GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE
A Wisconsin folklorist named Robert Gard once stated that Wisconsin may have more ghosts per square mile than any other state in America. I have no idea if this is actually true, but one thing is certain... it certainly does have a lot and many more than we could possibly include here! There is certainly no place that is quite like the state of Wisconsin with its peaceful lakes, serene forests and miles of beautiful wilderness. But what lurks beneath the surface of this tranquil place? Ghosts and ghouls? Perhaps.... because we have to remember that that for every tale of colorful folklore is a story like that of Ed Gein.
Wisconsin.... a strange and haunted place.
Click on the Highlighted Locations to Learn More about Each Site!
Of all of the ghost stories and haunted houses in the state of Wisconsin, my favorite story is (by far) the tale connected to the old house known as Summerwind. For many years, it was regarded as the most haunted house in the state. And while it is nothing but ruins today, its legend continues on. Click on the link above for the story of this mysterious house and for exclusive photos!Kemper Hall, a former seminary and school in Kenosha. Rumored to be haunted by spectral nuns, the old building has a long reputation for ghosts!
Another location that is steeped in legend is
One college that has its own sort of "School Spirit" is Marquette University in Milwaukee. A number of buildings connected to the school are allegedly haunted and a number of spirits make their home here, including the infamous "Whispering Willie".
The city of La Crosse boasts a number of haunted spots. One of them is the Bodega Brew Pub, which was formerly the Union Saloon. According to the stories, the ghost here is that of a former pool hall owner that was also located on the premises. After the owner, Paul Malin, died in 1901, his ghost began to regularly appear to the new owners. No one knew why the building changed hands so many times in the years after Malin's death, until 1907, when owner A.J. "Skimmer" Hines, confided to his friends that he was selling the place because of the ghost. The building still exists at 120 South 4th Street today, but the current status of the haunting is unknown.
Another haunted spot is a private residence that is known as the Old Holmbo Residence. This house became haunted after the owner, Nicolai Holmbo, committed suicide in 1904 by hanging himself in the front room. The house sat deserted for many years afterwards... except for Holmbo's ghost. On many evenings, neighbors reported seeing lights inside of the empty house and the police were summoned many times concerning complaints of mournful cries and apparitions sightings. No one was ever found inside of the house.
Mineral Point has been plagued with weird activity for years. Not only was it the scene of the Mineral Point Vampire sightings in 1981, but it was also the area around where the Ridgeway Phantom was reported in the late 1800's. The phantom was named for the small crossroads town of Ridgeway and took many forms, frightening travelers as a headless man, an old woman, a ball of light and a number of spectral animals. The phantom appeared from nowhere and attacked passersby, until it came to the point that no one would travel the Ridge Road between Mineral Point and Blue Mounds alone... or unarmed. The origins of the ghost were traced back to 1840 when two young men were murdered at McKillip's Saloon in Ridgeway. A group of local toughs burned one boy to death in the fireplace and the other froze to death while trying to escape from town. Some believe that the Ridgeway Phantom departed when the town burned down in 1910... but others believe the spirit is still out there, lurking in the woods near Mineral Point!
Mineral Point is also the home of the The Walker House, a legendary inn that has been reportedly haunted since the 1840's. Over the years, staff members and customers have claimed a number of bizarre encounters.
And while vampires in Mineral Point are one thing -- what about a werewolf in the southeastern part of the state? Since the early 1990's, residents have been talking about the mysterious Bray Road Beast but there have been other Wisconsin werewolves as well! See the link above for the story of the Beast on Bray Road and then click here for accounts of other Wisconsin werewolves.
Near the vacation spot of the Wisconsin Dells was once an old tavern called The Dell House. Even though the building burned down many years ago, some believe that the ghosts here still linger!
Located near Duluth, Minnesota is the Wisconsin town of Superior and of all of the reported hauntings here, there are none as famous as the spirit who are believed to linger in the Fairlawn Mansion. Follow the link to find about more about this place!
