Less than 30 minutes into a stroll through Riverside Cemetery, Chad Lewis’ companion already wanted to leave. “She felt the spirit of young children pulling at her, tugging at her sleeve,” recalls Lewis, who was investigating various Wisconsin sites rumored to be haunted a few years ago with someone he calls an “intuitive psychic.”

“I didn’t tell her what we were doing, where we were going; she’s not even from Wisconsin,” he said, adding that what the woman experienced is actually one of the most common reports he hears from Oshkosh.

Lewis, who has visited thousands of locations across the United States to help pen his 10 works on mysterious events and places, says he hears 200 to 250 stories and reports each week from around the country.

Click here to talk about other "haunted" spots, stories and why these legends persist in the first place, in the Life & Leisure forum.

“I could collect ghost stories ‘til the day I die and never run out,” he said.

Society’s fascination with all things creepy and inexplicable – highlighted at this time of year – isn’t lost on the area, either. Oshkosh and neighboring communities boast dozens of their own legends, many that some say have been altered and embellished as they’ve been passed down from decades past.

“They start with a basic legend that’s based somewhat on fact,” Lewis said. “Sometimes they’re based pretty accurately … Other times they’re exaggerated quite a bit.”

A combination of historically based truth and some people’s sheer fascination with the possibility of paranormal phenomenon have led to ample material for Berlin Historical Society president and Oakwood Cemetery tour guide Dan Freimark, known for his colorful retellings of tales involving those buried in the Wisconsin graveyard.

They’re stories people come from far and wide to hear, he said.

“One is about an above-ground burial, a legend that’s been around for over 120 years probably … one that a lot of kids are taken there for, for initiations in high school,” Freimark said. “Above ground there’s a dish carved out and a lid with a dagger, and the bowl supposedly fills up with blood.”

Berlin’s themed cemetery tours, such as Oct. 18’s “Political Turmoil in Berlin,” are meant to educate and encourage people to explore area roots, Freimark says. “You might not find a guy running out with a chainsaw, but there are some pretty interesting stories we come up with, all based on fact.”

Whether it’s bleeding tombstones or actual spirit sightings in old houses and historical venues, many believe everyone has a ghost story to tell.

“It’s the idea (of) sitting around a table with an older relative, listening to some of the great stories,” Freimark said.

For generations people have gone willingly into the Twilight Zone, so to speak, opening their minds to cryptic stories that have carved a path in history akin to common folklore and curious campfire tales.

“A lot of people, they’re just plain intrigued, whether a story’s true or not,” Freimark said. Especially come Halloween, “we call it ‘spirit of the season,’ because people are thinking more about ghost stories.”

In his research over the years, Lewis says he’s realized that the notion of “seeing is believing” sometimes is exactly the opposite.

“For a lot of people, it may be … believing is seeing,” he said. “Somebody just hypes themselves into it, so every little wind that blows by is a ghost, or maybe it’s that they’re more open, willing to let that perception come in.”

Either way, Lewis says a few popular ghost stories hold no historical truth at all, yet still cause a stir – such as the story of Kate Blood’s grave in Appleton’s Riverside Cemetery.

“The story is Kate murdered her husband and their children, and when you go to her gravestone you see what appears to be blood oozing out of the stone,” Lewis said. “If you just read the tombstone you’ll see she did not kill her husband – he lived much longer. So the background’s not true, but people still have experiences there and are telling their stories.”

Grand Opera House Executive Director Joe Ferlo has heard his share of curious ghost tales at each of four theaters he’s worked with in his career. Like many old theaters, he says the Grand may simply inspire storytelling.

“Theaters in general seem to have an awful lot of these stories associated with them, maybe because they’re places of imagination,” he said.

Since the building on High Avenue opened 125 years ago, people have long talked about encounters with ghosts of men, women, even a dog – none of them malevolent, Ferlo said.

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh production crews – led by then-professor/filmmaker Bob Jacobs – filmed “Exit Dying” at all hours inside the Grand and lived to tell more than a story or two of vapory figures on stage or spirits delighting in flipping lights on and off.

“They had all kinds of experiences to tell,” Ferlo said. “Spirits kind of toying with them, interfering or assisting them with production.”

A flashlight tour Oct. 31, part of the Grand’s third annual Halloween Hauntfest, is poised to draw curious community members, some who may harbor hopes of experiencing their own ghost story.

“The flashlight tour is one of the most popular things about Hauntfest night,” Ferlo said. “You get to go into the dressing rooms, all these areas usually not open to the public.”

Local events

Berlin Cemetery Tour: “Political Turmoil in Berlin”

  • Where: Oakwood Cemetery, Highway 91 in Berlin.

  • When: Tours are scheduled for 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18.

  • The tour: Costumed guides will bring the political history of Berlin to life in this fifth annual Oakwood Cemetery Ghost Walk, sponsored by the Berlin Historical Society. The tours will focus on the old section of the cemetery. Tour-goers should be prepared to meet some of the people buried there in the form of costumed actors, said Bobbie Erdmann, a guide.

  • Tickets: $5/ $3 for students, available at Field Gift Shop, Eskimo Comfort or the Griffith Memorial Chapel on the cemetery grounds prior to the tours. Grand Opera House Hauntfest

  • Where: 100 High Ave., Oshkosh.

  • When: Starts 7 p.m. Oct. 31.

  • Festivities: Screenings of “Little Shop of Horrors,” starring Jack Nicholson, at 7 p.m., and Johnny Depp flick “Sweeny Todd” at 8:15 p.m.; following the movies, there will be a flashlight tour of the Grand, including through areas that are rumored to be haunted.

  • Tickets: $8, which includes two films and the flashlight tour. Must be 17 to attend. For more, call (920) 424-2350 or visit www.grandoperahouse.org. EAA’s Haunted Hangar tours

  • Where: EAA AirVenture Museum, 3000 Poberezny Road.

  • When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 30-31.

  • Features: Flashlight tours to visit the “ghosts of aviaton history,” spooky stories and surprises. Special treats for families, who are invited to come in costume.

  • Cost: $5; free for EAA members and ages 5 and younger. Reservations recommended. For more, call (920) 426-6880 or www.airventuremuseum.org. EAA’s Slightly Haunted Hangar

  • Where: EAA AirVenture Museum, 3000 Poberezny Road.

  • When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 25.

  • Features: Trick-or-treating, seasonally themed games, costumes and more.

  • Cost: Included in regular museum admission. More at (920) 426-6135 or www.airventuremuseum.org. Historic Octagon House: Halloween Ghost Stories by Candlelight

  • Where: 276 Linden St., Fond du Lac.

  • When: 7 p.m. Oct. 31 (tour only) and 6 p.m. Nov. 1 (dinner and tour).

  • The event: Explore this Civil War home by candlelight, walk through secret passageways and into an underground tunnel, as featured on the History Channel’s “Secret Passages.” Guests are encouraged to come in costume.

  • Tickets: $15 Friday (tour only); $45 Saturday (includes dinner and tour). Limited seating available. Call (920) 922-1608.

    Sarah Owen: (920) 426-6671 or sowen2@thenorthwestern.com