, but this time whoever it was got out and tried to get into the church. We were a little scared at this point as we opened the cellar door and hid underneath the church in a crawl space. We heard some say, “Let’s get out of here, this is too creepy man!” They took off with gravel flying everywhere. Once again we averted trouble, but just how long could we evade being caught? We called it a night, but vowed we would get back to monkey business the following weekend
The next weekend came, but this time we recruited our good friend Gary, and he had some great tactics to add to our mischief. He thought it might be fun to have two of us cross the road, one with the monk’s outfit, the other with a ghastly looking white robe he had tailored. This thing looked like an outfit right out of a Vincent Price movie, it was perfect. Once again we climbed out Brian’s window and made our way into the church. Brian and Gary assembled in the weeds across the road and we waited. I was peeking around the back of the Church when I saw the headlights of a car, but this time we were in big trouble. It was a Wayne county Sheriff’s Patrol car. Brian and Gary ran for dear life and I was right behind them. The Sheriff’s car pulled into the driveway as we dove through an opening behind the cemetery. Gary took off into a field on the other side of the cemetery, and laid low in a patch of Poison Ivy, while Brian and I made our way into the basement of the farm house where we hid behind the furnace. Sure enough the Officers came to the back of the house and shined flashlights in the basement windows. We were well out of sight, but nonetheless scared to death. We’re certain the Sheriff did not see us go into the basement since we had such a head start, but I’m sure they put two and two together and figured that someone associated with the house played a role. We stayed down in the basement for about an hour until we snuck back out to find Gary. The next day he was covered with Poison Ivy rash and we agreed to lay low for a couple of weeks. To our knowledge, the Sheriff never made contact with Brian’s dad, and we were amazed that they never saw the hemp rope hanging out of the second story of the farm house. If they had, I’m certain they would have gotten Brian’s parents out of bed for an interesting discussion.
Our adventures in the cemetery were an on again, off again activity for about a year and a half until Brian left for college, and we collectively lost interest. Those were fun adventures that I will never forget as long as live. I suppose it’s true what they say about preacher’s kids being some of the biggest trouble makers, oh, and did I mention that my dad was a minister once upon a time as well.
The old farmhouse has been long torn down, and the area of Six Mile and Haggerty Road is completely built up with office buildings, gas stations, and restaurants. The old church house has been converted into a professional theater called Trinity House, but the old cemetery is still there. I can’t help but grin like a jack-o-lantern every time I drive by the location as I reminisce about those crazy days of 1978.