When you think of the most haunted places in America, the midwest state of Wisconsin might not the first place to come to mind, but don’t be so quick to overlook America’s Dairyland. Wisconsin is home to a handful of serial killers, including the infamous Ed Gein and Jeffery Dahmer. The horrific Slenderman stabbing took place just outside of Milwaukee in 2014.
Dating back to the late 1800s, Black River Falls, Wisconsin became a hot spot for insanities, suicides and disease, immortalized in the 1973 book, Wisconsin Death Trip. Surely, this negative energy doesn’t simply fade away. With all of the dark memories engrained into Wisconsin history, it got me thinking: Who is haunting Wisconsin?
As fate would have it, I would be visiting Wisconsin this summer, giving me the opportunity to do some first-hand investigating. First stop: Elk Lake Dam.
Elk Lake Dam
It was February 15th, 1974. Mary Schlais, a 25-year-old college student was hitchhiking from Minneapolis to Chicago to attend an art show. She left her home in Minneapolis around 10:30am and never arrived at her destination. Mary’s body was found only three hours later in Elk Lake, Wisconsin.
That afternoon, a nearby resident called police to report a man dumping something suspicious on the side of the road. When law enforcement arrived, they discovered Mary’s body. She had been stabbed over a dozen times and had died at the scene. By then, the suspect was long gone and was never found. Eight months after the murder, an anonymous letter arrived at the local crime lab. It read, “Did you ever think man that found murdered girl at Elk Lake also put her there?” To this day, the case remains unsolved.
It is said that Mary can still be seen, haunting the Elk Lake Dam. There are numerous reports of people seeing the ghost of a young woman near the dam and visions of a vanishing lady along the side of road. One account claims that two fishermen were sitting near the dam when one man said to the other, “There’s a glowing white woman behind us.” His friend responded, “I know, but I’m not turning around.”
This story effectively combines true crime and the paranormal and it’s been hard to get out of my head. I was on the fence whether or not I should visit this haunted location. Mary is relatable and what she went through is a true nightmare. Did I really want to put myself there? The lake was right along my road trip route, it might be a missed opportunity to just drive past. Maybe Mary would make her presence known.
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Upon nearing the lake, I was surprised to see so many residential homes along the water. I had imagined something more desolate. It was a 95-degree day with full sun and thick midwest humidity. The lake was buzzing with families and children enjoying idyllic summer activities, unaware of the ghost hunt occurring around them. There was no sign of Mary. Too afraid to mingle with the wholesome crowd, I promptly left. Mary’s ghost might’ve been hiding from the scene as well.
The Siren Bridge
During a blizzard in March of 1985, the Kringle family was driving along County Road B when they hit slick black ice while crossing a bridge near Siren, Wisconsin. The car was sent through the guardrail, landing upside down in the swampy water below. Richard, Rose and their daughter JoDee all drowned.
Locals have reported that while driving across the bridge today, the car radio will fade out. A young girl's voice will cut through, saying, “Help me mommy, I can’t get out.” This may sound like an urban legend, but the accident did in fact occur. The Kringle family is buried just minutes away from the bridge in Webster, Wisconsin. The dates on the gravestones match that of the car crash.
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Driving across any bridge gives me a wave of claustrophobia. I feel trapped, anxious to get to the other side. A haunted bridge would only make these feelings intensify, but I wanted to put this story to the test. Would I hear JoDee’s voice from beyond calling out for help? I placed a handheld recorder on the dashboard hoping to capture a ghostly interaction. Driving slow, I turned the radio up.
The new country music blaring from the speakers continued to play without interruption. After making it over the bridge I double checked the recording and, nothing. Maybe I wasn’t tuned in to the right station. Or maybe JoDee wasn’t feeling talkative that day. I was not surprised that this paranormal investigation deemed fruitless but left feeling discouraged nonetheless.
