Hey there, Corpse Collectors!
It’s the Wolfemann here, and I thought I’d just type up a few more of those urban legends I didn’t want to clutter up the voicemail with. You’ll have to insert your own sound of a campfire crackling and owls hooting in the night, maybe somebody with an acoustic guitar and a folksong or two about Madman Marz.
Now, when I went to college, I went to UW Whitewater, home of the Warhawks. I already told you all about my story of the Three Points, but I’ve got a couple of other local stories to add to it! This first one isn’t particularly PC, but… well, it was established back in the 1800′s, so what do you *really* expect? I’m just telling the story as I heard it.
There are ghost stories aplenty in Wisconsin, which makes sense when you consider that the state’s been settled by white men since the mid-1700′s, and settled by the Native Americans for longer still. A lot of our stories come from old Native legends, particularly up by the Dells. But down south by Whitewater, more of them come from the era of German settlement. Not all of them though.
For example, we’ve got the old stories about Military Road. Military Road was pretty much one of the first highways in Wisconsin, connecting various forts across the state. Since a lot of it passed through some fairly desolate wilderness, small towns popped up here and there where folks would settle down to build the staples of Wisconsin life: A church, a bar, and a general store. These stores would be the places where all the local farmers would converge every week; go to church to cleanse your sins, go to the store for supplies, and go to the bar to start getting dirty again for the next week.
Well, as one might expect, this meant that sometimes there were more folks who came into town than who got home at the end of the weekend. One such case was one of the local Indians, who made his living as a drover, carting supplies back and forth for folks. It wasn’t much of a living, but it made ends meet, and left him with enough cash to enjoy himself at one bar or another every now and again. He’d often be one of the last folks to leave the bar, so he’d often carve himself a pumpkin or turnip as a lantern, keeping a good supply of candles so he could find his way along the road to the next town. That was one advantage of the horse and cart era; you might have been blind drunk, but your horses probably had the good sense not to go wandering off and over a cliff or somesuch.
And so life went on for some time, but one day, our drover friend had just been paid for hauling a particularly lucrative load. He wanted to celebrate, and went out to do so with the locals. He kept drinking with his new-found friends late into the night. The problem was, it was a Saturday. Normally, the bar would have been happy to let him spend his last coin there, but they didn’t want to stay open past midnight this time. After all, running a tavern on the Lord’s day would be a sin. But the drover? He was Indian stock, and didn’t have much use for Christian superstition. He kept drinking up until midnight, and when all of his ‘friends’ had left, insisted that the barkeep sell him another bottle for the road before he left. The barkeep argued with him up until the churchbell struck twelve – and then, rather than risk his soul by selling liquor on a Sunday, he just gave up and handed the drover a bottle and told him to get going.
Pleased to have gotten such an unexpected discount, the drover left. He lit up a candle, and made his way towards the crossroads by the church, drinking and laughing all the way.
Nobody thought much of it the next day, beyond an occasional muttered curse for the drunken man. Not until they found pumpkin seeds scattered all over the road, right where the drover’s tracks abruptly ended. Most folks say that the drover must have fallen off his wagon with his lantern, and gotten lost when the horses ran off in a panic at the smashed lantern. Others say that the Devil came to take him away, for disrespecting the Sabbath.
Either way, up until the horse and buggy were retired, there were regular sightings of a ghostly figure, carrying a jack o’ lantern, making his way along the road like a lost soul, seeking salvation.
Our next story is less urban legend, and more historical truth. The interesting part is that it actually involves both Whitewater directly, and my hometown of Watertown. This is the story of Myrtle Schaude, her husband, her children, and a young engineering student named Frank.
Now, Mr. Schaude was a hard-working, old-fashioned dairy farmer. Like most dairy farmers who lived near a town, he made most of his business supplying the locals. But where Mr. Shaude had lucked out was in having his farm right on the edge of the campus – which meant he was the official dairy supplier of the entire school. In the early 1900′s, particularly heading into the Depression, this was the sort of steady, reliable business that made the difference between a gentleman farmer, and a hard-scrabble life where you can barely take care of yourself. Being on the long end of the stick, Mr. Schaude decided it was time to take a wife… and he married the daughter of a friend of his, Myrtle. Myrtle was a lovely young woman, about half her husband’s age, from the town of New Glarus. She moved away, leaving behind family and friends, and took up the housekeeping and childrearing – and since the Schaudes had several children, that was a full time job in and of itself.
But, even with guaranteed business, the Depression could hit hard. Fewer students at the college meant less call for the Schaude’s milk, and that meant they had to take in lodgers from the school. And with young college students around, eyes might start to wander….
At this point in time, UW Whitewater was a men-only campus, like most. That meant that while Mr. Schaude wasn’t particularly tempted, Myrtle had boys closer to her own age around her for the first time in quite some time. Boys who, unlike her husband, were often sympathetic and gentle souls. Not that Mr. Schaude was cruel, mind. He was just of a prior generation, one that believed the husband’s job was in the fields or the barn, and the wife’s was to run the household, and piddly little ideas like “depression” or “loneliness” were just things to be gotten over. And Myrtle had quite a lot to get over, without any help to do it.
Without any help, that is, until Frank came along. Frank, as I mentioned, was a young, up and coming Engineering student from Watertown. He was a handsome young man, and one of the kindest of the Schaude’s lodgers. Being some ways from home himself, he had quite a bit of time on his hands… and, as the Schaude children were starting to get older and more able to care for themselves, so did Myrtle.
