Posts Tagged ‘Weird Wisconsin’


photo from Lincoln County Sheriff’s Dept.

This time of year seems to be when reporters go looking for oddities — or oddities come looking for them. Such seemed the case yesterday when a bold young black bear was seen begging bipedally from cars passing on a highway near Gleason. It was eventually captured and taken to a wildlife refuge. It seemed utterly unafraid of humans, leading to speculation it was either a pet -YIKES – or someone had been feeding it in a habituation situation.

When Hannity Show Came to Bray Road

There’s also a short compilation of Wisconsin beasties in a 3-year old article in Whoo New online blog, including the Beast of Bray Road, Muskego’s Haunchies and others. I’ve had a few people ask where to see the Sean Hannity episode on The Beast (one of the best short documentaries on the subject, I think) and the blog included this handy link.

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October 1992, to be exact. It was a different slate of candidates: George HW Bush vs Bill Clinton vs Ross Perot. I don’t remember whose idea it was at The Week to throw the Beast into the ring with them, but I do remember modifying my original sketch for the full page poster. At any rate, 24 years later I believe it’s worth at least considering one more time. 🙂 (Note: Please, no comments comparing the Beast with any official human candidates for better or worse – he stands on his own two rear paws)



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Thunderbirds, mothmen and other unknown flying things are some of the most puzzling of cryptids. They appear in the sky or a nearby meadow, amaze lucky witnesses, and then fly away without any hint as to their intent. Sometimes they seem to portend doom, as in the famous case of Point Pleasant, W. VA’s Mothman, which many think was a harbinger of the tragic Silver Bridge collapse.


In other cases, such as the northwestern Wisconsin daylight sighting by John Bolduan that begins my “American Monsters” book, witnesses are left feeling perplexed yet privileged to have witnessed such a spectacle. Bolduan watched in awe as the tall, silvery-feathered bird took to the air and displayed a 22-foot wingspan.


There’s another example of that flighty ambiguity in my next book due out this fall, titled “Monsters Among Us, an Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms and Odd Phenomena.” In this incident, a central Wisconsin woman witnessed a gigantic, large bird standing on a bridge near Black River Falls. She was told by a Native American elder that she had seen a Thunderbird.


Why am I bringing these examples up now? I’ve often wished that I had some way to help  interpret these incidents, but had never found much contemporary material aside from well-known Thunderbird lore. I was thrilled recently, then, to stumble across a gleam of illumination in my summer reading pile, in a book about one man’s solo canoe adventure down the Mississippi River. The beautifully written work, Nick Lichter’s The Road of Souls, Reflections on the Mississippi, also describes many of the places long considered sacred or otherwise important by our indigenous people.


One of these places is Rock Island, Illinois (specifically, the area known as Rock Island Arsenal across the river from Bettendorf, Iowa). Lichter cites the translated autobiography Life of Black Hawk to explain that this island was once considered a hunting, fishing and horticultural paradise by Blackhawk’s people, the Sac or Sauk. I’ll quote just the last half of Chief Blackhawk’s own statement from  Lichter’s book:


“In my early life, I spent many happy days on this island. A good spirit had care of it, who lived in a cave in the rocks immediately under the place where the fort now stands, and has often been seen by our people. He was white, with large wings like a swan’s, but ten times larger. We were particular not to make much noise in that part of the island which he inhabited, for fear of disturbing him. But the noise of the fort has driven him away, and no doubt a bad spirit has taken his place!”


Lichter adds, “The swan’s cave was long ago dynamited out of existence.”


(Image shared from http://cdn26.us1.fansshare.com/photo/mississippiriver/shannon-mississippi-river-watershed-wikimedia-commons-delta-333095664.jpg)

Might the big birds seen up and down the Mississippi since Chief Blackhawk’s day be embodiments of that wandering spirit bird? Blackhawk doesn’t directly call the spirit bird a swan; he merely says it is white, has wings like a swan and is ten times its size. That’s very reminiscent of what Bolduan described. And Webb Lake, where it appeared, is only about five or six miles from the Mississippi in Burnett County, Wisconsin. Moreover, the other encounter I mentioned on the bridge in central Wisconsin was near Black River Falls, a tributary of the Mississippi.


