Walking the secret passageways of Harry Bennett’s heavily-fortified Ypsilanti castle

    I just received a note from Nathan Ayers, the guy who won the first $1,000 grant from A2Awesome. He wanted to let me know that, back in 1984, the television program PM Magazine ran a feature on Harry Bennett’s fortress on the banks of the Huron River, in Ypsilanti. Bennett, for those of you don’t know, was Henry Ford’s Chief of Security, and, as such, is rumored to have done all kinds of unspeakable shit in order to advance the agenda of the Ford Motor Company, and keep the employees from unionizing… Here’s the video.

    And, here’s an interesting aside, as long as we’re discussing Bennett. I received an email a year or so ago from a fellow who claimed to have information about the murder of one of Henry Ford’s mistresses, on the grounds of Greenfield Village, at the hands of Bennett and his goons. As details were never forthcoming, and since it could well have been made up, I never noted it here, but I do wonder just how many people Bennet killed for Ford, and whether it’s conceivable that any of the ugly business was done on either the Village grounds, near Hitler’s boyhood home, or, here, in Ypsi.

    Here, by way of background, is a clip from a short article about Bennett, and his role at Ford.

    …Shortly before World War I, workers flocked to Detroit by the thousands, where Henry Ford promised prosperity by offering the then unprecedented wage of $5 per day for industrial workers. Ford opened job positions to African-Americans, in a age when they were denied many industrial jobs. Ford’s showcase was the River Rouge plant, an industrial power house where every auto part was not only assembled, but also fabricated.

    In 1929 when the Great Depression struck, Ford cut back his workforce. Detroit, like many industrial cities, badly suffered through the economic outrage, with evictions and hunger.

    Fearing communist influence, Ford fought unionization. He was aided in this effort by Fr. Charles Coughlin, a Detroit Catholic priest who won a national audience, first supporting Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, but then turning against it, offering race-based and anti-Semitic diatribes. Ford hired a former prize fighter, Harry Bennett, as his security chief, and Bennett ruthlessly went after any union sympathizer.

    In 1932 hungry Detroit workers marched on the Rouge. The march was organized by Communist Party members and four were killed on the “Ford Hunger March.”

    Eventually the union came to the auto industry, with General Motors the first to sign after the 1936 sit-down strikes, which began in Flint, Michigan. Ford finally signed a United Auto Workers (UAW) contract in 1941, but not before the “Battle of the Overpass,” where Bennett’s thugs beat Walter Reuther and other union organizers trying to pass leaflets at the Rouge’s gate…

    Sadly, as very few in this country seem to know their labor history, and of the sacrifices that were made by our ancestors, who, in many cases, gave their lives so that we might have a middle class, a 40 hour work week, and laws keeping children out of factories, I fear that we’re going to have to face the likes of Harry Bennett again.

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      28 Comments

      1. Citizen w/ Cane
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        His fortress is a stone’s throw from Snyder’s: 5668 Geddes Road.

      2. Kristin
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:31 am | Permalink

        My family has been in Ypsilanti forever, and my grandfather went out to Bennett Castle at some point in his teens and said that there were lions on the property. Lions! His fortress is a stone’s throw from mine, too. We need bigger cats.

      3. dragon
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:39 am | Permalink

        That’s why I love Michigan, the tunnels are just the right length, the graves are just the right depth.
        I like turtles.

      4. Edward
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        Why don’t people tuck their sweaters into their pants anymore?

      5. Eel
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        Can we say that it’s “a peasant’s throw” from Snyder’s place, rather than “a stone’s throw”? I think it has a better ring to it.

      6. anonymous
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        A guy named Steve Amick wrote a story about Bennett and his castle. It’s called “Not Even Lions and Tigers”. You can find it on-line.

        http://books.google.com/books?id=Gh03vjFxzX4C&pg=PT21&lpg=PT21&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false

      7. anonymous
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Here’s a review that ran at the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

        The standout in “Ghost Writers” is “Not Even Lions and Tigers,” Steve Amick’s wryly funny tale of enforcer Harry Bennett driven mad by the “haints” of strikers and organizers he bloodied in the service of Henry Ford (though, he’d insist to his disappointed ma, “he was in his office for most of it”). As he exhibited so well in his novel “Nothing But a Smile,” Amick is just great at nailing place and period with the energizing element of utterly authentic speech. His Bennett flings off sentences studded with gems like “whorebath,” “hoohaw” and “cooked up the wheeze” (translation: authored the joke). Plus, we get some local history: Harry Bennett, born on Ann Arbor’s Wall Street; stepson of an early member of UM’s engineering faculty; a frustrated artist who raised Wyandotte chickens on his Geddesburg estate. Now you know.

        http://annarborchronicle.com/2011/10/23/column-book-fare-16/

      8. Meta
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        From Wikipedia:

        It didn’t take Bennett long to assemble a collection of football players, boxers, wrestlers and even Detroit river gang members as Service Department employees. Bennett possessed no car making skills at all. His success with the company came solely from his close relationship with Henry Ford and his ability to get things done. All Henry had to do was ask, “Can you take care of that Harry?” and it was done.

