Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Come over here, sit by me. I’ll tell you a ghost story. Those words, or some variation of them, have been spoken over the millennia and within every society of the inhabited world. Whether young or old, rich or poor, famous or obscure, many of us find extraordinarily compelling those tales of a hidden world coexisting with our own, one that on occasion allows us a glimpse of its denizens—in the form of ghosts or apparitions or spirits or poltergeists or whatever you want...
Part I: The Haunted North
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The Gmeiner Enigma
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Henry DeLong does not like anyone closing the guest bedroom door in his home. In fact he is so insistent that he’s been known to slam it open if he finds it shut. There would be nothing wrong with this except that Henry is a ghost and the family that lives in his former home got mighty perturbed with It took Deb Fenske—who lives there with her husband, Steve—some time...
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The frantic call came into the police dispatcher at about six thirty on an April evening. A couple was making the call. The man quickly explained that a violent argument had broken out in an apartment on the floor directly above their own; a female voice on the same line described a loud, obscenity-strewn quarrel punctuated with blood-curdling screams. It appeared to be between...
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The heavily overcast sky draped the fabled seventeen thousand-acre Chippewa Flowage wilderness waterways in a gloom that seemed unusually appropriate for this brisk October afternoon. A cold front had slipped through the region, bringing with it a hard breeze rustling through the lofty second-growth birch and pines. A fine mist roiling across the open water washed...
The Lynch Affair
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The time is shortly before noon on a sunny day in early December 1871. The place is the 160-acre homestead of Richard Lynch, near Hatchville in southeastern St. Croix County. One of the hired men, young Jim Snodie, is raising his broadax for another swing at a chunk of downed timber that he will shape into one more railroad tie his boss will sell to the railway companies for...
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All the young teen was thinking about was that he had to go to the bathroom. He jumped out of bed and headed toward his bedroom door. But the boy never made it to the bathroom. Instead, he got the shock of his life. An apparition hovered in the hallway less than ten feet away from the doorway where he had stopped cold in his tracks. The transparent object hovered...
The Paulding Light Mystery
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Ezra Zeitler first heard about the Paulding Light when he was a high school student in Minocqua. “On Monday mornings students would come back and say they had seen the Paulding Light over the weekend and it was real scary and mysterious,” Zeitler recalled. Despite the captivating stories, he didn’t make the 120-mile round trip to the Paulding area, just over the Wisconsin border in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for several years. Ezra’s younger brother, Micah Zeitler, heard...
Do Not Disturb
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Old Teddy King grunted and sweated as he dug into the Knapp cemetery plot that held his mother’s coffin. With each swing of his shovel, Teddy slowly cleared away nearly thirty years of dirt and stone so that he could move his mother’s remains to another graveyard nearby. It was late August 1936. St. Croix County officials had ordered the graves moved: a new road was going to be built and the county needed the cemetery as part of the right-of-way. Most of the...
A Flame in the Window
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Joan Lecher was afraid of the dark. She slept with the lights burning. But when Joan moved her family into a house she said was haunted, for the first time in her life she wasn’t fearful. Joan was content and at ease in that tall, white house on the north side of Wisconsin Rapids. Built before the Civil War, it is a sturdy, comfortable dwelling, spacious enough even for...
There Goes Mamie!
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Grandmothers come in many shapes, sizes, and dispositions. But they all have one thing in common—grandmothers want to be remembered by their families. One way in which they can be certain they’re not forgotten is by coming back in the afterlife to check up on their loved ones. Grandma Mamie did that. On a crisp fall night some years ago, Pat Orcutt, of Whiting, Wisconsin, curled up in bed with a good novel. At about ten o’clock she happened to glance up from the pages. Her grandmother was standing beside the bed. There would have been nothing odd...
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Aghost can make itself known in a number of ways. The poltergeist, or “noisy ghost” to translate from the original German, allows its presence to be known through clamorous behavior—flying dishes, overturned furniture, clattering footfalls on the stairway. The origin of the poltergeist can be similar to that of most supernatural beings. When a person dies, as many experts speculate, an imprint much like that of a photographic negative...
Don’t Mess with Elmer
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In the hardscrabble Depression years of the 1930s, when a person’s economic security was often determined by luck or resourcefulness, tempers sometimes flared over small injustices, whether real or imagined. At least that’s how it was in northern Wisconsin between bachelor farmer Roy Nelson* of rural Cumberland and his neighbor Elmer Pederson*. The men shared a hay crop on some jointly rented acreage. One day the men had an argument over the arrangement. No one today remembers what caused the disagreement, only that...