This is just my own fanciful thought, but maybe that great, spirit bird is still winging over the Mississippi, setting down now and again as it searches for another place of peace– another earthly paradise to watch over. I believe it’s as good an explanation of these huge creatures as any.

My final thought is a question inspired by Blackhawk’s words when he suggested a “bad spirit” might have taken the great bird’s place… I can’t help but wonder what shape that bad spirit might have taken…

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Every once in a while I’ll be going through my files and will  discover items that have never been resolved for various reasons, just crumbling away in the staid limbo of manila folders. Here are a couple of headscratchers that turned up recently.  While I also have a bunch of newer reports to share soon, I feel I should mention these oldies first, just in case anyone knows more:

Nashotah Bigfoot? July, 2006, Nashotah, Wisconsin report from three men driving on County C south of town described “something huge and brownish that turned to gray toward the back end” crossing the road in front of them as close as only six feet from the car. It was on all fours, had bigger legs than arms (or forelimbs) and its rear end was higher than its front end, giving it a posture “like a souped-up car” as it ran. They were sure it wasn’t a bear or a deer, and indeed, I’ve heard reports of Bigfoots running on all fours in just this manner.

The man who wrote me about it (second hand) in October, 2006, said he was investigating the incident for the BFRO (Bigfoot Field Research Organization) but it doesn’t appear on their site as far as I could discover. I sent him a recent email for an update and am hoping for a reply. I also have the name of the witness, but his contact info has changed.

I would say this sounded more like a Bigfoot than dogman, except the witnesses also said it had a 4-6 inch long tail.  They did not get a good look at its head. The driver said he’d also seen a large upright creature running through his back yard, and it was seven to eight feet tall. That by itself is not conclusive. I remain especially interested in this incident because of the “Hartland Hairy Thing” seen only two years ago in Hartland, Wisconsin, just five miles away. Both towns are about thirty miles north of Bray Road, Elkhorn.

Water Walker and Giant Swimming Animal: August, 2006, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was the date of an old Yahoo conversation I printed and saved from another group because of a question from John Scherf asking if anyone had seen the “Lake Michigan Water Walker.” He said that a strange figure was sometimes sighted sitting on the beach in the very early morning hours. It would then rise up and walk out onto the lake waters until it disappeared. (A person wading out to swim, perhaps?”

The page also included a note from friend and long time cryptid quester Kimberly Poeppey: “I saw a big animal swimming in Lake Michigan! It was as big as a car. It was swimming in the bay by the Art Museum.” She added it was winter and the animal was swimming around blocks of floating ice, leaving a large wake behind. All she could see was its “big, dark, back.” Lake monster?

Anyway, I feel better having given these three mysteries a fighting chance. I penned out a rough map, above, just to give some idea of their relative locations–all in S.E. Wisconsin. I’m no cartographer, but I added a few representative bipeds and quadrupeds in appropriate places for interest. And I’m far from done going through my files. I’ll post again if anything else shakes out.




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Author photo of the

Author photo of the “tunnel of trees” on Weary Road

The entrance to the “Tunnel of Trees” on Weary Road, about one mile south of Evansville, Wisconsin, in Rock County, does make it appear as if you’re about to drive into a black hole, even on sunny days like the one on which I snapped this pic. There are a variety of other spooky claims about this narrow country lane, but area residents pooh-pooh most of them. I’ve also heard from a few that they wish the legends would just go away. (The fact that traffic levels spike from thrill seekers on Halloween and moonlit summer nights may have something to do with that.)

Many of the legends were submitted anonymously to Weird Wisconsin and also appear on various online sites, but most have been in circulation among Evansville area teens for several decades. They range from appearances of a spectral, smirking farmer, to a bridge that will not allow a stopped car to be started again. Like most unknown phenomena, these things seem to appear only at times of their own choosing.

