By Andrea Culletto —
October always brings ghosts, ghouls and all kinds of frightfully fictional fun, but the La Crosse area is rumored to be home to real-life specters year-round. From historical accounts of things gone awry to unknowns that go bump in the night, there is plenty here to make your spine tingle and your hair stand on end. Of course, when dealing with the supernatural, there is much speculation and hearsay. But it makes you wonder … what is happening around us that we just don’t see? Read on for the chills and thrills of the spookiest spaces and places in our area.
Warehouse Concert Venue
This location is said to be home to the ghostly apparition of an unidentified young girl. Many individuals have attested to seeing her floating around the building, and Warehouse’s security system has picked up unexplainable occurrences, such as doors opening and closing on their own.
It seems the paranormal activity increases exponentially whenever changes or alterations are made to the original building. One eyewitness said that during remodels the girl tended to appear whenever work was being done by a lone person. She would simply appear, watch for a few moments and then fade away. The girl has not been seen since renovations were completed, but the building’s users are sure that she is still there, waiting to see what happens next.
Old Holmbo Residence
It is said that the past owner of the old Holmbo residence in La Crosse hung himself in the main room in 1904. Since then, area residents have reported hearing moans and screams and seeing strange lights flickering within the abandoned house. One noted that when police were called to investigate, the house was discovered to be empty. Some witnesses have even reported seeing Holmbo’s apparition gazing down into the street late at night.
Freight House Restaurant
According to Michael Scott, who hosts The Ghosts of Historic La Crosse Walking Tour, two UW-L students encountered something unexplainable one night at work. They were cleaning the Freight House around 2:30 a.m. when they turned to discover an eight-year-old girl in a white dress. As soon as their eyes connected, she went away. They searched the restaurant but found no sign of her. Scott recalled that the manager at the time said the students left the building and never came back, not even to pick up their checks.
There are many accounts of unexplained bumps and bangs at Del’s Bar. But Scott relayed the most fascinating story of all. A Del’s Bar manager was sitting down reading a newspaper when he heard three unearthly loud knocks on the front door. He went to answer it. As soon as he did, the old ceiling fan over his chair fell and crashed onto his seat. He answered the door to see who had saved him from such a dismal demise, but the street outside was empty.
Some employees at Del’s have shared tales of inexplicable sounds, voices and more. So, next time you’re filling up on your favorite brew, strike up a conversation with the bartender. Maybe they’ll have something scary to share.
Bodega Brew Pub
The Bodega Brew Pub’s haunted reputation got its start way back in 1907. After the building’s owner Paul Malin allegedly hung himself there in 1901, ownership changed hands several times in short order. The reason for such quick turnover was never disclosed. It was then purchased by A.J. Hine, but in 1907 Hine explained he was selling it off because Malin’s ghost appeared and tormented him nightly.
Since then, some employees have experienced unexplainable occurrences. Michael Scott relayed the story of the Bodega Brew Pub employee who was cleaning out the basement alone. He moved a pile of street bricks out of the corner so he could more easily remove them from the building when he came back with his truck. He finished the job and locked up the building using the only key. When he came back to pick up the bricks, they were all piled right back where they had started.
Bodega bartender Kinsey Olson said she used to believe the whole haunting thing was a hoax, but then she started experiencing strange occurrences such as lights shutting off in the basement or doors slamming when she was the only person in the building. “You can hear heels on the floor upstairs when no one is there,” Olson said.
She explained that these things make it scary to close alone, which makes sense. So, staff stick together and wait for each other to finish so they can all leave together. Despite the spooky circumstances, Olson isn’t deterred from coming to work. “It’s a cool place to work,” she explained.
Coate Hall at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
There are several rumors of ghostly happenings at Coate Hall. These include apparitions and even strange writing on bathroom mirrors. While one resident denied any occurrences of a spooky nature, it does make you wonder—could these just be scary student stories or something more?
Hillview Health Care Center
There is one story that has circulated through the public about Hillview Health Care Center. While it is impossible to discern where this tale began, it is said that there have been occurrences in which dementia patients will talk about a little boy in a baseball cap visiting them. They are said to have asked staff where the boy went, even though no such little boy was there. They all describe him the same way. Usually, when someone starts asking about him, it means a death will follow soon after, or so the story goes.