The Old Sherman House Restaurant was once located in Plover... until the ghosts drove the owners out of business. The restaurant had been built on the site of an old cottage that once boasted more than its share of strange phenomena.
The city of Oshkosh boasts at least two haunted spots. One of them is one of the most famous haunted places in the state of Wisconsin. The Grand Opera House has been a ghostly landmark in the city for years and many stories have been told about strange happenings and about the ghost of the former stage manager, Percy Keene.
In addition, you are also apt to find ghosts at the Paine Art Center, a Tudor style mansion that was built in the 1930's. Furniture has been moved around and footsteps and strange moaning sounds have been heard. The ghost is believed to be the spirit of Edward or George Paine, the grandfather and father of Nathan Paine, the lumber king who began constructing the house in 1927.
The city of Madison also has its ghosts. A strange, glowing ghost was reportedly terrifying the prisoners in the Madison Jail in 1873. The sightings began with a bright light that filled the cells, followed by a wailing apparition that frightened the inmates. While believed to be the ghost of some long dead prisoner, the specter was only seen for a short time and then vanished. The jail has long since been replaced and a bank now stands at that location.
Also in Madison is the Muskie Lounge and Crab House (6312 Metropolitan Lane - Monona ) This lovely suburb of Madison is home to this locale of culinary delight. But to many of those employed there and to many patrons of this restaurant, over the years, this place is quite haunted. When this restaurant opened it's doors, many years ago as the Four Lakes Yacht Club; it quickly rose to popularity with area boaters due to it's docking space on one side of the building. One Friday evening, a waitress, known simply as Marlene, one of it's original waitstaff, suffered a heart attack. Later that night, she died in a Madison hospital. It wasn't long after, employees began to sense a presence. It was quietly talked about amongst employees of the "Yacht Club". Employees and patrons alike, were privy to a tap on the shoulder while alone on the back stairs. But in "Jingle's On-The-River", a later incarnation of this restaurant, the haunting was discussed freely and openly. Often employees, there to open the restaurant, would find place settings done and seating arranged differently than it was the previous night.
In 1994, before "the Muskie" opened it's doors, the present owner and his partner were in the building alone one evening. At one point, they both heard someone, right next to them, laughing, twenty minutes later, it happened again. Remodeling was frequently interrupted by unusual power failures and tools and materials mysteriously disappearing. Presently, Marlene makes her opinion known on menu changes by tossing pots and pans when the restaurant is empty. Marlene also "voices" her approval on the various bands that play at the bar. If she likes them, she helps them out by unpacking the band's equipment.
The Bar Next Door: (232 East Olin Ave -Madison ) "Many of you will remember this bar as the Wonder Bar, a reputed Chicago Mob hang-out during Prohibition days."....from Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club webpage... Undoubtedly, this building was meant for more than housing a bar. With it's turreted roof and it's hidden compartments under the windowsill, just the right size to hold a Thompson submachine gun, it becomes obvious this place is meant to be a fortress. Roger "The Terrible" Touhey, leader of Chicago's "other" Irish gang based in Des Plaines, Illinois, built this place as a distribution point to supply illegal alcohol in the Madison area and north. We can only speculate if Roger ever actually visited the place but it is clear that his presence was felt, even in his absence.
This building also harbors a legendary dark secret. Purportedly, there's a body buried behind the fireplace, in the second floor banquet room. One story claims, these are the bones of one of the Touhey brothers, killed in a shootout. Another makes them to be that of some poor soul that crossed the Touhey brothers in their shady business dealings. Employees, as well as customer alike have told of cigar boxes moving around the display box, as if, moved by phantom hands. The present-day manager of this historical building has heard footsteps descending the staircase, late at night, after bar hours.
Near Madison is Spring Green, home to famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin This wonderful summer estate served as Wright's studio but his time here was marked by a terrible tragedy that has left lingering spirits behind!
