An apparition throws dishes in a longstanding tavern. Hikers spot a misty outline of a native canoe paddler. Mysterious howling sounds are heard in the woods. A family wakes to their table set, all of the lights on in their home.
All of these events are part of “Haunted Baraboo,” a newly released book by local guides Shelley Mordini and Gwen Herrewig.
Mordini, who teaches special education at Baraboo High School, also founded and operates Baraboo Tours. The company offers rickshaw and historical tours, but also shows tourists the haunted sites of the city.
When Arcadia Publishing of Charleston, South Carolina, brought up the idea of writing a book, Mordini was unsure of the proposition. The school year was set to begin again in 2019, a busy time for teachers. When she told Herrewig about the opportunity, her now co-author was an advocate for the idea and agreed to be part of the project. The two began some modest research, Mordini said, but it truly became important when she was given some news.
“Then I got a Stage IV cancer diagnosis,” Mordini said. “That kind of catapulted us. Originally, my diagnosis was ‘You have less than a year to live,” and so I was like, ‘OK, we need to write this book.’”
From there, she and Herrewig sped up their work. Their process was hampered by restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of sharing a table at the library, they sat at their own computers, cooperatively editing a document that Herrewig had started as Mordini shifted to teaching in her 32nd year from home and Herrewig juggled trying to help her son with virtual learning.
Though there were new challenges, the pair said they were able to do extensive work as things reopened and relaxed. They acknowledged that others were helpful in the process as well, especially grateful for photos that were either donated by local businesses like Circus World or Con Amici Craft Bar and photographer Bill Johnson or taken for them by Herrewig’s aunt Pam Thompson.
The process of writing a book for the first time posed its own challenges, but they worked well as a team, Herrewig said.
“Shelley knows everybody,” Herrewig said. “We had such a great partnership, because I had the writing skills, I did a lot of writing in the past, and she had the social aspect of it. She just was able to make everything happen.”
Their goal was to speak to primarily people with first hand experiences. They even spoke with people who lived in the same home in different decades who described ghostly encounters. Herrewig said she was surprised by stories of the same type of apparition appearing in multiple places, like the connection between different circus buildings. History is a main component of the book. It informs of past events in the city as evenly as highlighting the haunts that a number of people claim to have experienced. They both have their own favorite stories.
“Over the six years we’ve collected a lot of stories,” Herrewig said of their work as tour guides. “We were familiar with these stories.”
In their writing process, the pair said they also garnered a lot of new information.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Mordini said. “We just feel like there’s still magic here in Baraboo, and we uncovered a little bit of it.”
The book was finished in November and released Aug. 23. So far, Mordini and Herrewig said they have received a small amount of feedback but always welcome more insight into their work. Another byproduct of publishing a book about hauntings was the amount of stories they received after writing it. The pair joked they may write another one day with their new material.
Within minutes of setting up a table to sell autographed copies, people who were in the middle of the Summer Brew Ha Ha in downtown Baraboo stopped to buy a book and began telling their own stories of haunted homes.
They have planned more than one event to share the book with the public. The pair will be signing books again during the Fall Fair on the Square from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 9 outside of the Baraboo Tours office, 524 Oak Street, on the second floor. They will also be there over the Fall Art Tour weekend.
There are programs scheduled for Mordini and Herrewig to present the book as well, with an appearance at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Baraboo Civic Center and sponsored by the Carnegie-Schadde Memorial Public Library of Baraboo and the city Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. They will be at the Portage Public Library at 6 p.m. Oct. 20 to explain their process for writing the book and share haunted stories as well. The pair will sign books after both events.
“The reviews have been positive,” Herrewig said. “Somebody called it ‘delightfully creepy.’ We did not exaggerate or demonize things in the book. …We weren’t going for ‘scary.’ We were going for honest and, ‘This is creepy,’ and all so neat.”
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