Acting administrator Kelly Kramer, who has worked at Hillview for 20 years, said she has never experienced this herself or heard it from others. She did mention, however, that the building has a great deal of interesting history.
So who knows if this story has any veracity or if it is simply an urban legend? But whether it’s true or not, it’s a good story nonetheless.
According to Michael Scott, there was a man named James Clark, age 55 and father to a whopping 17 children, who was an early janitor at Hamilton School. In March 1897, Clark left the tavern where he had been drinking, let himself into the schoolhouse and hung himself from a rope in the bell tower. It is said that this action caused the bell to ring three times that fateful night.
Apparently, there have been reports of strange occurrences in the neighborhood ever since. It is said that, on occasion, the bell would inexplicably ring three times in the night, and there were even reports that a specter had been seen moving from Clark’s house to the school.
For more spooky stories on the haunted places of La Crosse, join The Ghosts of Historic La Crosse Walking Tour with Michael Scott. For dates of operation and to sign up, visit www.footstepsoflacrosse.org.
The Hills of Vernon County
In the book, “Spooky Wisconsin: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore,” author S.E. Schlosser tells the tale of a young man who was attempting to meet up with friends when he became lost in the hills of Vernon County. As he drove, he came across a lively barn dance with horse-drawn carriages parked outside. Upon entering, the young man was struck at the great lengths people had gone to in making the event an authentic, old-timey barn dance, replete with authentic period costumes.
The youth was welcomed, given a beer (which he described as the most delicious he’d ever tasted) and pulled onto the dance floor by a beautiful young girl. After passing a wonderful night, his new companion asked him to make a toast. He obliged, calling for “long life” for all present.
No sooner had the words escaped his lips than all sound was extinguished from the room. He gazed around to discover to his great dismay that his fellow revelers were deteriorating before his very eyes. Terrified, he ran from the building, leapt into his car and raced away, the barn crumbling in his rearview mirror.
It is said that the residents of Vernon County occasionally hear wisps of strange music drifting over the hills at night, with no source to be found.
Pizza Villa in West Salem
It seems a strange place for a ghost to take up residence, but apparently this particular apparition has an appetite for delicious pizza. Employees of Pizza Villa have reported unexplainable occurrences like doors shaking, cabinets opening and closing of their own accord, silverware rattling, boxes falling and lights flickering in the restaurant. Though not everyone has had haunted experiences in the restaurant, it’s enough to make you wonder.
House of Shadows in Sparta
While this building is now a Halloween haunted house, it has truly spooky origins. The building was originally constructed in the 1800s as a child care center. Over 320 children are said to have died there during that time. The building was later used as an eldercare center.
A steam-pipe tunnel runs between the House of Shadows and a nearby building that was used as a sanitarium and to quarantine children with tuberculosis. It was in this tunnel that the first paranormal experiences were cited. Workers in the tunnel reported hearing voices without a source, seeing the spontaneous appearance and extinction of lights, and experiencing the disappearance of tools. A few even reported seeing apparitions themselves. One worker said he distinctly heard the words, “Help me, Mommy,” while he was working in a hallway. It wasn’t uncommon for workers to ensure that all lights in the house were turned off at the end of the day, only to return and find them all alight the next morning.
A team of ghost investigators was called in to examine the situation. While in the house, they recorded sensing a presence, detecting a strange odor and experiencing a cold breeze despite the closed windows and lack of air conditioning. Their camcorder lost all power, only to resume working again as if nothing had happened. One walkie-talkie failed to function, and when the batteries were removed to see if they needed to be replaced, sound began to come through the unpowered device. Photos depicted the presence of orbs and movement. It was determined that, while they couldn’t figure out exactly what was taking place, something spooky was certainly occurring at the House of Shadows.
Legacy Grill & Pub in Coon Valley
Legacy Grill & Pub now resides in what was originally DiSciascio’s, an Italian restaurant that was in operation for some 26 years. While many strange occurrences have been reported here, the primary apparition is a female ghost that staff have nicknamed Mary. Whether due to Mary or some other paranormal activity, witnesses have reported items flying off shelves of their own accord.
