Whether one believes in ghost tales or not, haunted legends can be a fascinating journey.
“No matter where (people) go whether it’s Baraboo or Key West, Florida people are looking for something unique that they can’t get at home and I think these stories of the strange and unusual certainly satisfy that,” said Chad Lewis, a paranormal researcher and author for over two decades.
Lewis, an Eau Claire native, has written several books on the paranormal and travels around the nation to promote them. In August, Lewis released a book called “Paranormal Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo” full of tales of the areas urban legends that claimed to have roamed the area and may still linger to this day.
“The reason I did it is so many tourists make it to the area and they don’t know anything about the paranormal side of things,” Lewis said. “So I put it together for people that are there visiting that might want something different than your water slide.”
From roads, to houses and creatures, the region has plenty of local stories that could be enough to make the hair stand up on the back of one’s neck.
Ringling Road in Baraboo
Lewis said a lot of haunted stories start because of tragic events like a suicide or murder. Ringling Road in Baraboo has a morbid story behind the small stretch of rural road. The story is archived with numerous other ghost tales around the nation on unexplainedresearch.com.
The author said the legend of Ringling Road is a mother drowned her children in a well located at the end of the road with the mother taking her own life by hanging herself at the well.
He said those who are encounter the well claim to hear the “ghostly cries of children coming from the well” and see a woman hanging from a noose above the well, which Lewis said is now on private property. He said he has heard of people having other “bizarre experiences” while at the road from seeing a big foot creature to having an uneasy feeling that one shouldn’t be in the area and even car trouble.
“A whole variety of things seem to happen out on Ringling Road. Even the road itself, not even where the well is. The road is just some sort of paranormal beacon,” he said. “People have had so many experiences there that I think something is happening. I don’t know what it is, but I think these people are not hallucinating. They are not making it up … So many people have had something weird on Ringling Road that I think there is something to it.”
However, there are a few aspects that question if what really happened is fact or fiction. Lewis said he was contacted a few years ago from someone who claimed to make up the legend to keep people off of the property.
“That’s very difficult to prove or disprove but if he did (make it up) it certainly had the exact opposite effect because when people here stories like that they want to go there more than not go there,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he dug as much as he could into the story to find a death report or newspaper articles related to the killings and suicide, but he has turned up empty handed.
“Sometimes you can’t find them because they never happen, but other times without knowing a decade or a year it’s impossible to find them,” he said. “I can’t prove whether or not this place is haunted but I certainly can show that this event did take place or as far as we know this never occurred.”
A monster and spirit at Devil’s Lake
One of Lewis favorite legends is from Devil’s Lake.
In Lewis book, he tells the Native American tale about an intense battle between the giant Thunderbirds and the water monsters in the lake with the Thunderbirds claiming victory. The story says that battle formed the lake and rock formations of Devil’s Lake.
Lewis said he’s heard some people believe some of those monsters from that battle could be still lurking in the water, a tale that dates back to when the first Native Americans roamed the land.
Another legend at the lake is a Native American spirit who paddles on the lake with a canoe. Lewis said people will try to get a closer look at a man, who is said to be dressed in Native American clothing, only to find he has disappeared once they get close enough. The legend is the spirit of the man will walk around the campgrounds to try to find the best fire to sit around.
“I always joke to make sure your neighbors have a little better fire than you do at the campground,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he has visited Devil’s Lake numerous times and even did research on it for another book he wrote on lake monsters but he said he hasn’t had anything unusual happen to him. However, he has talked with people who have had encounters with the monster and spirit.
Old Baraboo Inn
Old Baraboo Inn located on Walnut Street could have an entire book written of encounters people have experienced.
According to Lewis’ book, the now 150-year-old building served as a tavern and brothel in the 1860s. According to hauntedhouses.com, it also served as a brewery and winery and in 1864 three prostitutes and two owners died at the inn.
Lewis said another part of the legend is it was allegedly a stop for sinister card players and, although there isn’t any proof, gangsters like Al Capone set foot in the inn during its time.
The inn was destroyed by a fire in 1988. It was renovated and opened back up for business by new owners in 2002 as Old Baraboo Inn. It was during that time of the reopening Lewis said the stories started to become public.
According to hauntedhouses.com some of the paranormal occurrences people claim to happen include brooms flying across the kitchen by themselves, doors opening and closing without being touched by human hands and lights flickering on and off on their own.
Witnesses have also claimed to see some ghostly figures including a woman dressed as a saloon dancer who inspects the bar and dances to the jukebox. Lewis said people have also claimed to see cowboy and gangster ghosts.
