Previously: The Witches of Auckland Domain, New Zealand.
Like many states, Michigan has a haunted road among its collection of odd and unusual legends. It’s called Knock-Knock Road, so named for what you’ll allegedly experience, should you drive down it at night: A strange knocking sound on your car, supposedly the indication that a soul who lost their life on that stretch of road many, many years ago is among us still.
There’s just one problem: No one is really sure exactly where Knock-Knock Road is. The location of this allegedly haunted road changes depending on who you talk to, or which version of the story you tell.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
In that sense, the story of Knock-Knock Road is a good old-fashioned urban legend — although if you start looking deeply enough, it turns out to be quite a bit more complicated than that, too.
Because when we talk about Knock-Knock Road, we’re not talking about just one legend.
We’re talking about several — each its own unique tale.
Let’s take a drive, shall we?
The current prevailing Knock-Knock Road story was documented in (and, in all likelihood, propagated by) the 2006 book Weird Michigan and takes place in Detroit. In the chapter “Roads Less Traveled,” Knock-Knock Road is identified as “Strasburg Road, just south of Seven Mile” in the Pulaski-Osborn-Van Steuben area of the city. It tells the tragic tale of a little girl “[wheeling] joyfully down the sidewalk on her new bicycle” on a hot summer day who, upon accidentally veering “down a driveway and into the busy traffic” on Strasburg, is struck and killed by a careless driver. But although her body is “carefully removed and laid to rest,” the story goes, her spirit “never leaves the scene,” instead “[spending] her endless nights approaching cars on Strasburg and knocking on their doors to see if they might conceal the driver who ended her short life.” (It’s not clear what she plans on doing if she ever locates the driver; whether she’s asking for help, whether she simply wants to hold them accountable, or whether she intends to avenge herself remains unknown.)
Ever since then, Strasburg has been “a favored cruising spot… for thrill-seeking teens,” continues the story; if you drive down the road at the right time or under the right circumstances, it’s said, you’ll hear or feel something knocking on the undercarriage or body of your vehicle — an experience attributed to the girl’s restless spirit.
This is the version of the legend you’ll find in most accounts — and, generally, it’s the most complete version you’ll find. The story tends to have nothing more than the barest of details, no matter who tells it; it’s pretty much just an outline, relying on your imagination to fill in the gaps.
However, this story isn’t the only one attached to Detroit’s Knock-Knock Road. Weird Michigan even includes two accounts of this secondary tale in the literal margins of the book’s entry on the allegedly haunted road: In it, the victims — plural — are “a bunch of kids in a car” driving recklessly down Strasburg and “[hitting] a pole head-on” as a result of their carelessness. The teens are said to have gotten stuck in the crashed car, unable to escape after it caught fire; as they burned, they “[pounded] on the windows trying to get out” to no avail. “Now,” continues the account, which was collected from someone credited only as “Valerie S.”, “whenever you drive down that street, you can hear and feel them knocking and pounding on your doors yelling and screaming for help.”
Someone named “Ali Marko” further noted that the effects traveling on Knock-Knock Road in relation to this second story are meant to have on your car is “most reliable when you are going the exact speed those kids were going when they veered off the road — 76 miles per hour.”
This is, obviously, quite a different tale than the bicycle accident story. The ghosts are teens, not a young child; they’re positioned as at fault for their own demise, rather than the victim of an innocent, childish mistake and the reckless driving of an adult; and there’s even more of a ritual aspect to the second story than the first one — namely, the stipulation that you must be driving down the road at a specific speed in order to summon the spirits in question. In both cases, though, they’re pegged to the same location, which is, in fact, a real location in Detroit.
But according to some sources, Knock-Knock Road isn’t in Detroit at all, but on the island of Grosse Ile, some 35 miles away. And to complicate matters even further, this Knock-Knock Road story is entirely different from the other two Knock-Knock Road stories.
(CW: Violence against women.)
In the Grosse Ile legend, a man and a woman are said to have be in a car together at Grosse Ile’s local “Lover’s Lane.” In some version of the story, the man and the woman are peers; in others, the woman is a babysitter, while the man is a father that employs her to look after his own children. In both versions, however, the same basic course of events plays out: The man makes advances on the woman, who in turn makes it very clear that she does not want to do anything with the man — that she will not do anything with him. The man, furious at not getting what he wants, opens the door, pushes the woman out of the car, slams the door shut, and speeds off into the night.
And here is where an already terrible story gets worse: As the tale goes, the man doesn’t just leave a woman he tried to assault alone on a dark road in the middle of the night. When he closes the door, you see, something of hers — maybe her dress, maybe her hair — gets caught up in it, trapping her against the car itself. And when he drives off, tires squealing, he ends up dragging her along the road for miles.
She does not survive.
And this is why, according to this version of the legend, you might hear someone knocking on your car when you drive down Knock-Knock Road at night: It’s said to be the spirit of the woman, knocking against the car desperately in a bid to get it to stop before she is dragged to death.
