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Madison monsters: Meet our ghosts, ghouls, witches and werewolves

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Keira Kensington
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« on: December 04, 2014, 12:59:31 am »

Madison monsters: Meet our ghosts, ghouls, witches and werewolves
Jay Rath on Thursday 10/30/2014


Credit:Sam Heimer

Madison knows how to enjoy Halloween. All you have to do is go down to State Street during Freakfest, our annual costumed blow-out coming up this weekend, to see for yourself.

But we have ghosts and ghouls that turn out at other times of the year, even over decades. "Wisconsin contains, if the yarns are an indication, more ghosts per square mile than any other state in the nation," wrote the late author and folklorist Robert Gard in 1962.

"Apparently the fabrication or perception of haunts has been an important pastime of Wisconsin people," continued Gard, long a professor at University of Wisconsin-Extension. "There is seldom a community that does not have its haunted house or its favorite ghost story."

Haven't you heard of the witches of Picnic Point, the werewolf of the isthmus, Lake Monona's great UFO chase or "Winnebozho," the water monster?

Plus, we have lots and lots of ghosts.

We make no promises that the stories retold here are true. As Gard suggested, it could all just be perception or fabrication.

However, the reports themselves are very real. These have been culled from interviews, Wisconsin Historical Society files, tattered newspaper clippings and the book Haunted Wisconsin by Michael Norman and Beth Scott.

"I think the best ghost stories are rooted in a specific time and place, in a particular period of our common history," says Norman. Many of Madison's take place just beyond the reach of recent memory, in the late 19th and early 20th century. But others reflect current fears and obsessions.

Folklorist Gard had already glimpsed a new beginning before his death in 1992. Though traditional folklore was dying out, "the people must have their say again to keep from being bored to death by the ineptitudes of mass communication," he wrote.

A new kind of folklore "is evolving that has roots in the past and in the present, and the stories that have always been a part of the pleasures of daily community life are being created, or resurrected, and told once more." Just tell yourself that when you go to bed tonight.

All the following are merely alleged.

Pleasant dreams...?
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Keira Kensington
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« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2014, 01:00:32 am »

 The waitress and the postman

Two of Madison's oldest ghosts haunt the American Exchange Bank building at 1 N. Pinckney St. The second-oldest building on the Capitol Square, after Grace Episcopal Church, it currently houses American Family Insurance's "Dream Bank" on the ground floor.

The Italian Renaissance Revival building was built of local sandstone for Park Savings Bank in 1871.

The ghosts, however, reportedly predate even the bank. The site has a long history, and was one of the first developed in the city. The American Hotel was built there in 1838. It hosted Madison's first meeting of the Wisconsin Territory legislature that same year. It was destroyed by fire in 1868.

The ghosts supposedly belong to a hotel waitress and her lover, a postal clerk. Over the decades passersby have sighted them embracing in the upper windows. It seems that in recent years they've kept their undying romance more private; Dream Bank personnel have nothing to report.

"I did find a bat in my office this morning when I came in," says Timothy Verhoff, of the law firm Chirafisi and Verhoff, another tenant. "Not a ghost, but it still kind of scared me."

Another old sandstone building nearby is today home to American Institute of Architects-Wisconsin/Wisconsin Architects Foundation, at 321 S. Hamilton St. It was built in Federal and Greek Revival styles in 1852 or 1853 by a family of Scottish immigrants. At one time it was owned by a member of Madison's Tenney family, known for its work in establishing Madison parks. In 1924 the building was sold to Varley Bond, vice president of the Manchester's department store that once stood on the Square.

Bond restored the interior, and apparently he's still at work: A strange figure has sometimes been seen in the windows. It has one arm -- just as Varley did in life. The foundation keeps a scrapbook of the building's history that mentions several encounters.

Some of us might fear such a guest, but not Brenda Taylor, deputy director of AIA-Wisconsin: "I think that, actually, we're haunted by a friendly ghost."
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« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2014, 01:01:23 am »

 Chopping and clattering

The railway trestle that spans Monona Bay parallel to John Nolen Drive was once home to the well-known ghost of a railroad brakeman who was killed in 1892. He was seen fairly often at the turn of the 20th century, walking the tracks and waving his lantern. At least some railroad employees were so frightened that they refused to work. Others tried to chase the ghost, but he always disappeared into a nearby marsh, in what today is Brittingham Park.

