Travel

The Most Haunted Places in All of Wisconsin

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Every state’s got its share of “haunted” spots and creepy stories from the past, and Wisconsin’s no exception: The Badger State is riddled with enough reports of paranormal activity to rival spook havens like Pennsylvania and Texas. Of course, ghost stories are always more unsettling when they’re relatable, which is what makes our local hauntings especially creepy. Got a granny who went to a funeral in Siren in 1985? A great uncle buried in Dartford Cemetery? A long-lost cousin who really was in the Wood County Asylum? Then you’re only a couple Kevin Bacon-degrees away from these most haunted places in all of Wisconsin. Just keep telling yourself ghosts aren’t real — maybe they’re not, but that doesn’t make these spots any less sinister.

Bloody Bride Bridge

Steven’s Point
As folklore has it, a bride was killed in a car accident on the Highway 66 bridge over the Plover River in Steven’s Point on her wedding night. Officially, the Steven’s Point Police Department has no record of such an accident, but that hasn’t stopped the ghost of a woman in a bloody wedding dress from making occasional appearances. Local legend tells of a police officer who thought he hit a woman with his car, but saw no one when he got out — the police department denies this incident, too, and there’s no real direct evidence of it happening… but still. Spooky! She can allegedly be seen standing on the bridge, but loves to appear in the backseat of cars, to be seen only by the driver in the rearview mirror.

Summerwind Mansion
Summerwind Mansion
Summerwind Mansion

Summerwind

Land ‘O Lakes
The Lamont Mansion, aka Summerwind, was built in 1916 as a summer home, but it was believed to be haunted right from the start; the original owner fired two shots at what he thought was an intruder, but there turned out to be nothing there. The house changed hands a few times before a family in the ’70s reported experiencing all kinds of paranormal activity, from objects moving by themselves to unexplained whispers. In 1988, the mansion burned down — the official story is that lightning hit it, but some claim that the town intentionally burned it down because it was constantly being vandalized by ghost hunters and local kids. The destroyed mansion still remains to this day, and visitors still report floating orbs, mists that move, and the feeling of an unseen presence.

Wood County Insane Asylum

Marshfield
The paranormal activity at the Wood County Insane Asylum is strong enough that it’s still occurring to this day, even after most of the buildings have been destroyed. The Marshfield Scrap Company now occupies the land the asylum was built on and documents the history of the site and current haunts, like the patient who saw the face of the devil in a boiler and jumped inside to his death. There’s a still-extant tunnel that used to link the building with a farm where the patients worked, which is said to be haunted by a maintenance worker who committed suicide there, two patients who were killed, and a young girl with long, dark hair. No word on whether the ghost of the guy who saw the face of the devil in a boiler and jumped in to his death is still hanging around, though.

The Pfister Hotel
The Pfister Hotel
The Pfister Hotel

The Pfister

Milwaukee
If you had to pick a building that strikes fear into the heart of many MLB players, it probably wouldn’t be a fancy hotel in Milwaukee. Still, The Pfister (where players stay when on the road in MKE) is notorious for being a haunting hot spot in the city. Players are not shy about retelling their experiences, like the most recent example when a number of Cardinals all slept in the same room after seeing a floating torso apparition in their rooms. Though the hotel doesn’t exactly trumpet the fact that it’s full of ghosts, it’s well known that if you stay there — MLB player or not — you’re pretty likely to experience something unexplained.

Dartford Cemetery

Green Lake
A cemetery might not be the most surprising location for a haunting, but the old Dartford Cemetery has a few ghosts who are said to make the rounds. The one most people report seeing is Chief Highknocker: a Ho-Chunk who died in 1911 in what’s officially listed as an “accidental drowning” (although the local legend describes it as an attempt to cross a river without a canoe). His gravestone, marked with a carved portrait of the man himself, is almost as creepy as his purported apparition. If you sit on top of the small mausoleum built for Jackson Walker, you’ll (allegedly) be pushed off by unknown forces, and folks have even reported seeing the shadowy figures of an entire Civil War platoon marching through the cemetery.

Nelsen's Hall & Bitters Club
Nelsen’s Hall & Bitters Club
Nelsen’s Hall & Bitters Club

Nelsen’s Hall

Washington Island
Nowhere else is it completely normal to throw back a shot of Angostura bitters like it is at Nelsen’s Hall on Washington Island. That’s thanks to founder Tom Nelsen who built the bar in 1899 and kept it operating through Prohibition with medicinal shots of bitters — in fact, he loved his business so much that he’s reportedly never left. Women, especially, report seeing him near the restroom and feeling chilled air across the backs of their necks, continuing his (admittedly problematic) ladies’ man-type ways. Paranormal activities include closing doors, the radio station randomly changing, and occasional footsteps upstairs in the room he died in.

Octagon House

Fond du Lac
The long history of the 1856 Octagon House in Fondy includes purported stints as a safehouse on the Underground Railroad and a rum running haven during Prohibition. There are nine secret passageways and tunnels under the house that lead to the outbuildings, which would have come in very handy during those illicit (and completely necessary) activities. What’s more, The History Channel show Hidden Passages named it one of the most haunted houses in the state — and who’s gonna argue with the History Channel? Weird occurrences and spectral beings drove a demand for ghost tours in the past, but it’s currently a private residence, so don’t go snooping around.

Shakers Cigar Bar
Shakers Cigar Bar
Shakers Cigar Bar

Shaker’s Cigar Bar

Milwaukee
There’s no denying that Shaker’s is the most haunted spot in Milwaukee, and maybe even the state. Unsettling historic incidents abound: A prostitute was murdered in the upstairs bedroom and buried on the grounds, Al Capone once owned it and operated a speakeasy there, a boy fell out of a tree and died, two men were murdered in the basement, and it was built on top of a cemetery. You can tour the facility, including the basement (where even some employees refuse to go), or stay in the upstairs bedroom where the prostitute reportedly met her untimely end. If that’s all a little much for you, just swing by for bourbon and a cigar.

Siren Bridge

Siren
While many of these ghost stories spring from legends and folklore, the sad story of the Siren bridge is 100% true. On March 3, 1985, the family of Richard, Rose, and daughter JoDee Kringle all drowned when their car hit ice on a bridge outside Siren and overturned into the marshy river. Ever since then, locals have reported that when they drive over the same bridge, their car’s radio cuts out and instead they hear the voice of a young girl yelling, “Help me mommy, I can’t get out!”Sign up here for our daily Milwaukee email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Brew City.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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