GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE
WISCONSIN'S MOST HAUNTED HOUSE
If a person was forced to choose what the greatest ghost story in Wisconsin might be, it would almost undoubtedly be the legend of Summerwind. This haunted mansion has spawned more strange tales and stories that any other location in the state. What dark secrets remain hidden in the ruins of this once grand estate? Were the stories of ghostly encounters and messages from beyond really true ... or were they part of an elaborate publicity hoax?
Summerwind (Photo Courtesy of Todd Roll)
Located on the shores of West Bay Lake, in the far northeast regions of Wisconsin, are the ruins of a once grand mansion that was called Summerwind. The house is long gone now, but the memories remain ... as do the stories and legends of the inexplicable events that once took place there. Summerwind is perhaps Wisconsins most haunted house, or at least it was, before fire and the elements of nature destroyed her. Regardless, even the ravages of time cannot destroy the haunted history of the house.
The mansion was built in 1916 by Robert P. Lamont as a summer home for he and his family. Nestled on the shores of the lake, the house caught the cool breezes of northern Wisconsin and provided a comfortable place for Lamont to escape the pressures of everyday life in Washington D.C., as he would later go on to serve as the Secretary of Commerce under President Herbert Hoover.
But life was not always sublime at Summerwind during the years of the Lamont family. For those who claim that the ghost stories of the house were "created" in later years, they forget the original tale of Robert Lamonts encounter with a spirit. Legends of the house say that Lamont actually fired a pistol at a ghost that he believed was an intruder. The bullet holes in the basement door from the kitchen remained for many years.
Two photos taken at Summerwind the bullet holes that were fired into the basement door by Robert Lamont! The legends say that he was shooting at a ghost at the time!
(Photos courtesy of Todd Roll)
Upon the death of Robert Lamont, the house was sold ... and sold again. It seemed that nothing out of the ordinary really happened there, save for Lamonts encounter with the phantom intruder, until the early 1970's. It was in this period that the family living in the house was nearly destroyed ... supposedly by ghosts.
Arnold Hinshaw, his wife Ginger, and their six children, moved into Summerwind in the early part of the 1970's. They would only reside in the house for six months, but it would be an eventful period of time.
From the day that they moved in, they knew strange things were going on in the house. It had been vacant for some time ... but it had apparently been occupied by otherworldly visitors. The Hinshaws, and their children, immediately started to report vague shapes and shadows flickering down the hallways. They also claimed to hear mumbled voices in darkened, empty rooms. When they would walk inside, the sounds would quickly stop. Most alarming was the ghost of the woman who was often seen floating back and forth just past some French doors that led off from the dining room.
The family wondered if they were simply imagining things but continued events convinced them otherwise. Appliances, a hot water heater and a water pump would mysteriously break down and then repair themselves before a serviceman could be called.
Windows and doors that were closed would reopen on their own. One particular window, which proved especially stubborn, would raise and lower itself at all hours. Out of desperation, Arnold drove a heavy nail through the window casing and it finally stayed closed.
On one occasion, Arnold walked out to his car to go to work and the vehicle suddenly burst into flames. No one was near it and it is unknown whether the source of the fire was supernatural in origin or not, but regardless, no cause was ever found for it.
Despite the strange activity, the Hinshaws wanted to make the best of the historic house so they decided to hire some men to make a few renovations. It was most common for the workers to not show up for work, usually claiming illness, although a few of them simply told her that they refused to work on Summerwind ... which was reputed to be haunted. That was when the Hinshaws gave up and decided to try and do all of the work themselves.
One day they began painting a closet in one of the bedrooms. A large shoe drawer was installed in the closets back wall and Arnold pulled it out so that he could paint around the edges of the frame. When he did, he noticed that there seemed to be a large, dark space behind the drawer.
Ginger brought him a flashlight and he wedged himself into the narrow opening as far as his shoulders. He looked around with the flashlight and then suddenly jumped back, scrambling away from the opening. He was both frightened and disgusted ... there was some sort of corpse jammed into the secret compartment!