A Dream So Real
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The Scots may not be the most superstitious people in the world, but some beliefs they hold to tenaciously. One such conviction is that the seventh son of a seventh son has precognitive powers, that is, the ability to foretell future events. When Robert Laurie was born in Scotland the seventh son of a seventh son, news of his birth spread far and wide. His family learned when he was still a small boy that Robert had the gift, as many characterized precognition. Eventually, the Lauries immigrated to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. As young Robert grew to manhood, his extraordinary...
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The second-floor apartment of the private home in Manitowoc met the needs of the young couple Randolph and Esther Johnson*. Their elderly landlord lived downstairs. The Johnsons’ bedroom had two doors diagonally across from one another, leaving barely enough room for their double bed. A door near the foot of the bed led into a hallway, but that door was kept locked. An old-fashioned wardrobe blocked the way. A second door near...
House of Chimes
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When the George Websters moved into an old Green Bay house, everything went well—at first. Until the kitchen screen door, equipped with a tight spring, began opening and then slamming shut for no apparent reason. Until on one occasion the slamming was preceded by “a loud scraping, swirling noise,” with George less than twenty feet away. Until he rushed outside to investigate but found nothing that could account for the noise or the movement...
The Girl in White
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In the early days of the nineteenth century, few people in rural Wisconsin traveled by car or even by buggy. Those who owned horses rode them; those less fortunate walked. Young John Groat of Menomonie was among the latter. One hot summer evening, Groat and his neighbor Ed Forness* walked a mile and a half to town. On the way back...
Spirits on the Land
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In ancient days, when Native Americans roamed Wisconsin, game was plentiful in the dense forests, and hunters provided well for their families. One winter evening, a young Ojibwe wife, awaiting the return of her husband, became uneasy. He was always home earlier, tired but eager to sit by the fire and spin stories of the day’s adventures for her and the child. But not on this day. Suddenly someone approaching broke the evening’s silence. The wife hurried to the doorway of the lodge...
The Coulee Road Ghost
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Hudson, Wisconsin, is a small, bustling city clinging to the bluffs of the St. Croix River, directly across the river from the sprawling Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area in Minnesota. The town is a popular suburb for commuters. Its scenic beauty, river-connected recreational opportunities, lively cultural scene, and pleasant small-town living make legendary visits by the ghost of Paschal Aldrich seem quite...
A Quartet of Wisps
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Will-o’-the-wisp: n.A phosphorescent light that hovers over swampy ground at night, possibly caused by rotting organic matter. This is what a dictionary says, but Wisconsin pioneers often placed the willo’- the-wisp in the same category as ghosts. Within the vast, dark forests, along riverbanks and lowlands, the eerie dancing lights would move and jump as if they were living, breathing creatures. No...
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Carol, we’ll be done in a few minutes so you can come down and lock the gym doors,” the daycare teacher said, sticking her head through the open doorway. She was in charge of a rambunctious group of preschoolers during their playtime in the college building’s old gymnasium. The daycare center was nearby. The teacher was talking to Carol Matara, the custodian in that part of the building, sitting in her small office on the...
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Her name was Jan. She was a pretty girl. Gold-tinged hair framed a cameo face. Her large, gray-green eyes held the sunlight of today and the dreams of tomorrow. She fell in love; she fell out of love. She knew joy and despair. She studied art in college. During the summers of her young womanhood she loved to swim, boat, and picnic at her parents’ lakeside home near Spooner. Although shy and sensitive,..
The Lady in Brown
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Scores of ghost stories detail visitations to houses by the spirits of former occupants. Stories of people somehow “left behind” after death to watch over a home to which they had a strong emotional attachment weren’t unfamiliar to one young woman who lived near Durand. She knew all about such things. Brenda Weidner lived for five years in a haunted house southwest of Durand. She, her husband, Robert, and the couple’s...
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Rachel Harper* and Diane Bonner* are sisters who shared a curious talent: the ability to act as a magnet for ghosts. The first time a ghost visited Rachel she was laying next to her slumbering husband in the bedroom of their small frame home near Neillsville. Her husband and their two young children had been asleep for hours. But Rachel was still alert, gazing at the darkened ceiling, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. Suddenly she felt a presence in the room...
The Phantom Congregation
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Afew miles from Amery, down a winding country lane, past trim farmhouses and grazing cattle, perched atop a windswept knoll, there stands an old Lutheran church. Its profile juts out sentinel-like over the rolling fields, casting its shadow over the old church cemetery. The building, painted a brilliant white, is a plain structure, a large cross affixed to an outside wall near the main entrance the only decorative touch. A bell...
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The young Wauwatosa woman and her family were doing what thousands of American families do every summer: spending their treasured vacation days at a beautiful lake resort in Wisconsin’s North Woods. In this case the family was about as far north in the state as you can travel, near Boulder Junction, in Vilas County, only a handful of miles from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One evening as the family dined at a nearby supper...
