By Mia Kerner
The St. Cecilia Music Center, located at 24 Ransom St., has been a staple in the historic side of Grand Rapids for over 100 years. Led by a devoted team of female directors and coordinators, this building holds more than just music within its walls.
“This organization was started by nine women (led by Ella Matthews Peirce) in 1883. They used to perform in each other’s homes. They would go to each other’s homes to teach, play and listen to music. At some point they realized that their organization was getting too large and they wanted to have their own building, so they raised the money to build this specific building,” said Carla Messing, SCMC’s event and facility director.
Costing $53,000 to build in 1893, the center attracted nearly 10% of Grand Rapids’ population to its dedication. The center is the only building in the United States to have been built by women to be operated solely for the purpose of music.
The intricate architecture and historic significance is not all that the center is known for. Its hauntings have attracted a plethora of paranormal enthusiasts and investigators to its doors.
“It used to be St. Cecilia’s Society, but it has had the same mission ever since it was built. We have always been what we are now, which is all the more reason for some of those ladies to maybe stick around and haunt us,” said Messing.
Messing began working at the center 15 years ago, allured by the amazing opportunity and the exciting possibility that it was haunted.
“I reached out to some of my coworkers and those who worked here before me, and the interesting thing to me was that a lot of them told the same stories but had never worked together,” Messing said.
She heard many stories of strange technical issues, music playing at unusual times, and even the viewing of a non-existent employee.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, for her, Messing has her own fair share of stories to tell about the happenings of the center.
Her first real “encounter” took place during one of the many overnight investigations that have taken place at the St. Cecilia Music Center. Messing decided to stay in the building with the crew throughout the night, along with her husband and nephew.
“They had set up their central station in the coat room, all of their contraptions and video cameras,” Messing recalled. “Late in the night, probably around 3 in the morning, they started going through some of the EVP’s (electronic voice phenomena). They captured very clearly a man’s voice in the auditorium saying ‘Move it.’ We were in (the auditorium) when it was recorded so I know for a fact that none of us said anything.”
This unsettling experience is just one of the numerous tales that come out of the center.
Messing shared that “a lot of people claim to hear music in the building, which I think is really understandable.”
She continued, “I had one employee tell me that one morning, she used to come in super early, like 5 am, and she heard music upstairs around 6:30. She thought it was strange because it sounded like a full orchestra was rehearsing. She thought that maybe the symphony was here and she didn’t know about it. So, she came upstairs and everything was still dark, including the auditorium. When she turned the lights on, the music stopped.”
The lingering of music throughout the halls provides an interesting outlook on the hauntings of the building, inspiring the thought that the talented musicians who once graced the center’s auditorium are still playing with their souls.
Messing clarified that, “Overall, everybody says it is not a scary feeling. Weird things happen, but nobody has ever told me that they felt really frightened.”
Another intriguing paranormal happening occurred during one of the paranormal investigations of the center.
The investigators asked if they could bring in a psychic medium.
“I had told my staff that was working at the time that certain places in the building were off-limits, like the green room and our offices, of course,” Messing said. “So, this psychic medium apparently kept saying that she was being called towards a back hall. The psychic said the woman’s name was Evelyn. My employee told her that all that’s back there is the green room, which they were told not to let the investigators into. I think she actually sent me a text and said that they really want to go into there. I was like, ‘It’s fine, whatever, let them in.’ So, they opened the door to the green room and the toilet was running and the fridge door was open. Allegedly, when they closed the fridge door and fixed the running toilet, the psychic announced that Evelyn was gone. It was like she knew something was wrong back there and as soon as they fixed it she left.”
Messing said, “A lot of times, it’s the feeling of ‘is the building being taken care of’.”
An odd experience that many employees have had concerning the elevators of the center. Many staff members have reported that something interferes with their traveling to another floor.
“Sometimes I’ll get on the elevator and press the floor button, the doors will close and I start going up, and another floor button lights up in front of me. It’s like someone is redirecting. The elevator goes to that floor and the doors open,” said Messing.
Her coworker had a very similar experience, where the elevator went to a completely different floor than she had selected. The doors then opened as if somebody had called it from the outside. There was no one there, but as the doors began to shut again, they suddenly reopened as if a passenger walked through it.
Arguably the most interesting occurrences at the St. Cecilia Music Center are the apparition sightings. One of the apparitions reported is that of a janitor that resides behind the auditorium.
“Several people have described seeing a man in a janitor’s uniform backstage,” Messing said. “Those who saw him were again, not here together, but both described him to be wearing an old one-piece janitor’s suit. He was just back there not saying anything.
“One of the witnesses went to the manager at the time and said something about their janitor being rude for not acknowledging them. The manager had to inform them that they do not have a janitor on staff.”
Messing continued, “This has not happened since I’ve been here, but it was just interesting that the voice on that recording was a man’s voice captured in the auditorium.”
Messing has also physically seen the unexplainable while going about her normal work day. She recounted seeing her coworker putting together event booklets in the library as she walked through the building. Upon realizing that her coworker was there hours earlier than she was scheduled, Messing went back to talk to her. When she reached the library, there was no one there and the room was undisturbed. She swears that she had seen a dark haired girl sitting there just minutes before.
The activity in the St. Cecilia Music Center has since subsided since the arrival of Executive Director, Cathy Holbrook, but not completely diminished.
“Our piano tuner claims that he can tell that there is a lot more activity when there is some kind of turmoil or negative energy around. But since our new executive director has been here and is taking care of the building, he has not witnessed any activity,” said Messing.
The St. Cecilia Music Center is a building of rich and requisite history. Whether or not the spirits that once lovingly resided in its halls still remain, its timeless charm and countless events are worth the visit, check the center’s event schedule to plan yours.