        Bennett was so loyal to Henry Ford that during a newspaper interview a journalist asked Bennett, “If Henry Ford asked you to black out the sky tomorrow, what would you do?” Bennett thought for a moment as said, “I might have a little trouble arranging that one but you’d see 100,000 workers coming through the plant gates with dark glasses on tomorrow.” In the mid-1920s, Bennett often drove to Henry Ford’s Fair Lane mansion to ask his boss if there was anything he could do for him. By the time the Model A production was in full swing in 1928-29, the morning meetings had become a habit. For the better part of 20 years, Harry Bennett spent his days at Henry Ford’s side.

        Bennett led Ford’s opposition to the Ford Hunger March of unemployed workers on March 7, 1932. Dearborn police and Ford service department men including Bennett opened fire on the protesters as they advanced toward the Ford River Rouge Complex. Four marchers were shot to death, and Bennett himself was hospitalized after being hit by a rock.

        Upon the death of company president Edsel Ford, the founder’s overshadowed son, in 1943, Bennett was Henry Ford’s choice to succeed Edsel. This did not sit well with Edsel Ford’s widow, who blamed Bennett for her husband’s early death. In 1945 Henry Ford II was summoned to Henry Ford’s estate and informed that he would be the new president of Ford Motor Company. As his first act, Henry Ford II, then 28, handed Bennett his walking papers. Bennett got in a parting shot by telling Ford, “You’re taking over a billion-dollar company that you haven’t contributed a thing to.” That afternoon, Bennett departed, ending his strange 30 year career with the Ford Motor Company.

        The bizarre and ruthless Bennett era was finally over. Afterwards, Henry Ford II went to Henry Ford to inform him of his first executive decision: “I went to him (Henry Ford) with my guard up. I was sure he was going to blow my head off.” Henry Ford, quite nonchalantly said “Well, now Harry is back on the streets where he started.”

      9. Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        There’s a jazz opera co-starring this guy as anti-union thug murderer:
        http://www.forgottenshow.net/story.html

      10. K2
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        The Wikipedia entry also has some interesting information on his other home, which he called the Lodge.

        Since Bennett was always paranoid of being under attack, he included many security features in the lodge. The lodge was surrounded by a moat full of pointed posts. The bridge over the moat was kept loaded with dynamite. The lodge itself has many fascinating custom features. Hidden behind a hinged bookcase in the study is a secret passageway which leads to the dock. Every step of the staircase in the passageway is a different height from the others to make tripping more likely. Bennett would practice running down the steps so that he memorized their spacing to give him a head start if pursued. There is also a hidden room which was home to a central point in the ventilation system, where conversations from multiple rooms could be clearly overheard. The roof of the building featured a guard station parapet at one end, complete with a fireplace to keep Bennett’s men warm while on 24-hour armed watch when Bennett was at the lodge in colder months. Bennett also had a private airfield with an airplane at the other end of Lost Lake. In the event of an attack, Bennett could take the secret passageway, emerge by the dock, take a boat across the lake, and escape by airplane. The attack never came.

        I guess when you kill people for a living, you get kind of paranoid about being killed.

      11. Anonymous Mike
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        I believe he died peacefully, of natural causes, in an old folks home at the age of 87. The story would have been better had he tripped when running through a secret tunnel, shot himself in the leg, and then been eaten by one of his guard bears.

      12. Jacques
        Posted February 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        The Clinton Valley Council Boy Scouts purchased land north of Claire that has a Bennett mansion off Lost Lake. They provide tours and show off secret passage ways, a nude swimming peeping room, gun towers, a walled-off underground access to an airstrip and more. Cool stuff!

      13. Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        I loved PM Magazine!

      14. Max Abuelsamid
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        Harry always loved surprises….

      15. Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

        Best epitaph ever, Max.

      16. Ruth
        Posted March 4, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

        My grandma was friends with his daughter and went to parties inside the castle. She said there was a huge tiled reflecting pool in the entryway. Also, if you go canoeing by the house, you can see the little child-sized stone lighthouse on an island and a boathouse with murals inside.

      17. Posted December 30, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

        7387 Geddes Road had another Harry Bennett hidey-hole.

        This place was in Superior Township – it had a perfectly ordinary frame farmhouse, a big barn that was the wonder of the neighbors – because it was made of concrete! Still there in 2004 and a little milk-house; about 1/2 mile north a hard-maple grove, a big sugaring-off house, a little 2-room “log” cabin made of concrete, etc. My grandfather bought this property in , I think, 1946 as a place for us to live while my Dad was a student at UM Law School. If anyone is interested in photos etc I can share.