This summer, Lewis tagged along during an overnight investigation with a team of paranormal investigators at the Old Baraboo Inn to study the stories and legends. While he said nothing happened to him, he was told by other people about the experiences they had.
“Many people came up to me and said that they saw something out of the corner of their eye or they went to take a picture and it came out completely black,” Lewis said. “When I was there, nothing happened to me, which is common.”
Despite its haunted past, Lewis said Old Baraboo Inn, which is now a bar and grill, has embraced its history. According to the Old Baraboo Inn’s Facebook page, the building offers ghost tours and ghost hunts.
One local legend in the Juneau County area has not been seen for decades.
In the early 2000s, Lewis said he was contacted by a man who said his grandmother back in the 1980s saw a human figure, about six feet tall, with his upper body covered in feathers in the ridge of the Mauston Bluffs. Lewis said the man contacted him and said he saw the same figure he dubbed The Mauston Birdman.
Lewis said he hasn’t been able to trace down an origin to how the creature first came to the bluffs.
“They are just mysteriously there, sometimes it will be decades between sighting of these creatures,” Lewis said.
He hasn’t heard of any other firsthand witnesses to the Birdman since that person contacted him.
“I’ve spoken in Mauston several times and I’ve never found any other witnesses to it,” Lewis said. “Some have heard that story even prior to me hearing it they knew about the legend but outside of that one grandson I’ve never found any first hand witnesses and his grandma had passed (away) by the time he had contacted us.”
Lewis said the creature appeared with a brief paragraph and illustration in Linda Godfrey and Richard Hendricks book Weird Wisconsin: Your Travel Guide to Wisconsin’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets but he hasn’t seen the creature in any other folklore books.
“I’ve had people that come up to me and tell me a story (and) they said they haven’t told anyone in 40 years because they didn’t think anyone would believe them,” Lewis said. “So it’s quite possible someone has seen the Birdman and just never reported it.”
“Whether there’s really a bird there or not I don’t know but (it’s a) fantastic folklore,” Lewis said.
“Our Dear Frankie” at H.H. Bennett Studio
The Wisconsin Dells is known as a tourist’s attraction but it also has a mysterious side.
One of the legends featured on the new Kreepy Kilbourn Ghost Walk Tour starts at the H.H. Bennett Studio where the wife of famous photographer who made the Dells famous is said to try to communicate with visitors and staff.
H.H. Bennett referred to his wife, Frances Bennett, as “Our Dear Frankie” and staff also refer to her in that similar manner, said Visitor Services Coordinator Jenna Loda-Eddy.
Bennett died at age 36 because of respiratory issues. Eddy said while some would argue her death was caused due to tuberculosis, it also could have been caused by working with the chemicals in her husband’s photography studio.
When she was young, Bennett discovered the body of Amelia Dutcher while playing with a sibling at the foot of Elephant’s Back Mound, not far from the Wisconsin Dells. Dutcher disappeared in the fall of 1850s or 1860s after she checked into the Tanner House, now where the Finch Motel is currently located. Dutcher was headed to Baraboo to visit relatives when she went missing. Eddy said some people claimed to have heard Dutcher’s screams on a cold night where her body was found.
At the H.H. Bennett Studio, Eddy said a variety of guests and staff said to have had experiences in the store and historic museum from felling a cold sensation to suspecting a presence is attempting to communicate with them. Even Eddy shared her own experiences from hearing footsteps when no one else is around to hearing books falling off shelves right behind her
“She’s tried to communicate with us in various ways,” Eddy said.
But like any urban legends a lot of the activity is questionable.
“It’s everybody’s personal opinion of whether you believe those kinds of things or not,” she said.
The stories of both Bennett and Dutcher, as well as Ghost Molly at the Showboat Saloon were featured during this falls Haunted Kilbourn: The Lives and Deaths of Victorian Women Walking Tour, which had its final tour Oct. 13. The Kreepy Kilbourn Ghost Walk tour will highlight those two women’s stories and other paranormal legends that surround the Wisconsin Dells.
Without a tale
When asked to tell any ghost stories in the Reedsburg area Lewis said he couldn’t think of any.
“Nothing jumps out with Reedsburg… nothing is ringing a bell off hand,” he said. “People have told me stories about their homes but in terms of public places people can visit nothing is ringing a bell off hand.”
Lewis said he receives on average about 200 emails weekly from people who explain about weird experiences they’ve encountered and is always on the lookout for other stories to investigate. “Paranormal Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo” is available on Amazon for purchase. A list of other ghost stories in Wisconsin and other parts of the nation can be found at unexplainedresearch.com.