In some ways, perhaps, spirits aligned so an iconic Tuscola County house – reported to harbor ghosts – could be featured in Friday’s 9 p.m. premiere of the Travel Channel show “Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests.”
How else could a Vassar native, living in Los Angeles, become good friends with a TV executive producer and, over lunch, tell him about the “Wedding Cake House” near Watrousville at the precise time the producer sought haunted residences for a new TV series?
And have the producer pounce on creating a show about a home along Ringle Road south of M-81 about seven miles northeast of Vassar?
“I think for me the most amazing part of it is just that things had to happen at the right time,” said Nick LaPratt, 38, a Los Angeles resident and 1999 Vassar High School graduate who works as a marketing director for Safeco Insurance.
“I was lucky enough to make a really good friend out here in Los Angeles, and I had nothing to do with the TV industry at all,” LaPratt said. “That’s odd in itself. But then I connected with some folks who are very celebrated executive producers in the TV industry.”
The house featured in Friday’s show, completed in 1880 and renowned for its architecture, is haunted by ghosts of at least three different adults, according to its owners, Conrad and Jessica Dowe.
But it made its way to prime time only after LaPratt posted a Facebook request seeking a haunted Michigan residence so his producer buddy could feature it on the newest “Ghost Brothers” series.
Anna Dowe, Conrad Dowe’s sister and LaPratt’s Facebook friend, told LaPratt of the house owned by her brother – a house LaPratt had bicycled to as a teenager pondering its spookiness.
After Anna Dowe replied to LaPratt’s request seeking a Michigan haunted house, he received a link to a Wikipedia page about the home.
“I saw the house and I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I know exactly what this is, and it’s perfect,’” said LaPratt, son of Joe LaPratt and Debbie LaPratt.
The Travel Channel describes the plot for Friday’s hourlong show thus: “Vicious spirits are terrorizing a disabled vet and his family in their historic Michigan mansion. They call on the Ghost Brothers to find out why their dream home is a dangerous nightmare, and if it can be made safe.”
The new series follows Marcus Harvey, Dalen Spratt and Juwan Mass, three self-described “best friends and ghost hunters” who “embed themselves with eight different families for a weekend slumber party” that “isn’t your average sleepover.” During each weekend, the men investigate each family’s paranormal claims.
Jessica Dowe told The Advertiser in 2016 that one apparition in her home – that of an elderly man – has laid claim to her.
“The (ghost) said, ‘She’s mine,’ and a psychic came through here later and said the old man is referring to me,” Dowe said.
Dowe said she also saw the ghost of an old man looking back at her when she looked down the stairwell leading from the home’s former servants’ quarters into the kitchen.
“He was squatting down like he was looking through the (kitchen) doorway at me, and I screamed,” Dowe said. “He said ,‘Jessica’ in a very low-sounding voice.”
The executive producer overseeing a 10-day shoot at the Dowes’ home in April said, “we had some pretty crazy stuff go on” at the residence, adding the home’s “history is intense.”
The house was completed in 1880 for Richard C. Burtis and his wife, Flora (Chubb) Burtis, and is one of the best examples in Michigan of Second Empire architecture, according to architectural historian Dale P. Wolicki.
Richard Burtis was a shoemaker, postmaster and general store owner in Watrousville. His home became known as the “Wedding Cake House” because the multi-tiered exterior resembles the layers of a wedding cake, Jessica Dowe said.
Watrousville, an unincorporated town now known for a church and convenience store, was a busy place in the late 1870s when workers began building the Wedding Cake House, said Conrad Dowe, a Vassar High School graduate who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“It was until the railroad passed from Vassar to Caro,” Dowe said. “Watrousville was the central point. Everybody came through here.”
Decades ago LaPratt, then about 13, occasionally visited a house along Ringle Road and would ride his bicycle from there to the former Burtis home – unoccupied at the time.
Come Friday at 9 p.m., LaPratt appears briefly in the TV show about the home, depicting a historical figure, after he signed a contract with the production company creating the TV series.
LaPratt believes other Vassar-area residents will appear on the show, noting production crews also visited the Vassar Area Historical Museum and Riverside Cemetery in Vassar.
On prior shows on the Destination America and TLC channels, the Ghost Brothers visited some of the country’s “most haunted” destinations. LaPratt, however, said he still was “very shocked” when the new show’s executive producer told him film and sound crews were headed to the house outside of Vassar, population 2,562.
“Honestly, his message wasn’t even ‘Hey, it’s a go,’” LaPratt said. “It was ‘You need to take 10 days off work; you’re working on the TV show with us.’ I thought ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’
“And consider major markets. When reality-TV shows do things, if you have something that is featuring Norfolk, Va., you’ve got thousands and thousands and thousands of people who have an incentive to watch that program because it’s in their town.
“A very, very, tiny market like Vassar gets a season premiere of the show, which was mind-blowing to me.”
Many area residents pitched in to make the show a reality. LaPratt said Dorothy (Kovacs) Watt, director of the Vassar Historical Society Museum, “was great, and integral to what went on were Pat and Randy Middlin, because anytime I needed a connection for anything, they came through.”
When the production crew needed crosscut saws as props, area residents Kevin Fent, and Ron and Sherri Schiefer, came up with some. LaPratt said one of his relatives, Vassar Riverside Grill customer Deon Campbell, assisted with food delivery when the production crew ordered batches of meals from the restaurant.
“Deon and a couple other people helped out, so we had four or five locals there with me helping to make sure that we could get the food in bags, and get the orders loaded in the truck so they could send me on my way and make sure the food delivery was quick,” said LaPratt, who plans to use social media to inform area residents of Friday’s show.
“I do want everybody in Vassar to know that it’s going to be on TV,” LaPratt said, “because it’ll be really neat for everybody to watch.”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at [email protected]