Similar to the Detroit stories, this one is hazy on the details. Again, the relationship between the man and the woman isn’t clear; they might be peers, or they might be employer and employee. It’s also not totally clear what transpired prior to their arrival at Lover’s Lane — although given that the woman is expressly not down for whatever the man has in mind, I can think of two plausible scenarios: In the version where they’re peers, they may have gone out together using the man’s car as their primary mode of transportation, and then, instead of bringing her home at the end of the night, the man brought the woman to Lover’s Lane (likely without her consent); or, in the version where they’re employer and employee, the man may have offered to give the woman a ride home after she finished looking after his kids, and then — again — brought her to Lover’s Lane (again without her consent) instead.
But the list of Things I’m Not Clear On about all of the versions of this story don’t stop with the lack of detail within the stories. It also extends to bigger picture issues.
Take location, for example. What’s sort of odd about the Detroit stories is that the “Strasburg Road” identified in them — which is an actual place — isn’t technically a “Road.” The location just south of Seven Mile named Strasburg to which these two stories have been pegged? It’s called Strasburg Street. And, yes, while it’s true that you’ll occasionally find mention of the legend under the name Knock-Knock Street, complete with the correct identification of Strasburg as Strasburg Street, the story in its most commonly-encountered form refers to “roads” in both cases. It’s one of those slightly-off details that chips away at the story’s believability; I actually even have a hard time understanding how Weird Michigan went to print without anyone looking at a dang map to make sure the place name was correct.
Furthermore, although the Detroit stories both center around the same road — which, again, is a real location in Detroit — the Grosse Ile story has been assigned to a number of different locations. No one seems to be able to agree where it’s meant to have taken place. According to one source, for example, the “Lover’s Lane” in question is a footpath called Ferry Trail. Located between Ferry Road and Island Boulevard, Ferry Trail turns into a proper road called Gage Avenue at its northern end — and it’s on Gage that the woman in the story is said to have been dragged. However, according to a different source, the stretch of road that plays host to the legend is located off of Thorofare Road within the Grosse Ile Wildlife Sanctuary — which is a mile or two (or three, depending on the route you take) away from Ferry Trail. Furthermore, although Thorofare stretches down as far as Ferry Trail does, it doesn’t actually intersect the footpath — or Gage Avenue — at any point. It only runs parallel to it.
Even the time at which the history behind the legends are meant to have occurred are hazy in all cases. The bicycle accident, for instance, is usually said to have occurred in the 1950s, although occasionally you’ll see the 1940s cited instead. In either case, though, there doesn’t seem to be any documentation of an incident of this variety occurring at the given location at any point during these two decades. For what it’s worth, though, we do know that the story was well-established by 1969: Per the Wayne State University’s Folklore Archive, that’s when Dave Spybrook’s paper “Ghostlore From Detroit,” which features a few different versions of the tale, was published. (Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to get a hold of the paper myself, though, so I can’t tell you much more about it than that. It’s a shame; I’d love to read it.)
Meanwhile, a lot of sources that claim the Grosse Ile story occurred in 1962—and, indeed, attempt to bolster their claims by stating that at least one Detroit-area newspaper — usually the Detroit News, although sometimes the Detroit Free Press — covered the incident in the June 12 edition that year. However, none of these sources actually links to the article itself, or even to where one might find it; nor do they include any quotations from the article in question.
And, like the website Michigan’s Other Side, which examined the many Knock-Knock Road legends in 2018, I was unable to access the more-frequently cited Detroit News edition reportedly holding the story — although some of the resources available to me do include archives for the Detroit News, none of them go back as far as 1929 (I can only access full text coverage from 2006 onward and citation/abstract coverage dating back to 1989) — so I can’t verify whether or not the June 12, 1962 edition of that particular outlet actually contains the article so many sources alleged it does. To me, this implies that the sources relying on this “fact” to strengthen the story’s believability have merely parroted what they’ve read elsewhere, without fact-checking it or confirming whether it’s true for themselves.
I can, however, confirm that the sources claiming that the June 12, 1962 issue of the Detroit Free Press covered the Lovers Lane story are incorrect. This edition is available via expansive news archive Newspapers.com — and not only does it not contain a story about a young woman in Grosse Ile being killed in the manner described by the legend, it only has one references to Grosse Ile itself anywhere within its pages. It’s literally one sentence announcing the results of a school district vote recently held in the township: “GROSSE ILE: Voters rejected a $2,600,000 bond issue and a request for a 3.5-mill increase for operations,” it reads.
That’s it. Nothing more.
So how did the relatively unique moniker of “Knock-Knock Road” come to refer to so many different stories in such disparate locations? That, I do not know. I suspect that at some point, possibly thanks to the rise of the internet, what were once several distinct stories with some common elements — a vehicular homicide, a haunted road, strange knocking sounds — gradually bled into each other, smooshing together until they all carried the same name. And, unfortunately, none of those stories are likely to have been based on truth; there doesn’t seem to be anything in the historical record that supports any of the incidents described in the legends as having actually occurred.
But even if none of the stories are true — even if there’s no real kernel of truth to be found beneath any of it — you can still visit the many locations purporting to be Knock-Knock Road.
You can even try driving down them under the supposedly “correct” conditions to see if you can coax their “ghosts” out of hiding. (Note, though, that I wouldn’t recommend doing so when it might put yourself or other people in danger; don’t, for example, speed down Strasburg Street at 76 miles per hour, please.)
You may experience nothing; after all, there’s little evidence that anything might have occurred at these locations to inspire a haunting.
But then again, you may experience something anyway.
Belief, after all, can be a powerful thing indeed.