Soldiers surprise cemetery sexton
Hearsay and rumor often drive a community's ghost stories. In the case of Belle Boyd, a legend in her own right, rumor has it that the former
groundskeeper at Spring Grove Cemetery left his post while mowing the lawn after seeing ghosts near Boyd's cemetery site.
"As the legend goes, he saw some soldiers dressed in Confederate or Union uniforms walking up to her grave, and he realized he could see right through them," current Cemetery Sexton Bob Hall said. "Whether that's true or not is another matter."
In his nine years as cemetery sexton, Hall said he has not experienced anything of that magnitude.
Boyd was a Confederate spy during the Civil War. Though she was born in Virginia in 1844, she died in Kilbourn on June 11, 1900.
Her cenotaph in Spring Grove Cemetery reads, "On May 23, 1862 at the battle of Front Royal, Belle Boyd, then 18, ran across the battlefield between the firing lines with information for Gen. Stonewall Jackson on the disposition of Union troops. With this information, Jackson broke through and captured Front Royal. Union forces under Gen. Banks were driven from the Shenandoah Valley."
After earning fame from the war, a novel concept for a woman at the time, she became a celebrity of sorts and held speaking tours throughout the country. While on tour in Kilbourn, she died in her hotel room at Hile House located near where the Visitor and Convention Bureau stands downtown.
Haunting the Traveler's
After the Hile House, the building became Traveler's Hotel/Motel and was run by the Hess family until it was torn down in 1985. Though Mike Hess was just a child at the time, he said there were several stories circulating that Boyd's spirit never left.
"There were instances where footsteps were heard upstairs when nobody was there," Hess said. "I lived in the first floor at one time, and my brother was up on the third floor. When I went up to see him, there was a door that blocked off the third floor from entry and when I knocked on the door there were footsteps coming across, and nobody answered. I asked my brother about it later, and he said nobody was home. So there was definitely something there."
Hess also recollected an instance when he made a sandwich in his first-floor unit and placed it in the refrigerator.
"When I came back later, there was a bite taken out of it, and nobody else was there," he said.
When Hess was helping with remodeling work at the Bennett Studio, he said Ollie Reese had a coffee can of dirt from Boyd's grave. Reese told Hess he was meaning to send it to Virginia to rest her soul. But as far as Hess knows, that never happened.
"Maybe it was because she was a Confederate spy and was buried here that her spirit worked up here," Hess said.
Dungeon has its own horrors, employees say
Though it may seem to be a clever marketing ploy, employees and paranormal investigators attest the now-closed Dungeon of Horrors on Broadway is indeed horrific.
According to its former owner, Bill Nehring, the building used to house a mechanic's shop with a mortuary next door. As the legend goes, the owner of the establishment committed suicide in the garage with a shotgun.
Since then, the building allegedly plays home to "some pretty strange stuff," Nehring said, such as cold spots, glowing orbs, apparitions, voices and even people touched by invisible hands.
"For a while, at different times, we had trouble keeping employees inside," Nehring said. "It was scaring out the employees. We had one summer where everyone there was pretty convinced something extra was going on. There were so many employees and customers affected by it. I mean we weren't doing anything to scare them in some spots and they came out terrified."
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Dave Pugh, a Wisconsin Dells resident who worked a summer at Dungeon of Horrors several years ago, agreed.
"There was no air conditioner in the place, and I remember it would be 100 degrees outside and this one particular area, where other weird stuff happened, would be so cold you could see your breath," he said. "Most of the time it would mess with the tourists walking through the place, and we'd see them start freaking out wondering who was behind them touching them."
Nehring said three paranormal groups have researched the building, with only one confirming visual and psychic activity. Another group was skeptical of the alleged activity, Nehring said,
"But after they interviewed some of the former employees around town they deduced that it was credible and that we weren't doing it for a promotion or something," he said.
One of the authors of "Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations," Terry Fisk, personally investigated the site and included it in the book.
"The activity seems to have been going on for many years," Fisk said. "The owner that's looking to sell had owned it 24 years, and he said the stories go back even further than that."
Pugh said he never felt threatened by the haunting, but wasn't exactly comfortable with it, either.
"One time a hissing sound came from the other side of the hall and went right into my ear giving me a migraine shortly thereafter," Pugh said.
Haunted Locations' co-author Chad Lewis said Dungeon of Horrors is in an elite group of haunted spots in the state.
"Dungeon of Horrors is truly one of the few haunted, haunted houses," Lewis said. "About 85 percent of the employees have had personal experiences. They've seen an apparition of an older man disappear before their eyes, some have seen a man carrying an axe. And what's interesting is a lot of these staffs that are supposed to scare people report seeing somebody working there that's not there."
Nehring said, despite the marketing implications, they tried to keep the activity under wraps as long as possible.
"For all those years it was going on it helped us scare people, but we didn't say anything about because we were scared we'd scare off our customers."
Dell House customers said to return to beach
For several years the beach on Blackhawk Island has been a popular hangout for high school students and tourists, but a century earlier the infamous Dell House stood there as a popular location for river ruffians.
The house was built in the early 1800s as a spot for river travelers to stop near the treacherous Narrows. Dell House catered to its patrons by providing food, shelter, whiskey, gambling and women. According to legend, many fights broke out at the establishment, and some unlucky patrons may have died there.
By the time river traffic slowed, Dell House closed down and was abandoned around 1900. Ever since a fire polished off the building in 1910, tourists who camped near the site have spun yarns about mysterious sounds and ghosts coming from the remaining foundation.
Chad Lewis, co-author of "Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations," said he hears dozens of stories about allegedly haunted locales each year, and Dell House is one of them.
"Often times we get reports from people that have been there," he said. "You wouldn't believe the number of people that contact us, 'Have you heard about this place? Have you heard about this?'"
Lewis said people have reported hearing cursing, laughter, footsteps and breaking glass near the site, though he's never been able to locate it.
"I have heard many stories from people, but I spent two days walking around trying to locate that spot and was unable to find anyone who knew exactly where it was," he said. "Obviously it's down by the river, and everyone seems to know the story, but no one knows actually where it was."
Many local residents know the former location of Dell House, which is perhaps unfortunate as their comfortable evening of camping may result in uninvited guests.