Ghosts in the coulees?

10/27/05 - West Salem Coulee News


A search on the Internet for hauntings in Wisconsin includes a few for the Coulee Region. La Crosse can claim the Bodega Brew Pub, Old Holmbo House and Del’s Bar. Coon Valley’s DiSciascio’s has it’s own mischievous female apparition. But surely there are more ghost stories than that.

In an e-mail,  Eau Claire-based paranormal investigator Chad Lewis said he has investigated a lot of cases from this area but never came up with any substantiation.

A hunt for Holmen hauntings produced little. Sue Stranc, the reference librarian in the Holmen Area Library, said she thought the library had a poltergeist moving things around at night, but then she realized it was just janitorial staff.

Ghost stories don’t get spread too widely around Holmen, anyway. There are a lot of conservative Norwegians in the area who will not believe anything unless they see it for themselves, Stranc explained.

Mark Waldenberger agreed with Stranc. Waldenberger, director and chief field investigator of the Coulee Region Paranormal Investigation Society, said the conservative nature of the area keeps people from talking about the paranormal.

A talk with Waldenberger, though, might make one believe the area is crawling with spirits.

For example, he said, one time the Onalaska Police Department got a report of someone pounding on the outside of a resident’s home. The police orchestrated a sting so they could pounce on the troublemaker, and the sting worked — almost.

As the police waited in the garage, a thumping sound like a two-by-four hitting the house was heard, said Waldenberger. The officers swarmed out of the garage but found no one there.

The cemetery at Halfway Creek Lutheran, east of Holmen on Highway W, and the area around the Shefelbine orchard on Highway M are both hotspots for baffling experiences, said Waldenberger, including apparitions and unexplained lights.

If anybody would know about ghosts in West Salem it would have to be Errol Kindschy, local historian and president of the West Salem Historical Society. And Kindschy had stories to tell, but first he fessed up.

“I don’t believe in ghosts, because I have never seen one. Until I see one, I will never believe it,” he said.

“However,” he added, “there are some strange things going on that I can’t explain.”

Kindschy said he has been questioned about house histories after the most recent residents experienced strange, unexplained things.

Kindschy has plenty of stories about the home that once belonged to Hamlin Garland, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Kindschy said things began happening when they started to remodel the homestead back to its original shape in the 1970s and have continued since then.

Many of the stories involve lights coming on, thermostats being turned up or other objects being moved after the house had been checked and locked up. Most of the occurrences have been recorded.

“I have documented the time and the place and what has happened. There is no pattern. There isn’t anything that that really shows me anything of material aberrance,” said Kindschy.

One morning, the volunteers who opened the Garland home found something disturbing. In Garland’s bedroom, the bed had a form of a person pressed into the covers — nothing else was disturbed — as if a body had been placed on the bed then lifted off, leaving the covers in place. The doors had been locked. No one was left in the building.

Kindschy said the only reason he could think of why Hamlin Garland was haunting this house is because Garland — who did not die at the homestead — wanted his ashes brought to West Salem and spread on the hillside, but this did not happen.

Recorded in the book “Ghosts Along the Mississippi,” an interview with Kindschy illustrates other stories about the Garland homestead and who the ghosts might be — if there are actual ghosts.

Kindschy also had part in stories outside the Garland home.

“Old Salem” is where Kindschy calls home. It is the old Thomas Leonard home. He said he lives in an upstairs apartment that was added on to the original home and sells antiques from the original part.

One afternoon about three years ago, a woman was in the shop and said she saw an apparition on the stairway.

Later that day, in preparation for a meeting of the West Salem Historical Society, Kindschy said he had a couple over for dinner. The husband ran to do an errand before the meeting while the wife stayed and insisted on doing the dishes with Kindschy.

While doing the dishes, Kindschy said they both heard a knock on the door. Thinking it was someone early for the meeting, he walked about 15 feet to open the door and no one was there.

“My cat, Snuggles, came trotting up to see what was going on. When he got to the door, he turned around and bee-lined it under the bed and he hid,” said Kindschy.

There are probably a lot more ghost stories in the area that just haven’t been heard. Mark Waldenberger said Mark Twain believed Wisconsin was the most haunted state in the union. Maybe Twain was right.

Contact Tony Nelson at 786-6813 or tony.nelson@lee.net

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