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.