Interview with Robyn Davis & Ted Williams from the Galena Ghost Tour Company

FantasticStorySociety-LogoRobyn Davis and Ted Williams are the hosts of the Haunted Galena Tour Company (Tour Company link), and if you haven’t heard of Galena, you’re about to get a deep dive into all of the amazing history, spooky ghost stories, and how their tour company is different than most.  They’re also gearing up for a fun paranormal conference that features great speakers and the opportunity to do paranormal investigations at some usually off-limits locations. Whether they’re talking about the tour or the conference (Conference link), you really get a feel for how magical this locked-in-time town is for Ted and Robyn.

And in one of our favorite ghost stories yet, Robyn and Ted tell the sad and true story of Maryanne Miller, one of Galena’s resident ghosts…and she isn’t too happy about how things ended for her (and she probably doesn’t realize things ever did end).

Let’s all take a deep breath, relax, listen to some fun stories, and we’ll make our way through 2020 successfully, smoothly, and with good health.

As for our Society, if you haven’t already, you can look for and find us on Twitter @FantasticGhosty, and we’re always sharing stories, news, and more on our Facebook page at facebook.com/FantasticStorySociety/

Remember, there are stories everywhere, you just need to look for them…and when you find them, give a little knock on our door and you may just be welcomed into The Fantastic Story Society.  Click the image below to listen:

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Snowed in on a Haunted Island

Haunted-PembineBy the time we reached our final destination, the weather had turned.  Soon intense lightning strikes were replaced by intense snow.  Very long, dark, narrow, wooded roads finally opened up to a single lane, converted railroad bridge that leads to the remote, tiny, haunted Miscauno Island, which is located in the middle of the Menominee River on the border between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Pembine, WI.

This island, for better or worse, in truth and in urban legend, has a long connection to the Chicago Mafia, specifically, the West Chicago neighborhood of Cicero.  In the modern era, the island, which contains a 55-room hotel and a 9-hole golf course was purchased with millions of dollars, skimmed from the Cicero town budget by then-town President Betty Loren-Maltese, herself a long “connected” individual who was married to mid-level mobster Frank “Baldy” Maltese.  Only in Cicero can politics and the mob intertwine so blatantly. The IRS seized control of the island and resort while Loren-Maltese served six and a half years in a federal penitentiary.

Another Cicero-based mobster going by the name of Al Capone allegedly visited this location during the heyday of prohibition.  The resort staff are among the first to admit that this is a claim that’s been made for ages, but is impossible to verify.  It’s not like Capone would’ve signed a guest book, after all.

The island was first developed in 1905 by the Wisconsin and Michigan Railroad to house a 25-room inn.  Unfortunately that inn burned to the ground in 1923 (there were no deaths or injuries).  All that remained was the fireplace, which served as the centerpiece of the rebuild.  The new facility was opened in 1925 and included the addition of a golf course and a speakeasy, which is currently the sports bar.  It opened with the name The Four Seasons Club as it caters to summer and winter activities, such as snowmobiling.  It wasn’t until 2005 that the large 55-room hotel with massive salt water indoor pool was added.  This location is not associated with the Four Seasons luxury chain.

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The ghost story is not actually associated with the Mafia legends.  As the story goes, the daughter of a successful industrialist by the name of Laura Van Du Rose was set to be wed on the grounds, but her would-be groom, Doyle Holmes, never arrived.  Heartbroken, she threw herself out of an open window, to her death.

Poltergeist-like activity has been observed ever since with objects moving and the lobby piano even being played by some invisible being.  While the staff seemed somewhat skeptical or level-headed about their Capone connection, they were adamant that this story is true.  Her body landed right in front of the main doors, her presence is felt throughout the older building, especially in the uppermost ballroom (pictured below) and that she never enters the newest construction.  When we were on hand, snowed-in with over two feet of snow falling in under a day, hotel staff mentioned that closed rooms are locked and checked by multiple people, but on the last walk-through, the door to the vintage ice cream parlor had somehow become unlocked and wide open.

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The only problem: cursory internet and in-depth searches on newspapers.com, reveal no mention of the wedding, the suicide or even the names involved.  A high-profile wedding like this would’ve generated plenty of ink in the early 1900s.  I was even able to find reports out of Green Bay that detailed when trains were simply passing through town on the way to Miscauno Island.

So, either more research needs to be done (please comment if anyone has solid historical information), or there are other reasons for the ongoing hauntings.  Asked if anything has been recorded, the staff mentioned that once a ghost hunting team did an extensive, overnight investigation… but by morning all of their recordings on all of their devices had been deleted.  We’ll never know what, if anything was captured that night.

