The 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.
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!
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.
The 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).
One 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.
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.
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.
Today 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.
That’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.
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.
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!
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”:
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.
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:
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.
We take a look back at three females who’s lives were cut tragically short. In two of the instances, their deaths are still surrounded by mystery.