Chad Lewis' new book collects paranormal stories from Wisconsin newspapers
06/14/07 - Volume One
Not much is surprising coming from Chad Lewis. The Eau Claire paranormal investigator has built a career on gathering evidence about the unusual, unexpected, and unbelievable, so weirdness is the norm in his world. His latest book, though, is a real curveball. It's a collection of articles from old Wisconsin newspapers, and as a supposed student of the art of newspapering, I just can't get over it. The subjects of the stories--ghosts, sea serpents, a chicken with a human face--may be questionable, but the stories themselves are absolutely real, gathered over five years from microfilm and microfiche at libraries around the state. Reading them is a bit like digging up the family secrets that got left out of the official history--fascinating and a little dirty.
Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual, & Bizarre Newspaper Stories, 1860-1910 was released early the summer by Lewis' company, Unexplained Research. "I kind of stumbled on it" while working on other projects, Lewis said. "I started running across these really weird stories, and I printed them out just for my own amusement." Some of the articles are "out there," but a lot are believable, if weird--like the people who were "frightened to death" (heart attack, maybe?), the young woman who proudly wore shoes made out of human skin, or the man who went insane trying to invent a perpetual motion machine. "I thought these were such a unique find that people just had to see them," Lewis said. "People say the world is crazy today. But it was crazy then too."
Lewis, a former grant writer who's now a full-time paranormal investigator, has also authored the Road Guide to Haunted Locations series (with books on Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and Illinois) with fellow EC paranormal investigator Terry Fisk. He has a master's degree in applied psychology. "I was really interested in why people believe and why they don't," Lewis said. His journey into the paranormal started with investigating people's reports of seeing UFOs--when he was presenting his research, people would ask him about ghosts, strange creatures, and any other spooky things they had encountered. Lewis and Fisk's company, Unexplained Research, publishes the Hidden Headlines books (similar titles about New York and Texas are coming this summer) and the Haunted Locations series, and they've just started publishing books on the paranormal by other area writers.
The articles collected in Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin come from a 50-year span, between 1860 and 1910. Lewis said he chose to work within this time-frame because after 1910, papers printed fewer of these kinds of stories, and anything earlier than 1860 was often hear to read. In addition, he said, the 1900s brought the height of the spiritualist movement, which said that people could contact the spirits of the dead to ask them questions and seek guidance. Some of Hidden Headlines' most detailed articles are pieces of spiritualism's history in Wisconsin, such as an article about the first-ever spiritualist school established in Whitewater, a meeting of spiritualists in Eau Claire, and a report that spiritualist activity among German-American women was leading to divorces. The Eau Claire Leader has its share of headlines in the book, including "North Side Ghosts Seen," "Girl Buried Second Time," "Medium Gives Clue," "Peninsula 'Wild Man' Caught," and "Did Spooks Do It."
While newspapers today are unlikely to run a story about the haunted house up the street, there are still outlets for stories about the paranormal--the Internet, Hollywood, even The Discovery Channel. The newspapers of a hundred years ago are just a different medium from today's, Lewis said, with the "charm" of their stylized storytelling and headlines like "frightened to Death" intended to sell papers. "I don't think the paper is considered entertainment anymore.