      18. Becky
        Posted January 14, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        I was raised at Lost Lake, moving there in 1965 and lived in the Lodge until 1972. It was an awesome place to grow up. There was a moat…but no pointed posts and no secret room that you could hear conversations around the house, otherwise we would have used that as kids. The secret passageway behind the bookshelf was always fun during birthday parties. My mother named our ghost “Charlie”, he never caused any problems, but was very noisy. We always assumed that it was one of the guys that Bennett dumped into the lake in front of the house. When Bennett left that house, he took some of his personal things and left everything else, so we lived with his stuff. Like three bear rugs and many other mounted animals above the many fireplaces. The house and 2300 acres belongs to the Clinton Valley Council in Pontiac and I think that I heard that it is up for sale.

      19. Gordon Nash
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        Does any one know about the tunnels in the Ypsipanti plant , when it was manufacturing the Kaiser- Fraser automobiles ????

      20. Carol
        Posted April 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Back in 1959 I attended a small group Halloween party in the 2 room log cabin. Friends rented it for the evening. The husbands roasted steaks on the large fireplace in one room where we ate. And we danced to records we brought with us in the second room. The fireplace was open to both rooms for warmth. Most guests climbed the ladder to the attic area which had slits for machine guns on all four walls. We were told that when Harry Bennett had his guys over to play cards there were armed men up stairs for protection.

        Carol

      21. Posted May 3, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        It’s funny to see the coverage that PM did. My mother is the one interviewed. Yes, Bennett had lions roaming the tunnels, watch dogs, 50 armed guards with a personal body guard as well. The design of the house was continuously changing. There use to be a tower off my bedroom. Rumor was a third tunnel leading down to the pool and the boathouse; as well as, a tunnel from the boathouse under the huron river to the “island”. The third tunnel does exist. Access to it is through the hidden room behind the hidden room. Which is where Bennett would lock people in at times. The Roman bath was indeed tiled and had a sink and toilet. at the end of the west tunnel Bennett signed his name is the concert along with his kids name and wife. The house was my play ground. There were cement trees (only two). The Starks were the second owners of the 152 acres. Which they had broken up the land and selling it. When my parents bought the place we owned 9 acres. Which included the main house, the mother-in-laws house, the guest house (theater), an old pool (which use to be an indoor pool), two pastures, the boathouse (which has the mural painted inside), then there was what we called “duck land”. Duck land had little houses with a damn and a replica of the White House! And ,yes there was a light house as well. In Bennett’s day the property was beautiful. At some point, the property didn’t have the same care as in Bennett’s time. Indoor pool collapsed. Overgrowth.
        On another note: it was a fun house to throw a party in! :) It was also, a scary place at night. From experience, this place was very haunted! The basement and tunnels were filled with noises. Foot steps, televisions turning on, the sinks turning on, and much much more. I know, because I grew up there.

      22. Posted July 5, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        Kevin, glad to see your post. Yes, you threw one heck of a party and I will never forget the night spent wandering the tunnels in pitch dark. What about that crazy haunted rocking chair! And yes, the concrete trees!

      23. Posted October 10, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        I`m glad I stumbled across this web site.Some very fascinating years of Ford`s history.
        I learned quite a bit from the story and the comments. Thanks!
        Hopefully things never get as ugly as they were back then.

        Retired Ford Auto Worker

      24. ytown
        Posted December 16, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        Harry’s cabin, just down the hill from his house is solid concrete made to look like a log cabin. Is it for protection or to muffle the screams, or both. It’s a pretty interesting place!

      25. Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        I have a ton of info about Harry Bennett here http://www.retrokimmer.com/search/label/HARRY%20BENNETT

        I have guest posts from his grandson Skip, photos inside the Castle from 1984, and much more about the current murder of John C. Dahlinger Jr. the illegitimate grandson of Henry Ford.

        http://www.retrokimmer.com/search/label/John%20C%20Dahlinger

        The above video (from PM magazine) I posted a few years ago after a friend converted it from VHS tape to DVD. The lions Harry Bennett had were retired circus lions…not very ferocious…

      26. Posted March 30, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Have a new post with photos of Harry Bennett’s Cabin in East Tawas…You can see that post here

        http://www.retrokimmer.com/2014/03/17-harry-bennetts-east-tawas-mi-cottage.html

      27. Dave B.
        Posted May 2, 2014 at 1:41 am | Permalink

        I actually just got a Beverly Hills Estate that had a crate owned by Harry Bennett. I have his contractors license, pilot logs from ww2, baby photograph from 1892, military awards, highschool award for “Class of Bevery Hills 1938 voted as Most likely to Succeed, and lots of his ww2 items. It’s an incredible find and I’m still going through it! Something cool also I grew up in Detroit and moved to Southern CA when I turned 21 10 years ago. All the Ford/Detroit drama and finding this stuff makes it so cool for me! Contact if you want photos!

      28. Tom D.
        Posted June 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        To “Dave B.” I know a little bit about Harry Bennett and would be interested in talking with you about the crate you found in your Beverly Hills estate. I may be able to help identify some of the contents.
        And to “Helen” whose grandfather owned the fmr Bennett farm at 7387 Geddes Road. Please contact me re your photos of the property.
        Mark Maynard has my email address.
        Many thanks.

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