Thu, Apr 29, 2004

Wausau Daily Herald

Paranormal researcher finds Wausau strange

A motivational speaker preached self-help in a large conference room while hotel guests splashed around in an indoor pool nearby. Nothing out of the ordinary for a Saturday evening at the Holiday Inn Convention and Expo Center in Stevens Point.

But in a smaller conference room, a capacity crowd of 168 listened to stories of unexplained phenomena in haunted locales around Wisconsin.

"We don't often think that these things happen right in our back yard," paranormal expert Chad Lewis said. Every year, he organizes a half-dozen conferences in Wisconsin on the unexplained.

Our haunted back yard includes a business in Oshkosh, a back road in Portage County and the historic Grand Theater in downtown Wausau. Strange things happen all the time, and who's to say where urban legend ends and spooky reality begins?

Lewis, 29, still asks himself that question after 10 years as an amateur paranormal investigator. He's a skeptic with an open mind.

"I go on letting the evidence lead me one way or the other," he said Saturday in response to a question from the audience about his belief in the phenomena he investigates.

His presentation is half seminar, half performance, and when speaking to a mixed audience of believers and cynics, his voice takes on the dramatic cadence of a camp counselor telling a ghost story around a fire.

The cast of characters includes phantom children, phantom men with lanterns, phantom witches, phantom dogs and even a phantom 8-foot headless chicken. Lewis, who earns his living as a grant writer for a nonprofit group in Eau Claire, punctuates his stories with a slide show of the supposedly haunted places. The audience braces itself for a ghost sighting with each new slide.

He said his investigations almost always fail to turn up evidence of the paranormal, but people still swear that the house on the corner is haunted or the fallen tree is a portal to hell. Wausau is no different from the rest of Wisconsin.

"There's something strange about Wausau," Lewis said later in a phone interview. "But it could be said that every place is that strange."

For paranormal problems here, Todd Roll is on the case.

Roll, 39, a University of Wisconsin Marathon County reference librarian, has been investigating the unexplained for nearly five years and is a member of the Wausau Paranormal Research Society, which conducts tours of haunted sites in downtown Wausau every October.

The society's Web site, at http://pat-wausau.org/, identifies the Marathon County Historical Society, Wausau Downtown Airport and Shepherd & Schaller Sporting Goods as haunted landmarks. But the Grand Theater is Wausau's paranormal claim to fame.

"There are many stories from the people that work there of seeing this apparition of a man in the stage area or up in the balcony," Roll said.

His name is Larry.

"I've met Larry," Performing Arts Foundation Executive Director Jim O'Connell said with more than a hint of mirth.

Larry Beltz, a former stage manager at the Grand Theater, has been dead for more than a decade. But O'Connell and others say they hear, see or sense him in the theater.

Dorothy Korzilius, 82, is an exception. She hasn't bumped into any ghosts during her 20 years volunteering as an usher at the Grand Theater.

"No, I haven't," she said, "but I have heard rumors."


These City Streets appears every Thursday in the Daily Herald. David Paulsen covers the city of Wausau for the newspaper. He can be reached by phone at 845-0663 and by e-mail at dpaulsen@wdhprint.com.

Designed by Terry Fisk
Revised: September 28, 2004

Designed by Terry Fisk
Copyright Unexplained Research. All rights reserved.
Revised: September 28, 2004