Believing that an animal had crawled in there and died many years ago, Arnold tried to squeeze back in for a closer look. He couldnt make out much of anything, so when the children came home from school, he recruited his daughter Mary to get a better look. Mary took the flashlight and crawled inside. Moments later, she let out a scream ... it was a human corpse! She uncovered a skull, still bearing dirty black hair, a brown arm and a portion of a leg.
Why the Hinshaws never contacted the authorities about this body is unknown. Was the story concocted later to fit into the tales of "haunted" Summerwind? Or was their reasoning the truth ... that the body had been the result of a crime that took place many years ago, far too long for the police to do anything about it now.
Had they been thinking things through, they might have realized that this body might have been the cause of much of the supernatural activity in the house ... removing it might have laid the ghost to rest, so to speak.
Regardless, they left the corpse where they found it ... but it will figure into our story once again.
Shortly after the discovery of the body in the hidden compartment, things started to take a turn for the worse at Summerwind.
Arnold began staying up very late at night and playing a Hammond organ that the couple had purchased before moving into the house. He had always enjoyed playing the organ, using it as a form of relaxation, but his playing now was different. His playing became a frenzied mixture of melodies that seemed to make no sense, and grew louder as the night wore on. Ginger pleaded with him to stop but Arnold claimed the demons in his head demanded that he play. He often crashed the keys on the organ until dawn, frightening his wife and children so badly that they often huddled together in one bedroom, crying and cowering in fear.
Arnold had a complete mental breakdown and at the same time, Ginger attempted suicide.
Were the stories of strange events at Summerwind merely the result of two disturbed minds? It might seem so ... but what about the children? They also reported the ghostly encounters. Were they simply influenced by their parents questionable sanity ... or were the stories real?
The familys connection with the house would continue for years to come.
While Arnold was sent away for treatment, Ginger and the children moved to Granton, Wisconsin to live with Gingers parents. Ginger and Arnold would eventually be divorced when it looked as though Arnolds hopes for recovery were failing. Ginger later recovered her health, away from Summerwind at last, and she married a man named George Olsen.
Things seemed to be going quite well for her in her new peaceful life, until a few years later, when her father announced that he was going to buy Summerwind.
Raymond Bober was a popcorn vendor and businessman who with his wife Marie, planned to turn the old mansion into a restaurant and an inn. He believed that the house would attract many guests to the scenic location on the lake.
They had no idea what had happened to their daughter in the house.
Ginger was horrified at her parents decision. She had never given them all of the details about what had happened during the six months that she had lived in the house and she refused to do so now. What she did do was to beg them not to buy Summerwind.
Bobers mind was made up however. He announced that he realized the house was haunted, but this would not deter him. He claimed that he had spent time at the house and knew the identity of the ghost that was haunting the place.
According to Bober, the ghost was a man named Jonathan Carver, an eighteenth century British explorer who was haunting the house and searching for an old deed that had been given to him by the Sioux Indians. In the document, he supposedly had the rights to the northern third of Wisconsin. The deed had supposedly been placed in a box and sealed into the foundation of Summerwind. Bober claimed that Carver had asked his help in finding it.
Bober wrote a book about his experiences at Summerwind and his communications with Carver through dreams, trances and a Ouija board. The book was published in 1979 under the name of Wolffgang von Bober and was called THE CARVER EFFECT. It is currently out-of-print and very hard to find.
Shortly after Bober bought the house, he, his son Karl, Ginger and her new husband, George, spent a day exploring and looking over the house. The group had wandered through the place and as they were leaving the second floor, George spotted the closet where the secret compartment was hidden. He began pulling out the drawers and looking behind them, although Ginger begged for him to stop.
George was confused. He had simply been curious as to what might be in the drawers. Up until then, Ginger had never told anyone about finding the body behind the closet. Sitting in the kitchen later, she would tell them everything.