Unable to visit every haunted spot in Wisconsin, I can’t leave out a couple more noteworthy Wisconsin ghost stories.
Boy Scout Bridge
The story of Boy Scout Lane may be rooted in mere folklore, but even still, the isolated road is deemed one of the most haunted drives in the country. The isolated road in Stevens Point, Wisconsin runs through the middle of the woods to a dead end. It is named after a troop of Boy Scouts said to have been killed while on a camping trip in the 1960s, though there is no historical record of this happening.
One story will tell you that the troop’s scout master murdered the boys. Another version claims it was the bus driver. Even more mysterious, one variation of the legend recalls the Boy Scouts vanishing throughout the night, one by one.
However you’d like to tell the story, Boy Scout Lane is apparently haunted by dead Scouts to this day. Visitors have reported a sense of being watched and the sound of branches breaking beneath invisible footsteps. Visions of unexplainable lights shine through the forest trees as if they are swinging lanterns. The most startling, are the childlike hand prints which appear on any car that dare drive through the area.
The Summerwind Mansion
Perhaps the most well known haunted location in Wisconsin is the Summerwind Mansion in Land O’ Lakes. Originally known as Lamont Mansion, the house was built as a summer getaway purchased by Robert Patterson Lamont in 1916. Despite contractors, housekeepers and guests experiencing unexplainable phenomena, Lamont kept the mansion for nearly 50 years.
One night, while having dinner with his wife, the basement door opened on its own and an apparition appeared before their eyes. The shadowy figure was so realistic that Lamont grabbed his pistol and fired two shots, each one going straight through the figure, leaving bullet holes in the basement door. The family soon moved out and the mansion stood vacant until Arnold and Ginger Hinshaw purchased the home in the 1970s.
The Hinshaws moved into the home with their six children, renaming it Summerwind. Upon moving in, they immediately felt as though they were being watched. Strange noises from empty rooms, furniture moving about, vanishing objects and apparitions tormented the family. One night, Arnold Hinshaw uncovered a hidden crawl space in one of the bedrooms. Unable to fit into the small space, he sent his youngest daughter in to scope it out. Inside, she found a human skull and collection of bones strewn about.
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The family quickly boarded up the entrance but Arnold was never the same. He became disturbed, suffering a nervous breakdown. He spent each night playing an organ to “keep the demons at bay.” Deciding to further investigate the remains in the crawl space, Arnold unearthed the tomb to discover that the bones were nowhere to be found. The family was falling apart, Ginger was under so much stress that she considered taking her own life. After only six months in the home, Ginger packed up the children, leaving her husband Arnold and Summerwind behind.
Inexplicably, Ginger’s own father Raymond purchased the home a couple of years later, determined to fix it up into a bed and breakfast. Summerwind’s reputation was now well-known and contractors refused to step foot inside the house. Raymond and his son decided to renovate the place on their own, but found it impossible when dimensions and measurements would change as they worked. It was as if the walls were breathing.
While alone in the mansion, Raymond’s son witnessed nailed-shut windows flying open. Rooms were shrinking and expanding as he moved throughout the building. He heard loud bangs coming from the basement and once there, he smelled gun powder. It is said that he witnessed apparitions of Lamont shooting his gun toward the ghost in the doorway. Eventually, the project was completely abandoned.
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One fateful, stormy night in the summer of 1988 the mansion burned to the ground. It is believed that the building was struck by lightning. However, rumors will tell you that the town was tired of unwanted tourism surrounding the haunted mansion. With help from the local fire department, they took the storm as an opportunity to set Summerwind ablaze intentionally. Putting an end to the mansion, but not to the spirits that continue to haunt the property.
I never experienced anything paranormal during my time in Wisconsin but the creeping sense of unease was palpable. The creaking ancient oak trees whispered secrets into the wind. Each abandoned farmhouse had a story to tell. Side-eyed glares from locals at gas stations were enough to remind me to keep this place at an arms length.