Many people claim to have seen ghosts inside the Grand Theater, Wausau.  

Holy spooks!  Northwoods paranormal reports are on the rise

Wausau ghostbusters investigate the unexplained

05/25/07 - Lakeland Times

Reporter:   Ana Davis

Paranormal activity is high in this area, according to renowned Wisconsin author Chad Lewis and a Wausau based group of paranormal researchers.

"There is a lot of unexplained stuff going on in the Northwoods," said Lewis, who originally became interested in the paranormal when studying a degree in psychology at UW-Stout. He has now written several books on the topic, including "The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations."

"I've had reports of haunted sites in Minocqua, Phillips, and Lac du Flambeau," he said. "Employees of the Lake of the Torches casino tell me it's haunted, and the old bingo building. Workers have been pinched, and pushed from behind, but when they turn around there's no one there."

Shawn Blaschkas, a member of The Wausau Paranormal Research Society (WPRS, www.pat-wausau.org), agreed that there are extraordinary phenomena that cannot logically be explained.

"We've been investigating paranormal experiences throughout north-central Wisconsin for the past seven years," he said. "Reports of strange events are definitely increasing. Whether this is because there are higher levels of paranormal activity, or if people are just more open to asking for help, I don't know."

Local man sees strange light

A local man, Rick Wilde of Eagle River, had his first paranormal experience back in 1999 when he saw the infamous Paulding lights in Watersmeet, Mich.

"It was September at around 9:30 p.m. I saw a floating yellow-green light about 300 yards away. It was above the tree-line, past some power lines near the horizon," Wilde said. "It appeared to hover and float, moving gently toward the lights of the parked cars and then retreated. Its brightness would vary - between a low flicker and bursts of powerful light. Extraterrestrial? I don't think so. Paranormal? Definitely."

There were about 15 people at the site who saw the same thing, Wilde said.

"My emotions were running on the 'curiously nervous' side," he added.

Many others claim to have seen the same lights, including Laura Stoffel of Lac du Flambeau. Sightings date back to the turn of the twentieth century and match Wilde's description of strange circular spheres of light dancing on the horizon of the small community of Paulding, and following the pathway of electrical lines.

Over the years, various stories have sprung up to explain the lights, with some people claiming it is the ghost of a railroad brakeman, while other say it is an Indian spirit dancing on the power lines.

Though the lights have been captured on film by Michigan Magazine and Channel Six News out of Marquette, no rational conclusion has yet been reached regarding their provenance.

Blaschkas joined the WPRS in 2000 to try and solve mysteries such as these. Though he has no formal scientific training, he had a strong interest in the paranormal and wanted to try and find out whether it was something that could be proved, or disproved.

Investigation process

So, when WPRS receives information about paranormal activity, which ranges from eerie lights such as Paulding, peculiar noises and smells, unidentified creatures, crop circles and sightings of apparitions, they first see if it's something that can be rationally explained.

"We don't jump to conclusions, and we're not just going out having a ball and taking pictures," Blaschkas said. "We conduct a formal process, much like a police investigation.

"First, we will carry out an interview at the location where the strange events are occurring. That might be a person's home or business. Then we will do in-depth research of the premises - when it was built, who built it, what changes it went through, and whether any odd events took places there, like accidents, or deaths."

During investigations, it does sometimes transpire that deaths occurred at the properties where unusual activity is being reported.

Mists in the hallway at Tula's

For example, Lewis, who travels the globe checking out tales of haunted places, says that years ago, an elderly gentleman died just outside Tula's Cafe in Minocqua. Since then, employees tell of strange mists in the hallway and items that move around of their own accord.

"Things are always happening here," said manager Denise Sieg. "Silly little things like, if you're the last one to leave at night and you turn off all the lights, when you come back in at 5 a.m. the bathroom lights have been switched on again.

"Or the chefs will be cooking and their equipment suddenly shuts down, and all the dials on the knobs will have been turned. Sometimes the cooks say they'll see something down the hallway out of the corner of their eyes and it will make their hair stand on end. They don't want to go back there."

According to Sieg, it was down this hallway that the ambulance team brought the old man before he was rushed to the hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival, and after this incident odd things started to happen.

Ghosts at the Grand?

According to Blaschkas, there have been many similar episodes at the Grand Theater in Wausau, where at least four deaths have been reported, including a builder who fell off scaffolding at the site and a workman who was electrocuted on the stage. An audience member was killed during a performance when a baton fell from the ceiling and hit him on the head, and the former stage manager also died in the theatre. A number of people say that they have seen his ghost there.

"A woman from Milwaukee called Catherine from the Performing Arts came to Wausau in 2002 for a conference at the Grand," Blaschkas said. "She wasn't privy to any of this information (about the deaths), yet she said she saw ghosts in the building, and was able to describe the stage manager to a tee. She also talked about a gentleman wearing workman's clothing - the builder who'd fallen, perhaps."