After hearing the story, the men rushed back upstairs and returned to the closet. Gingers brother, Karl, climbed into the space with a light and looked around. In a few moments, he climbed back out ... it was empty!
Bober and George also inspected the small space and found nothing. Where had the corpse gone? Had it been removed, either by natural or supernatural forces?
Or, most importantly, had it ever really been there at all?
Toward the end of that Summer, Karl traveled alone to the old house. He had gone to get a repair estimate on some work to be done on the house and to check with someone about getting rid of the bats which were inhabiting the place. He also planned to do some yard work and to get the place cleaned up a little.
It started to rain the first day that he was there and he began closing some of the windows. He was upstairs, in the dark hallway, and heard a voice call his name. He looked around but there was no one there. Karl closed the window and went downstairs. He walked into the front room and heard what sounded like two pistol shots! He ran into the kitchen and found the room filled with smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder ... apparently someone had fired a gun inside of the house!
Karl searched the place, finding the doors locked and undisturbed. There appeared to be no one inside and he returned to the kitchen. He began looking around the room and discovered two bullet holes in the door leading down to the basement. He examined them closely and realized that they were not new holes at all ... but old bullet holes that had worn smooth around the edges.
They were apparently holes left behind from Robert Lamonts encounter with a ghost in the kitchen. Perhaps events from the past were replaying themselves at Summerwind!
No matter what the explanation, it was enough for Karl and he left the house that afternoon.
The plans to turn the house into a restaurant did not go smoothly. Workmen refused to stay on the job, complaining of tools disappearing and feelings as if they were being watched. Marie Bober agreed with their complaints. She was always uneasy in the house and frequently told people that she felt as if she was followed from place to place whenever she was inside.
Most disturbing to Bober however was the apparent shrinkage and expansion of the house. Bober would measure rooms one day and then find that they were a different size the next day. Usually, his measurements were larger than those given in the blueprints of the house ... sometime greatly larger. At one point, Bober estimated that he could seat 150 people in his restaurant but after laying out his plans on the blueprints of Summerwind, he realized that the place could seat half that many.
Photographs that were taken of the house, using the same camera and taken only seconds apart, also displayed the variations of space. The living room was said to show the greatest enlargement.
Bober compared his photos of the living room with those that Ginger had taken when she and Arnold moved in. Gingers photos showed curtains on the windows that she took with her when she moved out. The curtains were physically absent in the room that Bober photographed ... but somehow they appeared in his photos!
Like the incident involving Karl and the pistol shots, could Summerwind be a place where time inexplicably repeats itself? Perhaps the place wasnt haunted at all, but instead, was a mysterious site where time was distorted in ways that we cannot understand. Perhaps the shadows and figures that were seen could have been people or images from the past (or the future) and perhaps the sound of someone calling Karls name would happen in reality ... several months later.
We will never know for sure now, but the idea is something worth considering.
Eventually, the project was abandoned and Bober would never see the dream of his restaurant and inn. Strangely though, despite his claims that he was an earthly companion of the ghostly Jonathan Carver, the Bobers never spent the night inside of the house. They chose instead to sleep in an RV that they parked on the grounds. Also strange was the fact that Carver (if the ghost existed) chose to manifest himself in such malevolent ways ... especially if he was looking for help in finding his deed.
Bobers explanation for this was that Carver resented anyone living in the house or trying to renovate the place, at least until the deed was found. Bober spent many days searching the basement for where the deed might be hidden, chipping the foundation and peering into dark holes and crevices.
To this day, the mysterious deed has never been found.
Summerwind (Photo Courtesy of Todd Roll)
In the years that followed Bobers abandonment of Summerwind, a number of skeptics came forward to poke holes in some of Bobers claims. Many of their counter-claims, however, have been nearly as easy to discredit as some of Bobers original ones.
Obviously, we are never going to know for sure if Summerwind was really haunted. The house is gone now and we are left with only the claims, reports and witness accounts of Bober and his family.
We can examine the claims of the family, and the skeptics, and try to make sense of it all.