For a place with such deep known history, possible Mafia history and likely extensive Native American history and pre-history, there is a lot more to learn about this site, including the surrounding grounds before we know why this site is so actively haunted.

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The snow didn’t keep us for exploring outside a bit and it eventually did stop, allowing us to leave.  Thanks for the adventure, Wendy!


Birthday Road Trip on a ‘UFO Highway’

Well, can you think of a better way to kick off a surprise birthday road trip? Dream-come-true fiancée (too mushy for a paranormal newsletter?  Fine.)  “See You on the Other Side” podcast producer & co-host Wendy Lynn Staats ‘abducted’ me for a weekend getaway of mysteries.  Driving north through Wisconsin, we drove alongside the expansive Kettle Moraine State Forest in Eastern Wisconsin.  The southern portion of this forest is where Bigfoot hunter Jay Bachochin lead me on two expeditions, each of which left me beyond words (check out his documentary, “Finding Jay” now free on Amazon Prime).  So, already, I knew I was in a strange area.  Little did I know, I was about to come face-to-face with a being that came from another world.

The first thing that really caught our attention on the drive was Dundee Mountain.  Yes, a mountain peak in Wisconsin… not a common sight in the Midwest.

DundeeMountain-UFOWithin 10 minutes, we were at our destination… Benson’s Holiday Hide-A-Way, a small lakefront bar that appeared closed and possibly out of business at first blush, owing to a ‘For Sale’ sign that has been on the building for over a decade.  Fortunately for us, the bar was open and we were the only revelers to go along with bar owner Bill Benson and dozens of alien figures of various sizes.

Quickly, I realized I was at ground zero of a UFO sighting hot spot.  You would assume a small, lakefront bar like this would be inhabited by ‘salt of the earth,’ blue collar recreational fishermen, and that is likely still true, but the conversation tends to be about strange lights in the sky, frequently seen in the area of Dundee Mountain, like Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

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UFO-PhotosAccording to Benson, UFOs had been seen in the area for decades, even before he ran the bar.  Crop circles have popped up in the area well before the phenomena took the media by storm in the early ‘90s.  Within the last two decades, the bar and shoreline has been a great spot to set up a camera to wait and catch a glimpse of strange crafts flying through the sky, especially at sunset or shortly thereafter.  He’s even got a well-worn photo album sporting dozens of unexplainable pictures taken on the premises.  I must admit, many of them were very compelling.

AlienInAJar-dundeePerhaps the landmark feature of this dive is hidden away in a foggy jar behind the bar.  According to Benson, a man once entered the Holiday Hide-A-Way after discovering an alien corpse in a cave in Rosewell, New Mexico.  Afraid of being on the government radar and it being confiscated, he decided the safest place to hide it was here in Bill’s bar.  So, with word getting out that there is an alien body on site, has the government come calling?  According to Benson, yes.  A member of a government agency, perhaps the CIA, questioned him, asked to see the alien.  The man took the jar into the next room, did his own examination and left, leaving the alien behind.

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The greatest thing about how Benson tells a story is that he doesn’t go over-the-top, trying to convince or prove anything.  “This is what happened,” plain and simple.  Was the guy really a government official?  Are those strange lights really UFOs?  All he can do is report what he’s seen and repeat the stories he’s been told.

There’s never a bad time to swing by and see this place for yourself, but summer may be the best time as this becomes an absolute hot spot of enthusiasts of the unknown during the UFO Daze celebration.  I know I’ve already got it on my calendar as I hope to attend the 32rd annual meeting in 2020.


The Christmas Demon

I’m a little late for Krampusnacht (which was December 6th), but it’s never too late to look around the darker side of international Christmas traditions.  And if you think Krampus is a scary deity, you haven’t seen nothing yet…. beware Perchta, the winter goddess!

The below video is beautifully animated and is by no way something I created.  It was produced by the wonderful YouTube channel, Mythology & Fiction Explained.  Their entire library is worth checking out and I encourage you to do so.


Let’s Talk About Telling Scary Stories!

Fantastic Stories Logo 2The Fantastic Story Society will release an episode every other weekend with weekly episodes in October. We talk with storytellers about the journey that lead them into the world of dark, supernatural or otherwise fantastical storytelling. Our guests will range from television writers/researchers, those trying to solve mysteries through archaeology and folklore to screenwriters and horror directors. This is a podcast ABOUT telling stories, but you know when you get storytellers together, they tend to tell some fascinating stories, so this will be as entertaining as it is informative. Join your hosts, paranormal researcher and filmmaker Scott Markus of WhatsYourGhostStory.com and screenwriting consultant, educator of TheCraftCourse.com and proprietor of TheStoryFarm.org, Max Timm as they induct a new member of the Fantastic Story Society each episode.


