Chad Lewis spends a lot more time in
libraries than most of us, and he’s
planning on sharing some of his more
intriguing finds in a Sunday
afternoon talk at this year’s
The author of “The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations” researches old newspapers for evidence relating to alleged ghost sightings.
“A lot of the places where ghost stories have been reported have long histories,” Lewis said. “I’ve probably taken 10 years off the life of my eyes looking at microfiches of old newspapers.”
In addition to the eyestrain, Lewis discovered something else that captivated him. “I was just amazed at the amount of bizarre and strange stories I’d come across,” he said. “At first, I just printed them out for my own amusement.”
Eventually, however, he decided to see if he could make a book out of them. The table of contents of the resulting book — “Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual and Bizarre Newspaper Stories, 1860-1910” — provides ample evidence that newspapers during that period of history were considerably more open to oddball stories than newspapers of today.
The book has chapters about bizarre deaths, ghosts, medical anomalies, reports of mysterious creatures and UFOs — although that term had not yet been invented.
“There are also chapters on peculiar people,” Lewis said. “I’m not sure if there were more eccentric people back then or whether newspapers were just more likely to write about them.”
There’s a chapter on psychic phenomena and another simply called “Oddities.”
“That was where I put the stories that were just too bizarre to fit in any place else,” Lewis said. In all cases, Lewis left the stories as they originally appeared in newspapers of the day. He did not have to embellish a word.
During his Garland Days program, Lewis, who has a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, will talk in particular about some of the unusual stories he’s dug up from the Coulee Region. “I always do a slide show and I try to pick things that relate to the area,” he said.
To cite just some examples, it’s possible that Lewis’ audience at the Garland Homestead on Sept. 13 will hear the story of the La Crosse woman who died of a broken heart when her pet chicken passed away or the tale of La Crosse man in 1906 who hadn’t had a bath in 60 years.
A newspaper item in the July 20, 1901, issue of the La Crosse Daily Press reported on a “sea serpent” sighting near Dresbach by a party of campers. They encountered a “large, snake-like creature which had coiled around a large log, glided off into the river, hissing like escaped steam.”
According to the article, “the serpent was greenish black in color with a few spots of white near the neck. Its head was protected by two horns, like those of a calf, and its tail lashed the water into foam before the reptile disappeared into the depths of the Mississippi.”
Lewis, who lives in Eau Claire, said the La Crosse area was one of the first places he did library research for stories that would appear in the “Hidden Headlines” book.
“For the road guide (to haunted locations), I had to travel all over the state and I’d spend several hours in local libraries whenever I could,” he said.
Asked what led him to become interested in the odd and the paranormal, Lewis suggested it was inevitable. “I blame it on Wisconsin,” he said with a laugh. “I grew up in Eau Claire, which is not too far from Elmwood, which is considered a UFO hot spot.”
Elmwood has had so many sightings that it is the self-proclaimed “UFO Capital of the World.” As a kid, Lewis was intrigued by the UFO phenomenon. As a psychology major in college he looked at it from the standpoint of why some people believe and others don’t.
After college, Lewis got a job as a professional grant writer. He did that for three years, but then the research for his books got to be too time consuming — he’s co-authored guides to haunted locations in five Midwestern states and hidden headlines books for Texas and New York as well as Wisconsin.
He said following his passion has led him to some fascinating places. “Asking someone why they think they saw a sea serpent is a little different than begging the government for money,” he said.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Free talk on “Bizarre Wisconsin” by author Chad Lewis
WHERE: Garland Homestead
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13