I took an accidental tour of Weary Road recently thanks to area detours. I kept an eye out for the farmer’s ghost but didn’t see even a live human. I also stopped on the bridge to take a pic, but was too chicken to turn off the engine since my cell phone had zero reception in that spot. Two people had also written to Weird Wisconsin that something big flew out of the trees at them; in one case it was a white owl and in another, some invisible thing that allegedly left long scratches on the eye-witness’s arms as it fluttered by. The trees were eerily still during my drive-through. I kept thinking that anything could have been in the corn field, however, and indeed, the site is not many miles away from multiple past sightings of Bigfoot and dogman at Lima Center and Fulton.

A phantom train and unknown lights are among other described anomalies here. My advice is the same as with all spook lanes: If you go, please remember that real people live there–and own the property. And while there may be kernels of truth in these types of legends, they should always be taken with a large grain of road salt.

Infamous Traffic Stop Bridge

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copyright Linda S. Godfrey all rights reserved, no use without permission

copyright Linda S. Godfrey all rights reserved, no use without permission

Sure, it has monsters. But the astounding beauty and diversity of the landscape around the west central midsection of Wisconsin is as remarkable as the wide range of unknown creatures that seem to inhabit it. My previous post focused on the hairless creature legend of Hillsboro; the two accounts I’ll highlight here are located slightly west of that area, near Tomah and Westby. Both cases are especially apropos to summer road trip time, since the creatures involved seemed to home in on the witness’s cars!

The “Big Bird of Tomah” was spotted by a now-retired, male medical worker driving south on his way from Black River Falls to Tomah one morning around 1999-2000. He was nearing the north side of Tomah on US Rte. 12 when something large and black swooped across his windshield–it was a black, feathered bird with a body he described as about six feet long, and a wing span he estimated at twelve feet. He said it was close enough that he was able to look it in the eyes as it passed him. He did not recognize the species. Luckily, the bird kept going, and so did the man. He told some co-workers but as usually happens in these cases, was disbelieved.

Just for comparison, that side of the state is also known for the sightings of a giant, stork-like bird near Hayward, the Man-Bat of La Crosse, and a flying Lizard Man seen by a state patrol officer and a group of construction workers near Medford. I also have a report of a man-sized bird seen standing on a bridge near Neillsville, on or near Ho Chunk land.

The “Westby Wolfman” report came to me just a week ago but occurred in 1990-91. The witness wrote:

“I saw a wolf figure that ran and stood on two legs, but it would have been in 1990 or 1991. It was outside of Westby, Wi on County Road P around 4:30 to 5:00 in the morning. I think it was in the spring of the year. I was on my way to work. It ran from the side of the road and charged into the driver’s side door of my car. Thankfully the window was up. I saw his face clearly. I stepped on the gas. It scared me.

“Although the whole thing happened so quickly, it was early in the morning and still dark outside. It had a wolf face. It was on two legs. It did not look like a costume. It was taller than the car I was driving. I would guess it to be maybe 6 ft tall. It had black fur, maybe dark gray. Where it came from on the side of the road, there was a bridge and a trout stream. It did not dent my car. Trust me, I looked. When it charged the car it hit hard.

“Years later I confided to one of my clients about the incident. She told me there was a book I needed to read. It was your book. When I saw the sketches in the book, I realized it was the same as I had seen that morning. I never heard of any other sightings in that area, but perhaps there were and they were too afraid to say anything either. I never reported it because I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”

There have been many other strange creatures spotted around this area of the state—kangaroos, Bigfoot, and lake serpents to name a few. It’s an extremely scenic part of the state to visit even if you only see known animals, which can be just as exciting in their own right. Summer Road Trip Rating: Five Screeches! * * * * *

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The box ad lay between a charity’s plea for donated boats and cars and an announcement of an open house for a senior apartment village. “Giant Skeletons Found at Lake Lawn,” it declared, right there on page 9 of the May 4, 2014 Walworth County Sunday. “Lake Lawn Hotel 1911.” The ad continued: “In 1911 the Phillips brothers uncovered skeletons that ranged from 7 to 9 feet! Author L.A. Marzulli is offering a $500 reward for photographs of the dig site showing the skeletons, at the Lake Lawn Hotel.”

