The haunting of Meadow Brook Mansion


Emily Morris

The Meadow Brook Mansion is a national historic landmark so the gardens, architecture and layout have been left largely unchanged.

Emily Morris, Managing Editor

The haunting of Meadow Brook Mansion isn’t a suspense-filled series but a stately manor teetering on the edge of Oakland University campus. Built nearly a century ago from 1926 and 1929, the mansion amounted to a history: a home, a museum, a party venue and a possible haunting. 

The present reflecting the past

Matilda Dodge Wilson and her husband, John Dodge bought a sprawling farm of over 300 acres in Rochester a year after they married, one of nine farms that they eventually called Meadow Brook Farm. This was their countryside getaway, but the couple only enjoyed the property together until 1920 (12 years).

This is a portion of the Meadow Brook Farm. The farm predates the famous Meadow Brook Mansion. (Photo Courtesy of Oakland University Magazine)
Beatrice Whitaker was hired as the Meadow Brook Mansion’s first head maid. She worked in the mansion for over 20 years. (Photo Courtesy of the Meadow Brook Mansion)

This year, 2020,  is the anniversary of John Dodge’s death. Mirroring the present COVID-19 pandemic, the influenza outbreak was the “most severe pandemic in recent history” before COVID-19, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Dodge became fatally ill with influenza, while on a trip to New York.

Since his death, some think his spirit returned to the farm and resides within the Meadow Brook Mansion. Former Head Maid Beatrice Whitaker has reported disembodied whistling, which another staff member ensured was Dodge’s spirit. 

“One morning after Mr. and Mrs. Wilson had dressed and departed, I was arranging some books near Mrs. Wilson’s bedroom,” Whitaker said to Oakland University Magazine. “Out of the complete stillness of the house, I heard someone whistling, yet there was no one about. I looked all over, but found no one at the house.”

Whitaker was the head maid from the mansion’s completion (1929) to the 1950s. She remembers the household fondly, referring to Mrs.Wilson as “thoughtful, considerate and kind,” in her written record of her time at the mansion. 

“Some volunteers have worked here for almost 40 years, and they may say they feel a kindred spirit or connection to Matilda… they dedicated many years to the house,” Shannon O’Berski, director of external relations at the Meadow Brook Mansion, said. 

Haunted halls

Although Dodge never officially returned to the Meadow Brook Farm, the estate did not stall in development. Matilda Dodge Wilson inherited the farm and his share of the Dodge Motor Company from her late husband, making her one of the wealthiest women in the U.S.

Six years later in 1926, Mrs.Wilson and her second husband, Alfred Wilson began constructing the Meadow Brook Mansion after an inspired honeymoon to England. The mansion was designed as a revitalization of the English Tudor style, complete with extensive dark wood, gothic structure and detailed layout. 

The mansion is home to several secret passageways. The narrow passageways extend to children’s playrooms, Wilson’s game room and a basketball recreation room.

Although the design isn’t necessarily meant to add a frightening flare, the intricate layout can be elusive to the untrained eye. Hayley Serr, local historian, noted that she “is not the first visitor to lose their way.”

Buried in the backyard

On the exterior, there are additional personal elements, including a small cemetery. Although the cemetery is as stately as a small plot in a community cemetery, the area is only the final resting place for the Wilson’s family pets. 

Mrs.Wilson was reported to have a soft spot for animals and wanted their burial to be thoughtful with caskets and some tombstones. In the plot behind the mansion, Belgian horses, hackney ponies, dogs, cats, cows and one zebra have been buried. 

This is one of three pet gravestones located behind the Meadow Brook Mansion. The stone reads, “Dinarth Sunbeam, Hackney Pony, Mate to Buckley Anity, Foaled 1923 – Died Sept. 1933.” (Emily Morris)

Before the mansion was conceived, the grounds were Matilda Dodge Wilson and John Dodge’s farm retreat with various livestock, including “ghost deer,” according to the Oakland University Magazine. Contrary to traditional ghosts, these deer were given their supernatural title while they were alive. 

A farmhand feeds a white deer at the Meadow Brook Farm. These rare deer have been called “ghost deer” because of their unlikely color. (Photo Courtesy of Oakland University Magazine)

Encounters with the ghost deer were more farm oriented than frightening.  Ghost deer is a term to refer to white or albino deer. White-tailed deer are rarely completely white because white is a recessive gene, but inbreeding introduced a ghost deer to the Wilsons’ fenced-in pasture. 

Whether the tales of Meadow Brook feel like lore or legacy, the almost century old mansion is still collecting history. Ghost hunters and historians can sort facts from fable at the Meadow Brook Mansion. Tours are available for registration at  

“We definitely want to continue to respect and uphold the legacy and keep the integrity of who she (Mrs. Wilson) was, as a human being… in her home,” O’Berski said. “In that sense, I think we can all say we feel that sort of kindred spirit with her.”