Located in Evansville was the East Side Steak House, now called The Evansville House. For years, this place was said to be quite haunted and while the current status of the haunting is unknown, the stories of the past still continue to be told!
Milwaukee was the site of the famous Giddings Poltergeist Case back in 1874. At that time, the Giddings Boardinghouse became infested with strange activity. It all began in August of that year when Mrs. William Giddings and her servant, Mary Speigel, were baking pies in the kitchen. According to reports, the trapdoor to the cellar opened by itself, dishes and silverware flew around the room, chairs and food hovered in the air and a terrible racket filled the house. The two women summoned some neighbors and they were startled when logs and water pails flew at them! People came from all over to witness the activity and two sharp newspaper reporters noticed that the happenings only occurred when Mary was present. With that, Mrs. Giddings fired the girl and she was severely beaten by her father. The next day, Mary attempted suicide by jumping in the river but she was rescued. Finally, a prominent Chicago doctor took her case and he discovered that Mary suffered from sleepwalking and was "neurotic". It seemed that whenever he took her to the Giddings home, objects would begin to levitate in the air. Eventually, Mary was taken in by a physician and his family and the activity came to a halt. Psychical investigator Herbert Thurston called the story a "remarkable American case". The house is now a private residence on Allis Street.
Two other haunted locations in Milwaukee are both public spots. One of them is the Modjeska Theater, a once historic site that became a discount movie house. The resident specter here has been dubbed the "Balcony Ghost" because he has a habit of looking down on the audience from the balcony during movies.
Another location is the Pfister Hotel, where the ghost of founder Charles Pfister reportedly greets guests and has returned to make sure that they are well taken care of. He has been spotted looking over the lobby from a spot on the grand staircase and has also been seen walking in the gallery above the ballroom. Witnesses identify him from a portrait of him that hangs in the lobby.
A house at the St. John's Military Academy in Delafield is haunted by the presence of a house that once stood on the grounds. The house that now stands is called Rosslyne Manse and it was once the home of Dr. Sidney Thomas Smythe, one of the presidents of the military academy. He constructed his mansion on the site of a home that belonged to a man who perished from tuberculosis... and apparently never left.
Largely settled by Norwegians around 1870, the town of Amery is home to a haunted Lutheran Church that many parishioners believe is haunted. Follow the link to find out more about the ghostly voices that have been experienced here.
In addition to ghosts, Wisconsin has seen its share of strangeness too. One of the most bizarre murderers in American history made his home in Plainfield. His name was Ed Gein and you may have seenhim mentioned in the introduction to this page. His gruesome crimes were so horrific that they spawned both books and films like "Silence of the Lambs" and "Psycho". Follow this link to read the article on Wisconsin's "Psycho" Ed Gein.
© Copyright 2001/ 2003 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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Sources and Recommended Reading:
Haunted Places: The National Directory by Dennis William Hauck (1996)
Weird Wisconsin created by Richard Hendricks
"Campus Haunts," Michael McGraw, Marquette Tribune, Wednesday, October 25, 2000
Haunted Heartland by Beth Scott and Michael Norman (1985)
Haunted Wisconsin by Beth Scott and Michael Norman (1988)
Ghosts of the Prairie Magazine: Issue 2 - "Shrouded in Mystery" by David Schmickel (1997)
Ghosts of the Prairie Magazine: Issue 8 - "Until the Daybreak" by David Schmickel (1999)
"Old Kenosha" articles by Diane Giles
Godfrey, Linda - The Beast of Bray Road (2003)
Sankey, Scarlet - Bray Road Beast (Strange Magazine - 10) (1992)
Clark, Jerome - Unexplained! (1999)
Coleman, Loren & Jerome Clark - Cryptozoology A to Z (1999)
Pohlen, Jerome - Oddball Wisconsin (2002)
Rath, Jay - W-Files (1997)
Personal Interviews and Correspondence