Lake Lawn Resort grounds

Lake Lawn Resort grounds

The mention of ancient, giant skeletons in my local paper stopped me cold. I knew that a number of such remains had long ago been disinterred from one or more of the 100-plus ancient conical and effigy mounds built along the shores of Delavan Lake, Wisconsin. This was before the structures were protected by law as sacred and historic treasures. Now known as the Lake Lawn Lodge and Golf Course, the popular resort is only about a 15-minute drive from my home. I’ve been there many times and have researched the mounds and skeletons for the “Ancient Mysteries” section of Weird Wisconsin. But I’d never found any photos of the dig site, nor even a reference to such photos. None of the original, 1911 newspaper stories on the discovery had provided illustrations. If such photos existed, I was very eager to see them.

The Delavan Lake mounds were one of the largest and most important groups of ancient earthworks in S.E. Wisconsin. They included both cone-shaped mounds similar to those found across much of the country, and the rarer animal-shaped effigy mounds. Archeologists often date cone-shaped mounds to the Early to Middle Woodland cultures that flourished in Wisconsin from about 500 BC to 500 AD. The animal-shaped effigy mounds are thought to have been built by a later culture known as the Late Woodland between approximately 500 AD and 1200 AD. (These dates and identifications are still under study and involve complex interactions between various prehistoric peoples; I recommend the book Indian Mounds of Wisconsin by Robert Birmingham and Leslie Eisenberg for a more thorough treatment.)

Original Lake Lawn Resort

Original Lake Lawn Resort

Unfortunately, great numbers many of both types of these mounds were leveled by early settlers in order to clear the land for farming, houses, and even – from 1850 until almost the turn of that century on Delavan Lake – winter quarters for members of the Mabie’s Circus and Menagerie, complete with a ring barn for training horses. Jeremiah Mabie owned the lakeside part of the property, and after he died in 1867 his widow remarried.  Anna Mary Mabie Phillips and her second husband, Ernest Field Phillips, built the original Lake Lawn Hotel on that beautiful shore in 1883.

The grounds still contained many of the original mounds at that time, but treasure seekers had opened various of them without finding much. In early March, 1911, the couple’s two sons, Ernest and Chester Phillips, decided to see for themselves whether the conical mounds might indeed contain burials and artifacts.

They chose a 40-foot-diameter mound behind the hotel’s horse barn, and soon uncovered a burial chamber six feet below the top of the three-foot high mound. The chamber measured about 7 by 9 feet, and its floor was made of carefully layered gravel, white sand and blue clay. There was evidence that the top of the chamber had been constructed of a one-foot thick layer of dirt topped with fired clay.  To the excitement of the Phillips brothers, this mound did indeed contain burials: fourteen of them, including several with fractured and otherwise damaged skulls that indicated a violent death. Most of the bodies had been interred lying on their backs with their knees flexed and arms bent upwards. But two were buried in a sitting position. The only artifacts found (and these were in the top of the mound, not the chamber) were a piece of flint, an 8-inch sandstone “pebble,” and a 6-inch red stone. Ernest Phillips submitted a full report of the findings to the Wisconsin Archaeological Society on the 21st of that month.

Page from the Delavan Enterprise showing historian Yadon's column

Page from the Delavan Enterprise showing historian Yadon’s column

A little over a year later, in 1912, the Phillips brothers decided to dig into another, similar mound in the same area as the first. This burial contained one skeleton in a sitting posture, a female and small child lying next to it, and one other adult. The remains of a possible clamshell necklace was found beneath the female burial. According to a later recap in the December, 1926 issue of The Wisconsin Archaeologist, the skulls of these burials all had “low, flattened foreheads.” But that’s not all.