Well, it really isn’t too surprising what happens after that. Myrtle and Frank began an affair, a rather torrid one at that, even by the standards of a time long after theirs. Myrtle was happier than she’d ever been though, and being a rather unimaginative man, her husband didn’t see much in that. Everything would have gone well… if the school year hadn’t ended, at least. When summer came around, Frank went back to Watertown to help his family out at their garage. The children all had their own chores now, and Mr. Schaude, of course, had to work the fields. Myrtle was lonelier than ever, with only occasional letters between she and her lover to keep her going.
Her issues weren’t the greatest ones in the family though. Mr. Schaude was becoming ill, particularly as the summer drew to a close and the students returned. It seemed that his advancing age (he *was* in his 50′s or 60′s by now) and the encroaching cold were getting to be too much for him. First, his eldest son had to take over the deliveries, and Myrtle had to nurse her husband back to something resembling health. He seemed to be doing well as winter set in… until, one day, Myrtle took him a glass of warm lemonade (the cure-all of the day), and after drinking it, some sort of seizure set in! Sadly, the event was fatal. Frank, who had come back to school, was there to comfort Myrtle… though rumors spread that maybe he’d done more than just comfort the grieving widow.
In the end though, it wasn’t all *that* odd. An elderly man dies of a relapse of the disease that had laid him low for months… tragic, but hardly something to inspire much suspicion. Mr. Schaude was buried, and Myrtle was left to run the farm with the aid of her children, and the money from the lodgers. It was a harder life than before, but Myrtle coped.
Then, once more, the summer came about. Frank went back to Watertown, and Myrtle was alone again. Tragedy would strike again – this time, on the day that Myrtle bought her children some chocolates, and sent them off in the family car (driven by Henry) to visit some friends for the night. Henry had some sort of fit behind the wheel, and very nearly wrecked the car.
What was found out this time was that there had been something wrong with the chocolates. It struck a frenzy across the state when it was discovered that they’d been poisoned with strychnine, as everybody thought that it *must* have been done by some lunatic at the factory where they’d been made! It took some time before folks remembered what happened to poor Mr. Schaude… and that his seizure would have been just the sort of thing that would happen if he’d been poisoned with strychnine.
To make a (really) long story (relatively) short, they tested his body, and found he’d been poisoned too. Suspicion fell immediately on Myrtle, who accused Frank. But Frank, unlike Myrtle, had no opportunity to poison the chocolates. Myrtle was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Where she became the prison cook.
Some years later, she was pardoned by the governor, since everybody who knew her claimed she was a saintly woman who wouldn’t hurt a soul. Including the prison warden, who personally championed her cause. She moved out of state, and became a cook. Soon enough, her name changed and her past erased, she married into one of the families she worked for, and raised another family. She never did try to poison this one.
As for Frank, his reputation was ruined, but he wasn’t convicted, as I remember. I actually know some of the folks in his family, which is why I’ve refrained from mentioning his last name. Soon, the entire sordid scandal was erased from Whitewater’s history, with the whole farm taken down to dirt, the land sold off to the school, and used to build a dormitory on.
The same dorm, I might add, where I spent all my years at Whitewater. And people wonder why I turned out the way I did.
We had other stories too. The usual suicides and other tragedies that happen at a dorm. There was actually one case while I was there of a student who tried to hang himself in his room that failed. It turns out that he tried to hang himself from the sprinkler system, and almost *drowned* himself instead, but he managed to get out in one piece. More than could be said for most of the computers on the floor below (thankfully, I lived on the *opposite* wing from that dumbass). But none of those have the sort of punch of those last two stories.
For my final piece though… we’ve got punch again. This one comes back to Watertown proper, in one of the houses on (ironically) Church Street. Nobody’s entirely sure why, but a young boy named Eddie began acting out. Not just the usual sort of thing – he was more than a foul-tempered boy, he was afflicted by scratches, burns, bruises, and all manner of torments! The locals came to the conclusion that the boy was possessed, and an exorcism was attempted. But despite all the efforts of the priests, despite the family converting to Catholicism, despite *months* of effort… none of it sufficed, and poor Eddie reamined possessed.
Then, one day, a mysterious man came to town. He was an Indian, and he just walked in one day without being called for. He walked straight up to the house, and he introduced himself as a medicine man. By this point, poor Eddie’s family were desperate enough that they didn’t *care* who the stranger was, he offered them a shred of hope and they clung to it. All the man asked for pay was fifty dollars and dinner, so frankly, even at the high cost of fifty dollars in the nineteen-teens, they were glad to pay as long as they had their Eddie back.
They ate dinner with the man, all the time Eddie nervously, almost fearfully finishing his food, as though he was afraid that any moment might bring on another fit. By this time, the young man was a shell of himself, wracked by demonic torment, clinging to the hope of salvation like a drowning man to driftwood. When dinner was finished, the medicine man followed Eddie up to his bedroom, the rest of the family coming to watch.
Eddie was strapped down to the bed for safety, and the ritual began. The room filled with the smell of sage and tobacco, and other offerings to the spirits. The medicine man chanted in his native tongue, while Eddie screamed for blasphemies in any language his tongue could form. The boy’s mother sobbed, seeing her boy suffer so, fearing that he wouldn’t be helped by this any more than he was by the exorcism. Then the Indian took his medicine bag, and he slammed it down on the boy’s chest, holding it there as Eddie shook and screamed. Finally, he went still, exhausted by the ritual.
The medicine man drew the bag from the boy’s chest, and there were bloody spines caught in it, long as porcupine quills, though there were no wounds on Eddie’s body.
The Indian said that he had drawn the spirits out, and that he would go far from town before attempting to dispose of them, so that they would not find their way back. The family gratefully, though still somewhat nervously, paid him and let him be on his way.
And Eddie never again suffered from one of his fits.