Ghost Stories of Detroit’s Belle Isle

It’s classic urban legend. Honk your horn three times to see the “Lady in White.” These type of “urban legend tests” exist all around the United States and are in no short abundance in Michigan. Supposedly the Belle Isle bridge to park on is the one on Tanglewood Drive. When you get there, turn your engine off and honk your car horn three times and if you’re lucky (or unlucky) a Lady in White will appear from the woods, motioning for you to follow her. Like all good legends, honking at the stroke of midnight improves your chances.

The Snake Goddess of Belle Isle

Native American legends are also part of island lore, namely the legend about the daughter of Ottawa chief Sleeping Bear and how she was so ridiculously pretty that he hid her from the swarm of suitors who bothered her daily by hiding her in a blanket covered canoe in the Detroit River.

But even the wind wanted to look at her beauty and blew the blanket away which pushed the canoe down the river where she was kidnapped. Feeling bad, the wind beat her captor and brought her back home to Chief Sleeping Bear, where he decided to place her on Belle Isle for her safety. Sleeping Bear asked the Great Spirits for his daughter to be protected forever so the Spirits surrounded the island with snakes and gave her immortality. From that point on, she became known as the Snake Goddess of Belle Isle. Before it was called Belle Isle, it was known as Rattlesnake Island due to the high amount of water snakes found there. The legend also says the Goddess has the ability to transform into a white doe that many have claimed to have seen.

Vintage postcard of the Horticultural Building on Belle Isle. 

Also, there have been an unusual amount of deaths and suicides on the island. It seems that over the decades, the bridges were a popular place to jump to your death from. Some wonder if this is why Belle Isle has a few ghostly residents lurking in the shadows. Do you have a ghostly story to tell about Belle Isle? Email or comment below.

Directions to Belle Isle according to the National Parks Services web page:

Belle Isle is located in the middle of the Detroit River and is accessed from the MacArthur Bridge which connects Belle Isle to East Grand Boulevard. Belle Isle is a Detroit city park and open to the public. Friends of Belle Isle has been formed to promote the preservation and the adaptive use of existing structures on the island for the enjoyment and use by all people.

Vintage postcard of the Casino on Belle Isle.