On the hunt for ghosts
by Tony Nelson

10/28/05 - Onalaska Community Life

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 its own mischievous
female apparition. But surely an intrepid reporter ought to be able to
scare up more spooky 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 he thinks the only reason Hamlin Garland would be 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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