Haunted Lake Geneva! American Ghost Walks

You don’t have to wait til autumn to take a historical, haunted tour, but there is something special about walking around outside among the crisp air with the leaves crunching under your feet.  In the last couple weeks, Wendy Lynn Staats from the “See You on the Other Side” podcast & I had the opportunity to visit a couple fun towns and get the grand, macabre treatment!

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Lake Geneva is in southeastern Wisconsin, an easy destination whether you’re coming from Chicago or Milwaukee.  It is today as it’s always been, a resort town catering to out-of-towners looking for a beautiful, quaint and quiet destination.  The town’s modern history dates to the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 when many wealthy Chicago families retreated to their Lake Geneva summer homes while the city lay in ruins.  However, the prehistory of native American habitation of the area dates back at least 3,000 years including mound builders who created effigy mounds in the shapes of a panther and lizard, which have unfortunately been destroyed in recent years.

American-Ghost-WalksThe walking tour, one of several across the Midwest by operated by American Ghost Walks (click the banner to the left or click here to link directly to the Lake Geneva Tour) meets near downtown and takes place over the span of about 90 minutes where around a dozen sites are visited over the course of roughly one mile.  The hostess was fun and personable, decked out in a funky take on Victorian style, a fitting, colorful counterpart to Beetlejuice (minus the ghoulish makeup).

LakeGeneva-OakwoodAsylumOne off-location Lake Geneva site I would like to investigate further is the current Havenwood Apartment complex, which stands on the site of the former Oakwood Sanitarium.  The 1885 sanitarium boasted the latest techniques for treatment of the mentally ill, which, by today’s standards, was the dark ages.  It’s no wonder that the site began earning a reputation as a haunted location while it sat vacant in the 1950s.  Today, phantom footsteps and even screams are reported at the Havenwood Apartment complex.

Tempted as I may be, I will not talk about all of the locations on the Lake Geneva tour, but I will say that I was surprised to hear the tales of a frequently seen story of a 60-foot snakelike creature observed commonly by steamboat captains, the tale of a drown woman whose corpse is still sighted just under the water, generations later, and an exceptionally spooky spirit who seems to wipe the minds of those who encounter it, eventually leading people away from their friends.  I will say as the director of “The Hidden Truth?,” a documentary that explored the idea of a negative spirit leading people to drown in the Mississippi River, this is an exceptionally chilling story.  The photo below is the park this specter patrols.

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Rather than dive into further ghost stories, I wanted to share some beautiful images of two more locations on the tour.  The Maxwell Mansion was built in 1856 and bears the same name of the man whom the famed Maxwell Street in downtown Chicago is named for.  Currently the location is a hotel that features two open to the public bars, including one, speakeasy style, in the basement.  The Baker House is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful buildings in Lake Geneva.  The 1885-built Queen Anne Mansion is now a hotel that overlooks the lake.

 


Haunted Galena, IL – Haunted Galena Tour Co.

Galena, Illinois is a former mining and steamboat town near the Mississippi River in northeastern Illinois.  It’s believed that Native Americans used this location to mine for lead for use in burial rituals two thousand years ago and the first European mining here took place during the French exploring/trading era of the late 1600s through the 1700s.  By the early 1800s shipping allowed the easy hauling of iron ore from the cite, leading to Galena becoming the first mining boom town in US history.

HauntedGalena-TedToday Galena is a beautiful, locked in time community… I mean literally locked in.  About 2.25 square miles of downtown is a preserved, historic district.  Of course, all that history, all that preservation helps those from the other side feel right at home here.

The Haunted Galena Tour Company, run by Ted Williams and Robyn Davis takes people through the downtown, occasionally even entering the historic sites, while pointing out favorable vantage points to try to capture paranormal photos while also showing some of the highlights of the best images caught on the tour.  I should also point out that they offer a “Spirits & Spirits Tour,” that is a haunted pub crawl that goes through three haunted watering holes.  Your $25 ticket nets you all of the history and hauntings at these places along with a specialty cocktail at EACH location.

HauntedGalena-DowlingHouseHauntedGalenaTourThat’s tough to beat, we imagine, but the key was in the presentation where Ted would go into a story in a somewhat expected way – telling of the significance of the location, before suddenly Robyn would appear and talk about a moment in history as if she were eye witness to the tragedy as a townsperson living in the relevant era, giving way again for Ted to finish the tale by talking about the paranormal happenings that are observed to this day.  It is theatrical and there’s a million ways it could come off as cheesy or over-the-top, but the Ted/Robyn duo absolutely hit the right tone.  Book your tickets by clicking here or the tour company logo above.

