In Michigan, there’s an old road known as Saginaw Trail. In the Ojibwe language, Saginaw is “where the Sauks were”, and the road was used for centuries by the Sauk Indians as a footpath between the majestic banks of the Detroit River and wild Saginaw Bay. In the 1800s European settlers drove their wooden wagons over the bumpy, muddy road, which Alexis de Tocqueville wrote was but “a narrow path, scarcely visible to the eye”, and like magic the vast wilderness gave way to cornfields and mills.
Saginaw Trail is a storied road, a treasure trove of living history. You might know today it as Woodward Avenue, Dixie Highway, or even I-75. It’s Michigan’s main thoroughfare, and it’s there that you’ll find the City of Pontiac, named after legendary Ottawa chief Pontiac, leader of the Siege of Fort Detroit and hero of the Battle of Bloody Run.
Located just north of Detroit, Pontiac was for a time a major manufacturing center for General Motors. In the 1960s, GM employed almost 40,000 autoworkers in the Pontiac, and the city’s namesake brand was synonymous for quality, innovation, and power. Though GM has closed most operations in the city, if you’re lucky you still might catch a glimpse of a puke green Pontiac Vibe cruising to a soccer game or PTA meeting in nearby Waterford or Auburn Hills.
Saginaw Street is Pontiac’s main drag, and is home to a number of clubs and mom and pop shops that offer up bongs, pies, beer, and pawned guitars to the business district’s wholesome, all-American visitors. Guarded by the twin statues of Native Americans perched atop the towering art deco Oakland Towne Center, downtown Pontiac has been a great to mediocre place to get shitfaced for decades.
But right off the main drag on Perry Street is perhaps Pontiac’s most dramatic attraction, Erebus. Every autumn, as Michigan’s rolling green terrain bursts into brilliant hues of gold and crimson, this epicenter of thrills and chills opens its doors to a public eager to forget more pedestrian horrors. Like, for example, Pontiac’s numerous abandoned factories and shuttered schools, or the city’s rampant unemployment and disturbingly high crime rates. After all, nothing screams escape more than the oncoming grill of a massive Mack truck or a lurching insectoid nemesis in a dimly lit corridor.
Housed in an old brick parking garage, Erebus was for a time – believe it or not – the world’s tallest haunted house, measuring in at a lofty four stories, though appearing to only have three. Run by brothers Edward and James Terebus, Erebus is a painstakingly orchestrated adventure into the sordid backwaters of human consciousness, a grim world populated by homemade animatronics and extras from local high school acting troupes. There’s even a semi-coherent plot about a mad scientist’s time machine run amok, although it’s never quite explained why his device required so many fog machines.
On your twisted journey through Erebus, you’ll go upstairs, downstairs, through trap doors, and straight into the heart of a whirling vortex, always terrified of what’ll pop out next. And it’s all surprisingly realistic – maybe not Universal Studios realistic, but convincing enough.
At only $23-28 a pop, Erebus is a Metro Detroit teenager’s rite of passage, right up there with that first R-rated movie or unfiltered cigarette.