Surrounded by cornfields and jostling in our seats from the bumpy road, we entered the infamous little town just minutes west of Eau Claire.
“This is one of the most widely known haunted locations in the nation,” my passenger said with a tone of near-disbelief. People come from all over the Midwest to tour the humble town, hoping to hear children in the cemetery, see glowing eyes in the woods, glimpse a hanged minister in the church, feel the cold touch in the schoolhouse, see a spirit on the riverbank, and drive toward phantom headlights.
Despite Caryville’s hyped-up reputation, this was my first trip there. For educational accompaniment, Eau Claire paranormal investigator and co-author of The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations (with Chad Lewis), Terry Fisk, joined me. Though we didn’t go there with a medium or heavy-duty equipment, I figure it doesn’t take a Jennifer Love Hewitt or Patricia Arquette to deduce that some of the stories are BS.
“I wonder, though, if people invented the stories and then said they experienced things because they expected to, or if they saw things and then came up with the stories to explain what happened,” Fisk wondered during our trip.
The residents of Caryville despise its regular tourists, probably for making so much noise late at night, defacing tombstones, and breaking into buildings. With at least one resident rumored to stop trespassers at shotgun-point, we stayed in the comfort of my automobile (I call it the “Civic Engagement”) while touring the schoolhouse and church.
|The intimate, and private, cemetery in Caryville supposedly has the ghosts of children haunting it. Above, a tombstone reads “Baby.” Hmm...|
We continued on Caryville Road, an apparently daring feat in itself ever since the alleged car accident of the prom queen on prom night, like, 20 years ago. Fisk recited some of the appealing stories: car lights will fail, it gets really super cold, and your odometer goes haywire when you drive there at night, and you might even see the phantom headlights! Just stay away from the bridge where she crashed, he continued, because you can see her car in the water! Once again, Lewis and Fisk could not substantiate the legends and no one, least of all a prom queen, died there.
The so-called main course was the boat landing, where people have alleged that a ghost named Mary Dean haunts the island a few dozen yards away, several teens have drowned in the river, the ghosts of a sanitarium owner’s dogs (with blazing red eyes and piercing howls) roam in the woods, and a couple was murdered while parked in a car.
The island was once a small town named Meridean, Fisk explained, and many historians have credited a girl that died there named Mary Dean as the inspiration. I started to get excited at this point, as there’s finally something plausible, well, at least somewhat historically accurate.
Though they couldn’t find evidence of deaths or a sanitarium, they hypothesize that the town saw its fair share of trauma after a few floods washed out the entire town. As for the dogs, Fisk said when he came out there a few times before and, on one occasion, he and Lewis heard extremely strange animal noises. And when we moved up the hill toward the cemetery, I sensed a twinge of interest from Fisk when he discovered a lone paw print, likely from a dog the size of a St. Bernard.
Fisk said he hypothesizes that the residents of Meridean used the extremely small and quite old cemetery, located at the town’s highest point. They haven’t traced the names on the graves, though, but it might be hard at this point what with the erosion and horrible defacement (some headstones were even missing).
|The boat landing in Caryville is said to have a history of out-of-the-ordinary happenings that draw teenage couples there every October.|
Two or three “no trespassing” signs are posted, likely because tourists come up there to find the “hidden” graves and coax the ghosts to appear. These graves are supposedly near a farmer’s cornfield there and no longer have headstones (they may not even exist anymore from plowing, who knows?).
During our 20-minute return home, we exchanged our ghost stories – my paltry three years of hunting for newspaper stories and his decade of investigation experience in at least seven states.
“So, after hearing all these people’s stories, are you starting to believe some of this stuff?” he asked.
We both agreed, even though we haven’t experienced anything positively ghostly, that it’s hard not to believe these people. In the case of Caryville, Fisk chatted with several sane and credible people with excellent backgrounds, one of which said the hellhounds chased him down the dirt road on his motorcycle, and a few others that witnessed the cemetery children locked the car and refused to leave it when he brought them there in broad daylight. Others insist they see swings going on their own and shutters opening/closing at the schoolhouse – even when there’s no wind!
Even if there aren’t any ghosts in Caryville, one thing I do know is that teenagers love this stuff and as long as they continue packing up a car and heading out there on Halloween, they’ll keep experiencing something scary – like a trespassing fine.