Part II: Southern Frights
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The Music Box
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It was a hot, muggy late July evening in Madison. The young University of Wisconsin–Madison student hadn’t lived in the city very long. A recent transfer from another University of Wisconsin campus, she was subletting a secondfloor apartment with her best friend and two other girls in a plain, old, American foursquare house on the city’s near west side. It was a spacious apartment with separate bedrooms for each girl. They...
Someone to Watch over Me
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Tales of early American wayside inns or century-old hotels inevitably stir visions of romance, danger, . . . and ghosts. Today, many have succumbed to the ravages of time, while others manage to survive in one form or another as restaurants, hotels, or a combination of the two. But in any case, it is inevitable that where there was so much transient....
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At early Wisconsin inns, the very transience of nameless lodgers invited speculation about their purposes. The weary traveler might have emerged on horseback from the woodland trail to see the welcoming glow of oil lamps through curtained windows. Or perhaps he peered through the stagecoach window as the brace of winded horses pulled up under a weathered signboard rocking in the wind on a gusty...
Mrs. Courtney’s Return
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Mr. and Mrs. William Courtney had never gotten along. Mrs. Courtney had left her moody Irish-Canadian husband at least once, but she always returned to him and their small farm in Brooks’ Corners, a section of Vinland about seven miles north of Oshkosh. The uneasy truce between the bickering pair ended on November 4, 1873, when Mrs. Courtney died of natural causes. Not long after William Courtney discovered his wife’s body in her bedroom...
Voice on the Bridge
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The village of Omro, Wisconsin, was a center of Spiritualist activity in the nineteenth century. In this little settlement near Oshkosh, the First Spiritualist Society hosted eminent Spiritualists and mediums from all over the United States—the Davenport brothers, Moses Hull of Boston, Benjamin Todd of Michigan, Susan Johnson of California...
He Comes by Night
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The winter nights were long and lonely for the families of nineteenthcentury Wisconsin lumberjacks. While husbands and fathers lived in lumber camps as they cleared the great northern pine forests, wives and children stayed behind in scores of small settlements, sometimes hardly more than clusters of log shanties, scattered across the state. From Brule in the northwest through Minocqua, Hazelhurst, Conover, and Split..
The Phantom Rider of Pumpkin Hollow
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As dusk settles on quiet autumn nights over the south line road near the crossroads settlement of Oak Hill, a few miles south of Sullivan, in Jefferson County, old-timers say an Indian brave still gallops through the gathering darkness, a garland of sliced pumpkin around his neck. High above his head he holds his ancient rifle, a pumpkin speared around its barrel. His fast pony is festooned with even more pumpkin...
The Possession of Carl Seige
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Can an evil spirit take over an individual’s mind, body, and soul? People have always thought so. In every culture, in every period of history, demonic possession has been recognized. Loud, obscene curses and bile issue from the victim’s mouth, body contorting and eyes gleaming with hatred. Often, it’s all accompanied by paranormal manifestations—pounding in the walls, the levitation of furniture, and the presence...
Murder on the Boardwalk
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Back when Oshkosh was a bustling frontier town that spilled across the plain, sawmills on both banks of the Fox River hummed incessantly, turning out pine lumber and shingles, while factories produced finished wood products. Lumberjacks roared into town on payday and their heavy drinking in Main Street saloons often ended in brawls. One night, a rural man who had been shopping in town started homeward carrying a rocking chair. His...
Footsteps in the Dark
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The house at the crest of High Street in Pewaukee projects the solidity of a medieval fortress. Built in the nineteenth century when the octagon craze swept the Midwest, the three-story, eight-sided cement home, with walls eighteen inches thick, has permanence about it that modern houses lack. Yet the dark hardwood trim, the lofty windows, the carpenter’s lace that embellishes a second floor porch, and the towering...
The Hille Curse
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Mrs. Dorothy Ransome had a very clear idea of who the phantom was that approached her farmhouse near Waukesha and then vanished at the kitchen door. The ghost was John Hille, the man who built the house over a century ago. What the ghost of John Hille may not have known is that those appearances were just another chapter in a saga of bizarre, and often tragic, events, including the untimely deaths of a half dozen...
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The old two-story, brick house in the sixteen-hundred block of Milwaukee’s National Avenue looks out of place in a neighborhood of undistinguished apartment buildings, light industrial firms, and small businesses. The place is easy to miss—lofty buildings on either side seem to cast it in perpetual shadow. Sitting rather forlornly as it does atop a raised yard, the house looks every bit its age of a century and a half. But even so...
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There’s something about an old house that invites rumors of ghosts. For instance, take that unpainted, rundown house in Milwaukee’s Sixth Ward. The neighbors knew it was haunted. The place was said to be one of the oldest in the city. It stood high on the west bank of the river, southeast of the old reservoir. Its second-story windows offered a splendid view of the city—for anyone brave enough to live there—and the house itself...