This second mound dig made national news very soon after its discovery. On May 4, 1912, the New York Times carried an article from a May 3, Madison, Wisconsin news article titled, “Strange Skeletons Found.” The article ventured to state that the skeletons indicated “that a heretofore unknown race of men once inhabited Southern Wisconsin.” (The article then seems to combine the previously uncovered skeletons with the four that had just been found to arrive at a total of 18, which it describes without discrimination between the two mounds):

“The heads, presumably those of men, are much larger than the heads of any race which inhabit America today. From directly over the eye sockets, the head slopes straight back and the nasal bones protrude far above the cheek bones. The jaw bones are long and pointed, bearing a minute resemblance to the head of the monkey. The teeth in the front of the jaw are regular molars. There were also found in the mounds the skeletons, presumably of women, which had smaller heads, but were similar in facial characteristics.”

The Delavan Republican said, “The skeletons appear to be those of warriors of powerful frame and immense size when compared with people of this day and age.” The Delavan Enterprise noted that “the cranium of one of [the] ancient warriors was of unusual size, and the other bones found would indicate that they were a race of giants.” The paper didn’t note the exact height of these people, but similar skeletons estimated to be of the same time period from around Wisconsin and the U.S. have noted their heights at between seven and nine feet tall. Author Jim Brandon mentioned a few of these in his 1983 book, The Rebirth of Pan. Beside the Delavan Lake discoveries, Brandon included finds such as:

  • Brewersville Indiana, 1879, skeleton measuring 9 feet, 8 inches taken from a mound
  • Kanawha County, W. Virginia, 1844, skeleton seven and one half feet long taken from a mound chamber
  • Fox Lake, Illinois, (about 15 miles south of the WI/IL border) 1877 contained a skull similar to those described at the 2nd Delavan dig: “The large projecting eye-brows, deep set eye sockets, the low, receding forehead and the long-narrow and flat shape of the crown rendered it a very animal-looking skull.”

(More examples may be found online on a blog page titled Giant Human Skeletons at http://gianthumanskeletons.blogspot.com/p/giant-skeletons-with-double-rows-of.html)

So who were these super-sized people with sloping heads and jutting chins? They probably weren’t the Algonquian, Winnebago, Sac and Fox people encountered by European settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s, who were mostly under six feet tall and lacked the exotic skull features of those buried in the two mounds. Estimates of the age of the mounds and bones ranged as far back as 2000 years, and most traditional anthropologists would align these large people with the mound-building groups dubbed the Adena and Hopewell.

The Adena people had some rather unique and recognizable features, according to an article in March, 1985 FATE Magazine by Jim Miles. He quotes Carnegie Museum curator Don W. Dragoo to note that the Adena were distinguished both by body heights over six feet in height with “massiveness of the bones [that] indicates powerfully built individuals,” and by “a massive protruding chin.” Dragoo’s study was based on almost 100 skeletons found in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.

BeaverDamDig 001Some similar individuals may have been buried just north of Milwaukee and other points around Wisconsin. Beaver Dam’s terrific Dodge County Historical Society Museum displays photos from excavations made a few miles east of town in their Nitschke Mound Park. The skeletons in these photos don’t appear unusual. However, on a recent visit some friends and I were allowed to look through the files, where I found an old newspaper clipping of a burial dig from The Milwaukee Journal, date unknown. This one (see scan, left, of the copy the museum made for me of the newspaper clip) revealed a skeleton with a truly strange, enlarged and weirdly shaped skull that was unearthed in Kletzsch Park along the Milwaukee River, probably in the 1930s. The photo includes the silhouette of a director of anthropology at the Milwaukee Public Museum, W.H. McKern.

Researchers have proposed many theories as to the origins of these large people. Author Marzulli believes that some of these skeletons may have belonged to a dispersed remnant of the people referred to in the Old Testament chapter 6 (verses 1-4) of Genesis as the Nephilim – offspring of the “Sons of god and daughters of men.” One key element Marzulli points to is that so many of these skulls feature cranial elongations and oddities that cannot be explained by normal variations of human physiology nor by  skull-flattening practices some native peoples employed to reshape their infant children’s skulls. These anomalous skulls with huge and weirdly shaped craniums are widespread throughout the Americas, with a particularly large number found in Peru.

Some researchers believe the skeletons are those of extraterrestrial aliens or even Bigfoot, and I have to admit that the description of those massive skulls with giant eye sockets and flattened foreheads does remind me of witness descriptions of Sasquatch. Others believe that the Sasquatch are the remnants of the Nephilim, and that the Nephilim were extraterrestrials.

