Mike Moore: Finding haunted places around here

By Mike Moore


10/08/06 - The Journal Times

All right. You've spent a day's pay to keep pace with the Vampire Joneses, knowing there was never anything "optional" about the costume bash. You've allowed Racine County's youths to extort you out of your chocolate stash.

It's time to get down to the real Halloween.

I'm talking haunted houses. Not the ones where, subconsciously, you know the ghosts will go home and fire up the XBox after you've gotten your money's worth. I mean the ones where the spirits don't care when October is.

The true haunted places - if you believe in that sort of thing.

Terry Fisk isn't sure whether he does. He admits that in a book he co-authored, which is only unexpected because the book is "The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations." That's like a Vegas chaplain being wishy-washy on the idea of marriage.

The important thing is, he unambiguously embraces the search for ghosts.

"I would much rather live in a huge world full of mystery and uncertainty, than in a world so tiny and simple that we could actually comprehend it," Fisk wrote in the book's introduction. "Fortunately, history has shown us that gaining knowledge does not destroy our sense of mystery."

With that in mind, here's the knowledge du jour. Over the years, Fisk and his co-author, Chad Lewis, have collected tons of notes on supposedly haunted places around the state. Several of them are in Racine County.

I'm sure plenty of private homes from Burlington to the lakefront have spawned ghost tales. The authors targeted public places, or at least places any amateur spirit-watcher can safely avoid a trespassing citation.

About two years ago, the duo rolled through town to check out the stories in person. Fisk said some just didn't add up. Like the "Northside Pick `n Save." He couldn't recall, but I'm assuming that means the one on Rapids Drive. About the creepiest thing the investigators heard there was that shopping carts sometimes roll by themselves. Fisk agreed that sounds more like the work of the Ghost of the Sloped Lot.

A few seemed more promising. One was Winslow Elementary School, which will only build on that scary reputation now that it's uninhabited.

Staff members told Fisk and Lewis they'd heard footsteps and voices at times when the building was empty. Or that they saw apparitions in the windows from outside. There was even a custodian who refused to go into the boiler room but wouldn't say why.

"People had a suspicion that he had some kind of haunting experience," Fisk said.

Pretty easy for a school to get that reputation when its parking lot is built where the city cemetery once was. Local cemetery expert Margo Drummond said a man named Norman Clarke chose the site to bury an in-law because it was "deep in the woods" and so wouldn't be disturbed by human traffic. Hey, it was the 1800s.

Though the bodies were all disinterred (for the outrageous price of $2.50 per adult and $1.50 per child), Drummond said the story went around that students sometimes saw bones in the school's well. A bubbler was said to pump out "skeleton juice."

Yet Winslow didn't make the cut for the book. The only Racine County site to reach road tour status was the Root River bridge at the county line in Caledonia. Its history comes from tragedy.

"Back in the 1970s, a young boy was playing in the woods near the bridge and accidentally drowned in the Root River," the entry reads. "Late at night, people have seen his ghostly image walking in the spooky woods near the river bank."

It goes on to talk about the hiking trail as "a creepy place for a ghost encounter." So ghosts outside the woods are passe? Sounds like somebody's paranormally jaded.

Actually, Fisk said he's never seen a full-bodied ghost. Closest thing was an "orange, nebulous form" - a form that happened to be in the same spot where a door opened an instant later.

When you hear ghost stories constantly, you notice patterns. While checking out other Midwestern states, Fisk said they've discovered each state has a common theme for its tales.

Here in Cheeseland, our undead tend to involve gangsters. Dillinger should spare Racine from his hauntings, at least. He got away.

Elsewhere, Fisk said, the stories focus on more innocent victims: massacres of American Indians in Minnesota, slaves and lynchings in Missouri.

Fisk wouldn't guarantee any sightings if I went on the poltergeist prowl. Agents haven't yet talked the apparitions into two shows a night.

Sure, most of the tales are just good campfire material. Maybe all of them.

That won't remove the thrill from the chase. The book reminds searchers to be respectful of the dead. Especially if some stories are true. A couple of pieces of candy aren't going to appease real ghosts.

Mike Moore's Weblog is at http://www.youknowmoore.com and his column runs three days a week. He can be reached at (262) 631-1724 or by e-mail at mike.moore@lee.net


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