Catherine mentioned seeing a woman in Victorian dress, too, who was complaining about the steps of the building being missing, Blaschkas said. The theatre was being renovated at the time.

The site had originally housed an opera, built in 1899, which would account for the lady's attire, he said.

Trapped energy

But how to explain these bizarre sightings in the first place?

"Some people believe that perhaps a person's spirit, or energy, gets trapped in a space, particularly if they meet a sudden, violent, or unexpected death," Blaschkas said. "The (dead) person may have an attachment to the building, or they may have unfinished business and are not yet ready to leave. Perhaps they have a message to give someone. Or, they might not realize that they have passed on."

Blaschkas had what he would describe as paranormal activity in his own house (which he has now vacated).

"It sounds odd but it was definitely a male presence," he said. "He was always playing tricks on me - nothing harmful, just stupid little things. When I watched TV at night, I always felt a presence standing behind me. It was so bothersome I would actually talk to him and ask him to leave me alone.

"Eventually, I'd get so annoyed, I'd give up and go to bed. Then I could feel him standing in the doorway staring at me. My wife experienced it, too. The floorboards would creak, lights would go on in the basement, and faucets would turn on and off - when no one else was home."

Blaschkas eventually found out from a neighbor that the previous owner, who had built the house, had suffered a massive heart attack and died in the doorway by the bedroom.

This experience has made Blaschkas particularly sensitive to those who contact the WPRS seeking help and advice.

"These are just normal, regular families who are having an experience they don't understand," he said. "By the time they get in touch with us, many are so frightened they want to move."

No call out fee for ghost-busters

WPRS do not charge for their services, and all the researchers donate their time.

"It would be entirely inappropriate to charge for this," Blaschkas said. "When people call us, they are very often scared and uncomfortable in their own homes. We believe we're providing a public service, and also that it would not be right to charge for something that has not yet been proved scientifically."

If someone does ask you for money, you don't want them in your home, he warned.

"There are a lot of people out there who do this for financial gain, and unfortunately many of them are frauds," he said. "It's sad, because it destroys the credibility of groups like us, who are genuinely trying to understand what is happening."

WPRS investigators are screened before they are sent on assignments, Blaschkas says. They always work in pairs so that one person cannot make unsubstantiated claims, and must be open-minded and willing to put in a lot of time and effort. They must also refrain from making any suggestions to clients.

"We ask people what they think is happening," Blaschkas said.

While there are clearly plenty of unexplained events going on in this area, more often than not, the "paranormal" activity can be quickly identified and explained.

"The two most common complaints we get are cold rooms - where we usually discover some kind of hole resulting in a draft, or lights switching themselves on and off, which we find is caused by an electrical fault."

In one case, for example, a local couple who wish to remain anonymous were very worried by a rapping sound upstairs. They called WPRS, which uncovered a coaxial cable banging against an attic wall when the wind blew.

"Most people feel a bit foolish," said Blaschkas, "but mainly they are relieved that it is nothing more sinister."

Over-active imagination

On occasion, WPRS does get hoax calls.

"It's mostly people who are craving attention, or people with overactive imaginations," he said. "The problem is, something will happen, and they will relate everything else to that, and turn it into paranormal activity.

"We never go in saying this is haunted. We keep an open mind, observe, investigate, and try to find a reasonable cause."

But, in Blaschkas's experience, not everything is explainable. The most perturbing and inexplicable case he's had is Roger's Theater in downtown Wausau.

"We've been called out to Roger's five times over the past two years. The first time we were there - nothing. Then, on the second visit, we heard a scratching noise, and saw two chairs rocking of their own accord. One of our researchers tried to take a picture, but her camera immediately drained of power, which was odd as she had just put in new batteries."

Woman's voice heard on tape

The group was using electronic voice phenomena (EVP) equipment at the time to record any sounds. When they played the tape back, a woman's voice could clearly be heard, singing "Pray for you."

"That would be cool, Shawn. Now get out," a male voice said on the tape playback.

"That really sent shivers up my spine," Blaschkas said.

Owner Dan Miller says he personally has not experienced anything untoward.

"I've been there day and night and nothing's happened," he said. "But other people come in here and they get an uneasy feeling. I can't explain it."

Frogs in the sky

"I've been looking through old newspapers from the 1800s and 1900s and there are so many weird stories," he said. "Also, in my travels, I've heard so many strange tales - from frogs falling from the sky in England to vampires in Romania, from the Loch Ness monster in Scotland to Tata Duende - the protector of the jungle - in Belize.

"I recently spoke to a woman from Milwaukee whose daughter was always playing with imaginary friends. She thought it was very odd that her little girl had given them complicated old Polish names, so she started to write them down. It turned out these were the exact names of the people who had lived in her house years ago.

"There is so much in the media about ghosts, UFOs, and alien abductions that we do get all kinds of calls," said Blaschkas. "I have even been asked to investigate sightings of gnomes. We try to weed through all of that and find the small percentage that is unexplained and of interest."

Ana Davis can be reached at adavis@lakelandtimes.com.

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