Mrs. G’s Boardinghouse
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Nobody ran a Milwaukee boardinghouse with so much aplomb as Mrs. William Giddings. She filled her south-side home with workers from the local tannery and catered to them with calm efficiency. The two-story frame house, at the corner of Allis and Whitcomb streets in what the city called Allen’s Addition, soon earned a reputation as a haven of solitude where nothing more disturbing than an occasional...
House of Evil
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Violent death is often the catalyst for the appearance of a ghost. Those who die at the hands of a murderer or take their own lives are frequently said to leave behind strong energy impressions that may manifest in the activity of a ghost or poltergeist. Present-day Milwaukee residents passing the corner of Twelfth and State are unaware that they are within a few feet of the location of one of the city’s most famous haunted houses...
Face on the Bedroom Curtain
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Early one Saturday morning in September, Milwaukeean Mary Tubey died. Although the circumstances of her death were not unusual, her youth made her passing especially poignant to her friends and family. A block away, on Hill Street between Seventh and Eighth, her stepbrother, Dan Connell, had finished his lunch and was sitting in the front room, silent and alone with his grief. The door to the bedroom was open, and from where he sat he had a clear view of...
The Restless Servant Girl
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Dr. Gerhard Bading and his wife lived in a rental house on Upper Wells Street between Twenty-Fifth and Twenty-Sixth Streets, on Milwaukee’s west side. It was a large clapboard house with double stairways typical of the era. One staircase connected the front of the house to the upstairs hallway; the other descended from the same hallway to the kitchen in the rear. Rear staircases often led to a sleeping room for the maid...
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The gentle rise in Dane County’s Burke Township—known to locals as Ghost Hill—was most appropriately named. For years on end, and at the stroke of midnight, a lean figure clad in white appeared astride a pale horse racing across the top of the knoll going in the direction of Blooming Grove. Neither the harshness of the weather...
Terror in the Night
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Darkness wrapped the old clapboard farmhouse near Cedarburg on that early March night in 1975. Barb Yashinsky lay sleeping. The late winter day had been long and exhausting after her family’s move into the rural home they had just purchased. At two o’clock in the morning Barb was jerked awake. “I thought it was a cat fight,” she later said of the noise, noting the time on the bedside alarm clock. “And you know...
The Legacy of Mary Buth Farm
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The weather was warm for the last day of December. Wispy strands of fog clung to the gently rolling fields of southeastern Wisconsin as the thermometer hovered near thirty degrees. At the end of a long, paved road near Germantown, Tom Walton and his family prepared to celebrate New Year’s Day in their 140-year-old farmhouse. The clock...
The Strange Case of Henry James Brophy
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At noon on Tuesday, March 9, 1909, schoolboy Henry James Brophy, age eleven years, arrived home for lunch. He opened the side door of his home in Mount Horeb and was immediately struck in the back by a snowball that broke and splattered across the kitchen floor. The boy spun around, but there was no one in sight. At the same time the next day, the same thing happened. Early on Thursday evening...
Always Time for Ghosts
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The premiere ghost hunter in southwest Wisconsin should be expected to have had at least a few supernatural experiences. In this respect, writer and folklorist Dennis Boyer does not disappoint the expectant listener: he has ghosts skulking about his own farm near Dodgeville. Boyer lives on the mile-and-a-half-long Bethlehem Road, he said by way of setting the scene at his...
Arthur, the Impudent Ghost
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Shortly after A.J. Nielsen moved into her house at Sparta, she wished she had not. She was to recall many times over the next months the odd hesitancy of the previous, elderly owner before agreeing to sell even though it had been vacant for fifteen years. A.J. had been attracted to the well-kept, two-story house for reasons that even she sometimes could not understand; though she especially admired its charming and spacious rooms, there seemed to be something else pulling her toward...
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Not all family ghosts are kept in the closet or stalk about the house frightening residents or startling visitors. Take the case of B. T. Jutes * of Crawford County for example. Hers was the live-in kind of ghost: a friendly, solicitous woman who watched over the children and helped B. T. with her genealogical research. According to B. T., the ghost’s name was Cassandra and she first appeared in a kind of psychic tableau...
The Ridgeway Ghost
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The year is 1842. Wisconsin is still six years away from statehood. Towering pines hover over the virgin forests, the lumber industry is still in its infancy, and settlers are only just now reaching the remote corners of the wilderness that stretches endlessly across the horizon. Valuable lead deposits have been discovered in the rolling limestone hills of southwestern Wisconsin. For a young nation, still struggling for survival..
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Index of Place Names
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011