The sun was starting to set behind the trees as the shadows from the tombstones slipped away.
Church Road cemetery is the only thing that exists anymore along this narrow, dead end road. It sits atop a park-like setting in the middle of a wooded area — a place where the last burial looks to have been almost 70 years ago. Most of the gravestones date back to the 19th century.
The long walk up the hill to the St. Michael's Lutheran Cemetery only adds to the local lore that the place is haunted — a Halloween tale that Wisconsin authors and ghost hunters Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk researched and used in their book "The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations."
Church Road is a settlement area in the town of Lewiston between Portage and Wisconsin Dells. Dean Walker, who is a member of the Lewiston Board, said he remembers a church near the cemetery in the 1940s, but it was in disrepair and no longer exists. He believes it was built around the mid-1800s.
"Some of my favorite (ghost stories) are from Portage," Lewis said as he was making his way to Rhinelander for a ghost talk this week.
While several stories from this part of south central Wisconsin made the book, Church Road caught the attention of Lewis.
"If there's any stereotypical (creepy) cemetery — that's it," he said.
The lore claims that a girl can be seen hanging from a tree on the old church cemetery hill. "You can see her hang from the tree and can also hear the rope creaking back-and-forth," Lewis said. When he scouted out the cemetery himself, Lewis said he went during the day to help find anything that would explain the stories. He then returned for a few hours one night and - nothing. No ghost, just a rural cemetery.
In fact, in his 13 years of hunting down ghosts and the paranormal in Wisconsin, Lewis has yet to experience the supernatural himself.
Another ghostly story Lewis checked out in Portage was the Wisconsin Street ghost who walks the side of the road in a Victorian dress while pushing a stroller. "When people pull over to ask if she needs help, she simply disappears," he said. "A lot of these stories have gone through the communities for years."
Ghost hunting may look exciting on TV, but Lewis and Fisk are not dressed in any "Ghostbusters" uniform, and often the only strange thing they come in contact with is the people telling the stories.
"We investigate everything. From werewolves and vampires to crop circles," Lewis said, adding that it's ghost stories that he hears about the most.
A week ago, Lewis was in Wisconsin Dells for a talk and area residents brought their ghost stories. During October, Lewis and Fisk find themselves in a different community every night talking about the supernatural and checking the stories out themselves. It has become a full-time job for them, and each story leads to another chance that they will actually see something.
Lewis receives about 2,000 e-mails and letters a year from people with supernatural tales, and he responds to each one.
"A lot of people have these stories and have had them for years, but didn't know who to tell them to," he said.
Much of the ghost hunting is actually historical research. Lewis said they try to find out everything about a haunted place before they go there. The actual ghost hunt does involve cameras, video and often recording devices, but Lewis and Fisk have been unable to come up with any hard ghostly evidence.
"I have yet to experience anything that is unexplained. We have captured weird things on video and audio. We've captured (odd images) on camera. When we get the photos back there are weird cloud-like substances not visible to the human eye," he said. "We try to explain a lot of that away."
Listening to white noise, the static on a radio or TV, and hearing voices is something the paranormal hunters have tried, without much luck.
Lewis said it can be like looking for shapes in clouds or hearing things you want to hear.
Soaking in the atmosphere of a good haunting is as big of part of the hunt for Lewis and Fisk as actually seeing something unexplained. They are writers who are providing an adventure to those who read their books.
"We leave it up to the reader to make up their own mind," Lewis said.
One of the best hoaxes Lewis and Fisk were sent on took place in Caryville, a small town in western Wisconsin.
The local lore says that a priest hung himself in a bell tower, but with a little research Lewis found out that never happened.
But research can bring the truth out in a story and add to the creepiness of it. At Little Bohemia Restaurant, in the northern part of the state, it's said a man haunts a bar and restaurant there. While digging up facts, Lewis found out that a man was killed at that location. He died when police opened fire on the restaurant, trying to kill John Dillinger in the 1930s. The innocent bystander's ghost is said to haunt the area.
"The bullet holes are still in (the walls)," Lewis said. "Not only do you get this rich history in Wisconsin, but a ghost story as well."
Even on vacation, Lewis will always pick the room to stay in that has a haunted past. A decade ago, he said, hotels and bed and breakfasts didn't want it known they had a haunted room. But now that he has named many haunted locations in his books they love the attention.
"We're waiting for our kickback from that," he joked.
Lewis and Fisk are currently working on a "Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations" sequel that will be out next October with all new cases.
There are so many cases that Lewis and Fisk often find themselves splitting up in their hunt for the supernatural. But they still don't go alone. Lewis said there are ghost hunting groups popping up all over the state, and he often has group members join in a hunt.
So, does the ghost hunter believe in what he searches for?
"I didn't when I first started, but I (now) believe in ghosts and stories. But I don't know what they are.
"After 13 years, I'm left with more questions than answers."
There are times when Lewis has taken a psychic with him to check out haunted places, and on a few occasions, the psychic refused to get out of the car when they arrived at the haunting.
"It's spine-tingling," he said.