The traditional anthropologist’s answer, usually, is that these were simply very robust indigenous people or individuals with either naturally inherited stature or growth hormone problems. Various medical conditions that contribute to giantism do exist today. Robert Wadlow of Alton, Illinois who grew to a height of 8 feet, 11 ½ inches, needed a 10-foot casket after he died in 1940 at age 22. But photos of Wadlow show him with a very normally (according to our own Western, modern standards) shaped head.

It seems these skeletons represent a true mystery.

I called the Delavan Historical Society to see if by chance they had some shots of the digs in their collection, thinking that if they did, they might want to go collect the reward. Small-town historical societies can always use extra funds. They did know about the offer – Marzulli had already visited them in person – but alas, they had found nothing for him. One of the staffers gave me the name and phone number of the elderly daughter of a former owner of the property back in the mid-20th Century, however, on the chance that such photos may have been handed down within her family. The very kind lady wasn’t sure, but invited me to have a look through her father’s old family photo albums. That visit was a story in itself, but yielded no dig photos.

It wouldn’t surprise me if nothing conclusive about these mounds ever comes to light. For some reason, any evidence of  the remains of anomalous human beings seem to disappear into a deep, black hole of obfuscation once any sort of established institution gets access to them. Even in 1983, Jim Brandon said of the anomalous bones found in ancient North American mounds: “As soon as mound excavations became widespread in the 19th Century, these reports began to circulate. It is doubtful, however, if any topic has been more relentlessly suppressed.”

Part of the reason for that, of course, is the completely understandable outrage that Native Americans feel at seeing burials sacred to them dug up and displayed for all to see. Almost all museums and other institutions that have harbored remains of Native Americans have by now repatriated their collections to the appropriate tribal entities. But beyond that, there seems to be an extra wall of silence regarding the existence of these huge skeletons with the unusual skulls.

I do know, thanks to a 2004 interview I conducted with the late Delavan historian, Gordon Yadon, that two of the largest Delavan Lake skeletons were removed from the mound and taken to a house the Phillips brothers owned in town. The brothers, Yadon told me, coated the bones with shellac to preserve them. After both brothers died, their belongings were auctioned off but the skeletons weren’t part of the sale, said Yadon. No one knows where they went. Or if anyone does, they aren’t talking. I presume any alleged photos disappeared with the skeletons.

Some later excavations were made of a turtle mound and a linear mound at the resort in November, 1955, by representatives of the Campus Archaeological Society of the University of Chicago.  This dig was duly photographed and recorded, and from what I could discover revealed only the more usual contents of Woodland-era burials, including a few skeletons “bundled” in the traditional manner of many Native American cultures.

It’s possible that some of the remaining mounds still hide secrets from prying, modern eyes, and if so they will remain hidden thanks to our present laws governing preservation of such sites. If it’s any comfort, I’m sure that’s what their makers intended.


“Startling and Important Discovery,” The Delavan Republican, March 23, 1911, p. 1.

“Scene of Old Battle,” The Delavan Enterprise, March 23, 1911, p. 1.

“Strange Skeletons Found,” The New York Times, May 4, 1912.

“The Legend of Lake Lawn Lodge,” 2001 Visitor Information Guide, (publisher uncertain) pp. 40-41.

“The Legend of Lake Lawn Lodge, Delavan, Wisconsin,” Ruby Reader, resort pamphlet citing the Walworth County Historical Society

“Phillips Brothers Excavated Indian Mounds,” W. Gordon Yadon, Delavan Enterprise, Jan. 22, 2004.

Jim Brandon, The Rebirth of Pan; Hidden Faces of the American Earth Spirit, Dunlap, Ill.: Firebird Press, 1983, p. 243-246.

Birmingham and Eisenberg, Indian Mounds of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.: The University Press, 2000.

For extra research: Mary Sutherland, a researcher and co-owner of Burlington’s Sci-Fi Café, has written a book filled with many verbatim newspaper reports: The Red Haired Giants: Atlantis in North America. 

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