Haunting stories at the Canadian Automotive Museum

"Count" Bob Schmidt, standing beside Ladybird, a 1912 Rolls-Royce Cloud, previously owned by Lady Eaton. Photo credit: Cecelia Feor

It is the sixth most haunted place in Durham and houses an extensive collection of Canadian automobile manuals and photographs.

The Canadian Automotive Museum (CAM) hosted an event on Halloween to showcase some spooky stories about cars on display.

“Count” Bob Schmidt lead the tour and donned a purple halloween tie. He says he he had a tuxedo but his wife made him donate it.

“I’m just going to be talking about all the murder and mayhem that went on with these cars,” he says with a grin.

Schmidt has been volunteering at CAM for five years and says it keeps him busy in his retirement.

As a kid, Schmidt says he visited the opening day of the museum on September 23, 1963, with his father, a car salesman. Over the years he visited the museum with his family.

Schmidt’s passion comes across in each story he tells about the cars. Although no stories are about specific cars on display, Schmidt weaves each tale as if it were real.

Two of the cars on display were written about by famed horror author Stephen King.

The 1955 Buick Special was the subject of King’s novel From a Buick 8, about a haunted police car.

Parked beside it is the 1957 Dodge Regent, used in King’s novel made into the 1983 movie Christine. The novel, and movie, was about a car that could regenerate itself after being destroyed.

However, the car in Christine was a 1958 Plymouth Fury, which is exactly the same car according to Schmidt who says, “they just change the name and put a different badge on the car, and they charge you more money for it.”

The Dodge Regent’s spooky history doesn’t stop there. There are two resident ghosts who like to hang around the vehicle, Schmidt says.

One ghost is named Cam, a WWI veteran who worked for the car dealership that used to be in the building. “He seems to hang around the building, people have seen him,” Schmidt says.

Paranormal seekers come in once a month, Schmidt says, and find ghosts in the building.

The other ghost is an unnamed little boy, whose house burned down in the parking lot beside CAM in the 1920s.

Another car on display that piques paranormal seekers radars is the 1965 Amphicar, meant to drive on land and in water. Schmidt says when they come in, they seem to find what they calls orbs floating above the car.

“They say that because this car is amphibious, that a lot of people have drowned around this car,” Schmidt says. He adds the donor of the car wouldn’t even drive it in the rain.

Perhaps the most rare vehicle on display is a 1912 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. It was nicknamed Ladybird by its owner Lady Flora Eaton. Famous for her style and income, Eaton also had an interest in the occult, or witchcraft.

Schmidt says she had pentagrams painted on ceilings in her home. On the day of her death, her maid was so distraught she hung herself in Lady Eaton’s room.

Despite all the haunting stories going on upstairs, Schmidt says the basement is much scarier, with a room of mannequins and several cobwebs. It is not open to the public.

Perhaps it is the source of the building’s paranormal activity.

CAM will have a new exhibition running Nov. 1 to 31 called Junk in Your Trunk. The event showcases the history of the car trunk, and vehicle storage designs.

An opening reception will be held Nov. 16 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and is free.

CAM is open at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and closes 4:30 p.m. throughout the week and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays from November to February.