In 1983, a freelance writer named Will Pooley set out to gather the facts behind the story and discredit it. His research claimed that even if Bober had found Carvers deed, it would have been worthless. He based these findings on the fact that the British government ruled against an individuals purchase of Indian land and also that the Sioux had never claimed land west of the Mississippi River.
First of all, the land was not sold to Carver, it was given to him in return for assistance that he had given to the Indians, so British law would not have ruled against this. On the other subject, the Sioux Indians were not a single tribe, they were an entire nation, made up of many different tribes. It is possible, and very likely, that one tribe that belonged to the Sioux nation could have lived in Wisconsin. The white settlers pushed the Indians further and further west and as this particular tribe abandoned their lands, they could have deeded them to Carver.
Pooley also argued that the deed to the property had been located in the old land office in Wausau, Wisconsin in the 1930's and that it is unlikely that Carver even journeyed as far north as West Bay Lake.
But would he have had to have traveled to northern Wisconsin to hold a deed to the land? And why would there not have been another deed filed for that piece of land? Someone could have claimed it many years later, not even realizing that Carver already held the title to it.
He also argued that the deed could have never been placed in the foundation of the house anyway ... Summerwind had been built more than 130 years after Carver died. To this, it can only be argued that many events of the supernatural world go unexplained.
One man that Pooley did talk to however, was Herb Dickman of Land 'O Lakes, Wisconsin. He had helped pour the foundation for the house in 1916 and recalled that nothing had been placed in the foundation ... a box containing a deed or anything else. So, who really knows?
Apparently, Bober was not always the most credible person either. Residents who lived close to Summerwind said that Bober spent less than two summers at the estate. After abandoning plans for the restaurant, he tried to get a permit to operate a concession stand near the house but local ordinances prohibited this. Perhaps he was planning the idea of tours of the "haunted" house ... and idea that would come along a little later.
There was even some uncertainty as to whether or not Bober even owned Summerwind. One area resident told Pooley that Bober had tried to buy the house on a contract-for-deed but the deal had fallen through. The house had been abandoned and no one laid claim to it, save for the bank, and they never realized what Bober was up to out there. This story has never been verified however and it cannot be proven that Bober did not own the place.
So how much of the story that Bober wrote about in his book is true? Was the house really haunted, or was the story of the haunting merely a part of a scheme by Raymond Bober to draw crowds to a haunted restaurant?
Those who live near the house claim that the idea that it is haunted has all come from the fact that the mansion was abandoned and from Bobers wild claims. But what else would they say?
These neighbors have often made it very clear that they resent the strangers who have come to the property, tramping over their lawns and knocking on their doors. They say that the chartered buses that once came and dumped would-be ghost hunters onto the grounds of Summerwind were also unwelcome. These are the last people to ask for an objective opinion on whether this house is actually haunted.
So there remains the mystery ... was Summerwind really haunted? No one knows and if they do, they arent saying.
The house was completely abandoned in the early 1980's and fell deeper and deeper into ruin. Bats had already taken up residence years before and the house became a virtual shell, resting there in a grove of pines. The windows were shattered and the doors hung open, inviting natures destructive force inside.
In 1986, the house was purchased by three investors who apparently thought that they could make a go of the place again. But it was not to be ... forces greater than man had other ideas. Summerwind was struck by lightning during a terrible storm in June of 1988 and burned to the ground.
Today, only the foundations, the stone chimneys and perhaps the ghosts remain ...
©Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
Ruins of Summerwind (Photo Courtesy of Stacy McArdle)
SUMMERWIND: Article for Ghosts of the Prairie Magazine by Stacy McArdle & Troy Taylor (1998)
HAUNTED PLACES: A NATIONAL DIRECTORY by Dennis William Hauck (1996)
HAUNTED HEARTLAND by Beth Scott & Michael Norman (1985)
THE CARVER EFFECT by Wollfgang von Bober (1979)
Personal Accounts & Correspondence