Urban Legends

Urban Legend: Old Al and the Pick Fort Shelby Hotel

The Story: The old boarded up Pick Fort Shelby Hotel has stood abandon for over twenty years on Lafayette Street near the outskirts of Detroit's business district. For years it was shelter for homeless men who would find there way inside the building to find refuge from the brutal Michigan winters. For years the only paying tenant in the old hotel was the notorious Anchor Bar a favorite
watering hole for reporters from Detroit’s two newspapers The News and Free Press, it occupied a partitioned off section on the street level at the front of the hotel. For years the Anchor had been known as a place where police, politicians, priests and pressmen could go for a cold beer, a greasy hamburger and place a bet on their favorite horse race or football game.

A local street person who was known only as Al found part time work doing odd jobs at the bar. After leaving the bar late at night Al would make his way to the rear of the hotel and re-enter the building through some boards that he had loosened. Al was a one eyed black man whose face showed the results of years of drinking and living on the street. He was quiet and polite but he was often seen driving away other street people who might try to take up residence in the ruins of the old hotel.

They think it was sometime during the late 80's some rotted plumbing gave out in one of the hotels basement levels and unbeknownst to the bar caused all of their sewage to flow out into the hotel basement near the rear of the building. For several years people that worked in an adjacent building
noticed and complained about the smell in the alley to city officials but it was blamed on sluggish sewers in the area. The bar itself was spared the odor because it was totally sealed off from the hotel proper and its entrance was at the front of the building.

During an unusually rare building inspection the startling discovery of years of accumulated human waste was uncovered. They say that it was well over four feet deep. To the inspector’s horror, inside one of the rooms they found the skeletal remains of Old Al. He did not drown in the sewage but it is suspected he became mired in the sludge as he came down a stairway and could not free himself while in the dark and most probably drunk. He must have died a terrible death of starvation or dehydration while held fast in this sucking mire of putrid foul mud-like material. One of the medical examiners told us that his bones had been stripped clean as if they had been boiled.  What the rats did not consume the cockroaches and insects finished.

As strange as his cause of death may seem the strange part of the story is that people like myself that work in the area still see old Al walking through the alleys near the old hotel. I personally believe I have seen Al on several occasions late at night sitting in the alley behind the old Fort
Shelby Hotel and that was well after they claim he had died. Once after his body was found I swear I saw him sitting at the rear of the building. I called out his name he looked up, stood and turned toward me. I was somewhat frightened and I glanced over my shoulder make sure I had a clear escape route but as I turned back it was if he had dematerialized into the steam that pores from the old manhole covers in the alley. Some people that I know claim to have seen lights moving through some of the lower floors of the building, and a coworker has sworn that he has heard voices coming from inside the building.

The bar moved out long ago and the building is now well boarded and secure. The street people give the old Shelby wide birth these days You wont even see them going through the dumpsters during the day like they had done for years. Some claim it is the city steam that pores from the manholes and pavement that people mistake for someone moving through the alleys at night but I know it’s old Al still standing guard defending his turf at the old Fort Shelby Hotel.

Submitted by Mr. Thompson

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