Uncovering FdL's strange past through headlines

By Sharon Roznik
06/04/07 - The Reporter

A 13-year-old Fond du Lac boy, educated principally on dime novels, armed himself with a revolver and a knife and set out to hunt Indians on April 13, 1900.

Ray Marsday made it to Milwaukee, where he was arrested and disarmed by police, who made him promise to return home.

He was never seen again.

"Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin" by Chad Lewis is available locally at Book World, 85 S. Main St. and Waldenbooks at the Forest Mall on East Johnson Street, or from the author's Web site www.unexplainedresearch.com.

The tale is included in a new book by Wisconsin author Chad Lewis: "Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual and Bizarre Newspaper Stories 1860-1910."

The book contains over 275 bizarre newspaper stories from Wisconsin that have not been seen in over 100 years, the author claims, including several from Fond du Lac County.

"These unbelievable stories were not lost, they were simply hidden," he said.

The story of young Ray came from a brief that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal. Apparently the boy had also disappeared for two weeks six months earlier and was found wandering in the woods of northern Wisconsin.

"There was never another story in the paper about it, so I'm hoping a reader will be related to this boy and know what happened," Lewis said. "You'd be surprised how common it was back then for newspapers to print a sensational story and then have no follow-up."

The Eau Claire author whose books include "The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations" said his research took him to locations throughout the state.

"I had to go through newspapers day-by-day searching an 1860 to 1910 time frame. I started with the bigger newspapers, like the Milwaukee Journal," Lewis said.

It was Friday the 13th in 1899 when Lydia Piatt of Waucousta who had been a bedridden invalid for 20 years suddenly rose from her bed as a "healthy, sprightly woman," according to another Milwaukee Journal article.

"She was a very religious woman and a member of the Division Street Methodist Church. She came down the stairs and nearly gave the people who knew her a heart attack," Lewis explained.

Other stories originating from Fond du Lac include a medium predicting three big fires in 1902, a meteor sighting in 1879 and a ghost seen around a box of human bones in 1902.

Asked to name a favorite story of the weird Lewis recited the one from Oct. 10, 1900, about a Madison girl named Myrtle Downing who paraded around in shoes made from human skin taken from the leg of a man murdered in the streets of Chicago.

"The skin came from a medical student she knew. She was so proud she was going to have the rest of the skin made into a pocketbook," Lewis said. "She probably wasn't arrested for it, it wasn't illegal, but with a lot of these stories you wonder."

Lewis, 32, is a paranormal investigator for Unexplained Research, LLC. He earned a master's degree in applied psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

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