Over on the west side, the UW-Madison Arboretum once had a phantom woodcutter. In the middle of the night during the 1900s, he -- or she or it -- could sometimes be heard chopping wood. Neighbors searched, but never found anything. Eagle Heights is said to have a similar woodsman.

At around the same time, Seminole Highway was thought to be haunted by the spirit of a Native American boy and his pony. Usually they trailed pedestrians in the night. At other times neighbors reported hearing the clatter of hooves. As automobiles became more common, the boy and his pony either departed or can no longer been seen in the glare of headlights.

Badger ghosts

On campus, the University Club, 803 State St., has its own ghost. "You're talking about Bob," the former general manager, Edward Zaleski, told me a few years ago. "Bob and I are intimate."

The club was founded in 1907. In World War I it served as an infirmary during the influenza epidemic that struck 28% of all Americans. If real, Bob could be the ghost of one of those patients. Or perhaps he's the spirit of one of the many World War II sailors who lodged there during training.

Whatever Bob is, he's merely mischievous. For decades, club employees arriving in the morning have occasionally found every kitchen cabinet and refrigerator door open. Zaleski himself had seen odd shadows and heard an iron gate rattle when he thought the building was empty. And then there's the old English reading table, on loan from the Wisconsin Historical Society. It weighs more than 500 pounds.

"I came in one morning and that table was moved five feet," Zaleski said. He had been the last to leave the night before.

Across Library Mall, Charles E. Brown worked for the Wisconsin Historical Society for 36 years, starting in 1908. Besides serving as museum curator, he collected many stories from Madison's original residents, the Ho-Chunk.

Several of their legends relate to Picnic Point. Anna White Wings told Brown of the Ho-Chunk families that once happily lived there.

"Then the witches came," she said. "They carried away some of the small children. They fed them and fattened them and ate them."

The families prayed to Earthmaker, who not only restored the children but changed the witches into hackberry trees near the tip of the point. "They must stand forevermore because of their wrongdoing. When the Wind Spirit comes, they wave their limbs, moan and ask to be released."

Picnic Point also boasts the ghost of a onetime well-known local architect. German-born August Kutzbock designed several homes on Mansion Hill, as well as the Gates of Heaven synagogue that now stands in James Madison Park. He also was primary designer of our second capitol building (we are now on our third).
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« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2014, 01:01:36 am »

 His final work, in 1868, is known today as Farm Place, a small, unassuming building next to the UW Stock Pavilion. It and the nearby Horse Barn are the last survivors of an early cluster of wood-frame buildings on the agricultural campus. Around 90 years later Farm Place was converted to a studio for then artist-in-residence Aaron Bohrod.

For an unknown reason, Kutzbock committed suicide during the construction of Farm Place. He went to Picnic Point, waded into the lake and drowned himself. His spirit is said to still haunt the point, usually in the form of mist, seen to be drifting downtown toward the Capitol.

Lake Mendota's spirits

The Ho-Chunk believed Lake Mendota was home to a great water spirit they called "Winnebozho." They would propitiate it with offerings of tobacco. Later Madisonians called it a "sea serpent," though Mendota isn't a sea and whatever-it-is was not described as serpentine.

Sightings began in the 1860s, when a printer, W.J. Park, and his wife were boating near Governor's Island on the north shore of Lake Mendota. They came alongside what appeared to be a log or piece of driftwood. Park raised his oar to tap it, when the water suddenly boiled up. The "log" was diving.

"That this was a monster of some sort, we have no doubt," Park later stated. Several more sightings occurred in 1892. By then, the creature seems to have migrated to Lake Monona. It was seen there on Sept. 26 by Joe Daubner and on Oct. 7 by an Oregon resident who declared that he would not go on the water again "for all the money in the capital city." He described it as 20 feet long, with a large head that was flat on top.

The best sighting came on Oct. 17, 1892, when a group of 12 men saw a 35-foot creature once again on Mendota. It was spotted in the Yahara River at the same period, where it was again described as looking like a log.

Five years later, Eugene Heath, a salesman, shot at it twice on Monona. One newspaper reported that "it is probably the same animal which is credited with having devoured a dog which was swimming in the lake a few days ago."