I know you’re saying, “Get to the damned ghost stories already!”  Well fine, pushy!  I’ll even reward your patience with a video clip.  It’s not uncommon for a walking tour to also feature a story about a location that’s too far to walk to.  In this case, it’s the Adly House, a site of an unknown number of murders.  Click on the video to hear the story directly from Ted & Robyn.

 

In rapid fire teasing, the tour leads into the re-discovered room in the basement of the DeSoto Hotel where the lady in black, Galena’s most famous ghost, has been seen.  The tour swings by a former tombstone factory where the tour guides shared outdated (and seriously strange by today’s standards) funerary traditions.  A stop was also made at one of the more paranormal photo-friendly locations in town, the oldest structure in the city, the 1820s built Dowling House where the group was invited to try their best to capture something on camera.

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One of my favorite reasons for taking a ghost tour in a new city is to find locations I can revisit.  One such location where people can do a little ghost hunting is the Old Market House.  This location is a historic site, but it’s used as an information hub / visitor resource center.  One fact that is definitely not in any of the ‘visit Galena’ brochures is that there was once a jail cell built in the basement of this structure.  A woman by the name of Marianne Miller was something of a ne’er-do-well, repeat offender type and one night she was placed into holding in this newly constructed cell.  The timing could not have been worse as this night was a night where the river overflowed its banks and the basement flooded and Marianne drowned.

While Ms. Miller wasn’t considered the fabric of the Galena community, she was still a neighbor who deserved better.  That jail cell was never used again, but the psychic energy remains.  Among other paranormal phenomena observed within, it is possible to make contact with Marianne, even from outside of the building.  There is an exterior staircase that heads down to basement level.  If you, especially on nights when the weather is inclimate, knock on the basement door and you may have your knock returned to you from the other side.  Other times, instead of knocks, you may hear fingernails on the door scratching back at you, this poor, unfortunate soul who still appears to be clawing to get out of her cell.

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I always hesitate telling someone else’s story (in the sense that I simply haven’t done enough of the research myself), but in the case of the Galena Tour company, no write-up, no matter how detailed, could match the entertaining presentation you could get by hearing the story directly from Ted and Robyn.  There are a lot of ghost tours out there, but Haunted America’s Lake Geneva Tour and The Haunted Galena Tour Co. are two must-have experiences for anything looking to feel an extra chill down their spine.

On a side note, there is another tour company in town, which I did not take, but I cannot stress enough that this is the tour you want to book.  Plan and book your tickets in advance to make sure you get a spot on this tour!


An LA Ghost Hunter Watches: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

The 9th film from Quentin Tarantino takes place in 1969 Los Angeles, blending real history with fiction, real characters (Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate) with fictional ones (played by mega stars Leonardo DiCaprio & Brad Pitt).

My series “A Ghost Hunter Watches” usually looks at fact versus fiction.  While we will do the same a little bit in this episode, we will instead focus on what haunted locations where featured at in the film.  Yup, in addition to having a Charles Manson storyline, QT filmed at some iconic locations that were even part of my LA Hauntings tour (one is even featured right here on the movie poster)!

Keep up to date on future live streams on my YouTube page here.  Enjoy the look back at “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”:

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Check out this great behind the scenes video taken by spectators on Hollywood Blvd showing the immense detail the films art department partook.  And this is just for things seen in the background…. beyond just signs, full store fronts and sometimes even interiors were built and dressed just to have Leo & Brad drive past them.

 

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Dissecting Urban Legends & Horror “Rules” in Candyman

I need to make one thing insanely clear before you click ‘play’ on this video:  I did not create it.  I’m making this so very clear for one reason:  to give credit where it’s due (something I ALWAYS strive to do, no matter how big or small).  The creator of this video is Serge of Cold Crash Pictures, a former film student who lives in Chicago and makes videos about film appreciation.  Through my work with the International Screenwriters’ Association, I end up watching a lot of film analysis videos, several of which may also fit on this site.  However, this one really digs into the history of Chicago and the Cabrini Green projects as well as, as is the subject of the film, how urban legends take hold.

And if you’re in the mood for more discussion of “movies shot in Chicago,” this is a must-watch:


Stranger Things…The Cards!

We are super excited about “Stranger Things” season 3, coming out this week!  To get ready, Wendy Lynn Staats & I tore open a blaster box of Stranger Things season 1 trading cards.  If you want to buy some for yourself, you can do that directly from me on eBay here.