Cemeteries, backwoods, and a bridge in the middle of nowhere

Text by Ken Szymanski
Photos by Ken Szymanski, Nick Meyer & Dale Karls
Volume One #5 October 2002

Professional ghost investigator Chad Lewis sleeps with the lights on.  "Not just a bedside lamp, a full light, " he said.  "I need all the doors closed and locked--closet doors closed, too.  I don't even like a window open."  Even more, the TV must remain on all night and a cordless phone waits bedside.  After years of investigating the paranormal, he's understandable spooked.

Not to make him sound like a strung-out cult fanatic--rather, Lewis is a serious-minded scientist with a master's degree in psychology who happens to do his research in the area of the supernatural.  Still, it's an odd sleeping ritual for someone who spends nighttime hours at haunted houses and cemeteries armed only with data collecting equipment, the most important of which is his camera.

"The camera is my security blanket because I can go into a haunted house, haunted graveyard, or anyplace that is supposedly haunted and think, 'I have a camera, I'm going to catch you if you're here,'" he said.  "And I've never heard of a case where an investigator has been harmed by spirits."

Reluctant to say he believes in ghosts, he takes the deductive logic approach; he only believes what he can prove through investigations.  Mysterious lights or mists that appear in photos, for example, are first looked at to be camera straps, reflections, or developing errors.  Even after all possibilities seem to be account for, he can only say that it can't be explained by any of those things.  That doesn't necessarily make it a ghost or spirit.

I met Lewis through a mutual friend, but I didn't know him that well when I first shadowed him on a ghost expedition to some area cemeteries.  I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into.  "I don't tell anyone where we're going, " he said as we pulled of Eau Claire on our first excursion.  "It may interfere with the investigation.  If other people find out where we're going, they might go there to play pranks on us.  I also won't tell you anything about why we're going to this place until afterwards because I don't want you to have any preconceived notions."

I was beginning to question the wisdom of going out to a haunted area at night, in the middle of nowhere, with someone I barely knew, without anyone knowing where I'd be.

All of the cliches were in place:  it was a dark, misty night after an overcast day of autumn drizzle.  Of course, it was Friday the 13th.  Driving down a foggy old country winding road, Lewis commented, "Hey this has the makings of a classic horror flick."  Inside I smiled.  I wanted something to happen.  I told people at work that I was going ghost-busting, and I hoped for a good story to take back on Monday.  What I found out, though, was that Lewis' work involves far more tedious data collection than horror film material.  His ghost seeking expeditions are all about notes, photographs, videotapes, laser-temperature readings, and endless hours of observation.

Lewis takes up to four rolls of film at at sight, most of which show nothing unusual.  occasionally, one will show mysterious mists or flashes of light--which is usually explainable by another factor.  He'll videotape a haunted sight for hours, then sift through the footage to see if anything appears.  Often a night of investigation goes without reward.  So even though Lewis has some gadgets that would make even James Bond jealous, much of the work done during a typical investigation is actually quite boring.

It's like fishing; it could be hours of sitting and waiting for the big strike.  Sometimes it never comes.  But the more time you spend in haunted areas, the better your chances are of experiencing something unusual.  As Lewis says, "When you go looking for the weird, the weird comes looking for you."

"I was on an investigation of an abandoned haunted house with a woman, and she said that her right hand was freezing," Lewis said, recalling some of his most memorable outings.  "I was across the room and I was able to get a reading with a thermoscan.  Her one hand was 40 degrees cooler than the other."

Once in a cemetery, Lewis put his hand back and thought he bumped into a tombstone or another person.  Turning around, there was nothing behind him anywhere.  While that is simply anecdotal evidence, other experiences have been more concrete.  Lewis and a group of investigators heard a knocking coming from a tombstone with no one around it.  They all gathered around it to make sure it wasn't an animal or a person, and they all heard the knocking again.  Lewis took a photo, which showed a streak of light by the gravestone.

I heard these stories, but nothing in my adventures came close.  We went to three supposedly haunted graveyards, all of which seemed peaceful and serene, and even at night.  Just a lot of mosquitoes (and not bug spray).  A fourth graveyard brought a significant temperature drop, but that's about it.

I wondered if he got tired of dragging along rookies like myself, who amounted to ghost tourists, but he saw it as essential.  "I like taking new people out, " he said.  "They have a fresh set of eyes, and they may have the missing piece of the puzzle.  Also some people have something about them that draws out spirits.  Things seem to happen when they're around."

"I don't think I'm one of those people," I said, thinking of the uneventful trips we had since I'd been tagging along.

"I don't thing so either," Chad said, making me feel like a cop at a house party.

Next stop:  a haunted forest outside of Augusta.  At about 10 o'clock, we met a local guy out there with a wealth of information on the history of hauntings in the area.  He took us across an old bridge in the woods now used only by ATV riders.  Many have reported seeing mysterious green eyes at the far end of the bridge.  In a previous investigation, Lewis had already found glowworms to be a likely source of this, but there were many more happenings which remained unexplained.   There have allegedly been sightings of apparitions on the bridge, around campfires, and along the roadside, some so terrifying that the witnesses refused to return to the area.

Out on the bridge that night, I listened to this stranger as he told us the legend that some believe is the source of these apparitions:  a gruesome series of murders in the early 1900's.

The man's voice quivered slightly as he told us this tale in eerie detail, taking about 10 minutes to spill the story, always using full names of victims and suspects.  My senses were tuned in to every snapping branch in the woods, every splash in the river below us.  even before the story, I had a terrible premonition about the place.  Lewis later told me that he had been to this location with psychics who, without being told anything about the area, had such terrible apprehensions about the location that they insisted on going home.

In conclusion, the guy took a deep breath and said, "If there's a place that's haunted in Wisconsin, I'm convinced that this is it."  Standing in the middle of this place I had one thought:  "I hope nothing happens..."

While there is nothing scientific about an "eerie feeling," Lewis said he felt it was well.  It was getting quite late, and he'd be back at a later date to set up a more extensive investigation.  I admit, I was relieved when it was time to go.  Back in the car, he talked about needing to research town records to see if these people actually existed, and to see if their death records match those of the folklore.  This was just one case out of hundreds he's been digging into for the past ten years.

On the ride home, I asked him about the creepiest, scariest moments he's had.  In those times, did he still hope to see something terrifying?  "That's what I'm looking for," he said.  "Not something to scar me for life, but my goal is to see something, get video and audio evidence if possible, to say, 'Look, here's proof.  Here is evidence.'"

I admitted how I wanted the big scare to happen when we were on the way into the woods, but in the thick of it, in a place that made psychics want to go home with their tails between their legs, I changed my mind.

"Yeah," Chad said to me with half a laugh, staring at the road ahead.  "A couple more outings like this and you'll be sleeping with your lights on, too."

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