Whatever its diet, the last known sightings occurred during the summer of 1917. A fisherman at Picnic Point saw something 100 feet away with "a large snake-like head, with large jaws and blazing eyes." Two university students also saw it from their fraternity pier. One of them said it looked like "a huge snake or dragon." They reported that "it had a friendly, humorous look in its big eyes," though the two still fled to a nearby frat house.

Additional reports were made by swimmers and sailors. Overturned canoes and uprooted piers were blamed on the creature all summer. In all, however, the monster was "a rather good-natured animal, playing pranks," wrote Brown, a little more than a decade later. But, he also noted, "People made more use of the lake after he disappeared."
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« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2014, 01:01:56 am »

 Flying saucers

Lest we forget aliens, Madison's best-known UFO sighting occurred at 10:10 p.m. on Sept. 1, 1970. Denise Fritz and Mike Butler were in a boat on Lake Monona when they looked up and saw what they thought was an aircraft in trouble. It wasn't.

"I have no doubt that it was something not from around here," Fritz told me later. "For a long time we didn't go out in the boat at night. I have chills about it even now."

The "aircraft" stopped and hovered between 50 and 100 feet above some trees near a boat landing on Winnequah Road. "It looked like it was an oval," said Fritz, "but I couldn't focus on it well enough to make out the whole shape."

Suddenly, the object beamed two lights at the boat. The couple started the motor again and began to leave. The object followed them.

"When we swerved to the left, the lights turned to the left, too," said Fritz. "When we tuned right, the lights turned right. By this time we were pretty scared."

What makes this such a good sighting is that it was seen at the same time by four Monona women who wouldn't give their name to reporters. They were in a car that had almost reached the corner of Bridge Road and Panther Trail. "We couldn't make out a shape," one said. "I don't believe in flying saucers or that sort of thing, but I don't understand this, because whatever this thing was, it made no sound at all."

Fritz and Butler, meanwhile, were scrambling to escape. "We went back to the pier as fast as we could, and it -- the lights -- followed us," recalled Fritz. "We didn't even tie up the boat. We ran right into the house. I was shaking and crying for about two hours, I was so scared."

Werewolf of Madison?

Finally, the strangest story of all must be that of the werewolf of the isthmus. Believe it or not, there's a long history of man-like wolf-creatures in Wisconsin, but usually in Walworth County, where it's associated with Bray Road. The sightings have been extensively documented by Linda Godfrey, author of many books on unexplained phenomena, including the recent American Monsters.

In May of 2004 Godfrey encountered a clerk in a State Street used bookstore. The clerk already had two undergraduate degrees in science and was in graduate school. He instantly recognized Godfrey's name as the author of "The Beast of Bray Road," and related the story of a strange event that had occurred two weeks earlier. He offered his phone number but asked to remain anonymous in print.

"The witness seemed very credible," says Godfrey today. "As he related his experience to me in the bookstore, he seemed to relive the shock and fear he felt during the original encounter. He had no way of knowing he would meet me that day, or any other day, and I doubt he would have instantly conceived a plan to create a deceptive story that was really unlike any others in my book."

The sighting took place very early in the morning on one of the busier downtown streets -- cars were going by the whole time. The student was spending the night with an ex, trying to get back together. He was sober and not on drugs. Things weren't going exactly well, so he decided to go out for a short walk around 1:30 a.m.

"I was walking around when I saw what looked at first to me like a human, a man, trying to walk on all fours," he told Godfrey. "I was thinking it was some crazy person, so I was starting to move away, and then he started to change."

The figure transformed into what appeared to be "an overly large dog or something like that." Its legs began to thrash, "and when it stopped it turned and looked at me." It could clearly be seen thanks to the streetlights. "I wasn't sure it wanted to hurt me, but I didn't know what to do."

Wisely, he returned to his ex's apartment. But she was so angry to discover him gone that she'd locked him out. Finally she let him back in and observed that he "looked like death."

And that was it.

"Encounters that involve witness claims of a creature 'morphing,'" says Godfrey, "or doing anything else obviously unusual for the world as we know it, are quite rare in the body of reports I've accumulated."
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Keira Kensington
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« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2014, 01:02:07 am »

http://www.isthmus.com/isthmus/article.php?article=43886&sid=f218b98bf0a27f6ea1e025771578e2cb
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« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2014, 01:03:29 am »

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« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2014, 01:03:56 am »

 Credit: Sam Heimer
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« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2014, 01:05:32 am »

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« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2014, 01:05:57 am »

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« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2014, 01:06:34 am »

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