Big River Inn in Genoa
The restaurant at Big River Inn is said to be haunted by Kenny, the original owner who passed away in 1999. He’s known to occasionally switch TV channels in the restaurant, move items and cause cups of coffee to randomly appear (he was a huge coffee drinker according to current owner Harold Winne).
But there is more to this haunted hotel and restaurant than that. According to Winne, back in the early 1900s there was a major riverboat accident north of De Soto. The biggest building they could find to house all the victims’ bodies was the restaurant. One hundred bodies were stored there while they sorted out what to do. In the intervening years, witnesses have reported seeing apparitions in early-1900s dress in the building.
Several paranormal investigators have stayed at the hotel and gotten measurable readings, particularly (and consistently) in one of the guest rooms. There are also reports of paranormal activity in the local cemetery and a nearby battleground.
Winona State University
At WSU, Lourdes Hall’s third and fourth floors have long been rumored to be the site of ghostly activity. Reported occurrences include the unexplained removal of photos and posters, sourceless voices, and doors closing and locking on their own. On the fourth floor, a one-time infirmary for nuns, witnesses have reported seeing souls moving, talking and crying. Nearby Richards Hall is also believed to be haunted by the ghost of a student who died by hanging himself in his closet nearly 40 years ago.
Pieces of the Past
This antique store is located in a building constructed in the 1850s that once served simultaneously as a law office and a brothel. Legend has it that a woman was shot to death on the staircase there. While the staircase no longer remains, some say her ghost still appears there today. Another apparition that has been reported is a man who has been seen running up and down the stairs. Likewise, witnesses have reported seeing objects move, furniture thrown, the color of light bulbs change and the jukebox spontaneously start.
Heffron Hall at St. Mary’s College
There is deep mystery and intrigue behind this haunting. As the story goes, Father Louis Lesches attempted to murder Bishop Patrick Heffron on Aug. 27, 1915, while the latter was celebrating mass in his private chapel on the second floor of St. Mary’s Hall. Lesches was later acquitted on the grounds of insanity and committed to the State Hospital for the Dangerous Insane where he spent the remainder of his life.
On May 15, 1931, Father Edward W. Lynch’s burnt body was found in his bed on the third floor of St. Mary’s Hall. Lynch was St. Mary’s first librarian and was said to have been greatly disliked by Father Lesches. The official cause of death was cited as accidental electric shock from coming into contact with a defective reading lamp and/or radiator.
While both of these incidents took place in St. Mary’s Hall, they have laid the foundation for the haunting of Heffron Hall. Today, many believe the ghost of Heffron Hall to be Father Lesches himself. They believe, despite the fact that Lesches was committed at the time of Lynch’s death, he somehow caused it himself and that he remains there, haunting the halls today. Witnesses in Heffron Hall have reported seeing ghosts, feeling cold spots and seeing blood running out of bathroom faucets. Often incidents are said to have been marked with the letters, “A C M,” whose meaning is unknown.
Do you think all these hauntings are true or truly imaginary? Many people have claimed to see the otherwise unexplainable. Could they all be mistaken? Are they faking? Or is there something unbelievable happening here? What is certain is that while there are many accounts of otherworldly apparitions and things that go bump in the night in the La Crosse area, these things seem content to do just that. So, feel free to stop by and say hello to our area’s haunting residents. Who knows? They just might say hello back.
If you’re looking for more organized Halloween fun, check out some of our area’s great haunted houses and spooky events:
Ghoulees in the Coulees at Norskedalen
Onalaska Jaycees Haunted House
Find it on Facebook.
Zombie 3K in Sparta
House of Shadows in Sparta
Hidden Trails Corn Maze in West Salem
Pumpkin Patch at Rainbow Ridge Farms in Onalaska
Find it on Facebook.
Tews Corn Maze in Winona
Halls of Terror in Prairie du Chien
Find it on Facebook.
Boo-Seum Halloween Party at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse
Trick or Treat Downtown La Crosse
Haunted High Ropes in Lanesboro
Field of Screams in La Crosse