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A Haunting In Mineral Point
Looking for a place where your imagination can run wild? Try Wisconsin’s oldest operating inn.

By Chuck Nowlen
Published November, 1993
Copyright 1993 Madison Magazine

 

It’s one of those bone-chilling, rainy fall nights – pitch black and windy enough to paste leaves against the window panes. The only light here is from an ancient fireplace a few feet away and a small candle at our table. Half-crocked on red wine, I notice that shadows on the bare stone walls are starting to play tricks with my mind.

At the moment, I am one of only three people in the warehouse-sized Walker House in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. The cavernous bed-and-breakfast is the state’s oldest operating inn, and it’s said to be haunted by the ghost of a murderer who was hung just outside on November 1, 1842.

Every once in a while, lightning rips the sky behind the innkeeper, who sits across from my friend Wendy and me in the tiny Walker House pub. As warm yellow light flickers off our host’s face, I can’t help but think: This guy seems awful nice. So why does he remind me so much of Ed Gein?

I don’t know about Wendy, but I am REALLY hoping to meet the ghost tonight. I want him to scare the skin right off my body, sending me shrieking like a fool into the rain-soaked night.

And, in a way, I will not be disappointed.

During the famous “lead rush” of the early 1800s, you could count on this place being packed with rowdy Mineral Point miners on a night like this. They drank here. They fought here. And, according to historical documents, they clutched guns and knives when they passed out upstairs.

God only knows what all the whiskey and lead dust did to these people’s brain cells, but the Walker House ghost – a boorish malcontent named William Caffee – was the worst of them all. He shot a man to death during an argument and was hanged before 4,000 spectators outside in what is now the inn’s parking lot, less than 20 yards from where I’m sitting now. As he rode to the gallows in a horse-drawn cart, Caffee sat on his own coffin, beating a crazy funeral march on the lid with two empty beer bottles.

“He was decapitated,” notes our host, a very cordial and unthreatening man named Harvey Glanzer. “He was a pretty unsavory character.”

At our request, Wendy and I will be sleeping tonight in what Glanzer calls “the ghost room.” After the murder, Caffee hid there under the floorboards until he was finally caught.

At one point during our two-hour chat with Glanzer in the Walker House pub, Wendy has to visit the ladies room, which means she has to walk down a long, unlit corridor, then upstairs toward our room. While she’s gone, Glanzer and I talk for a few minutes about his other Midwest properties – he owns Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Richland Center and Minneapolis, and he’s one of Mineral Point’s biggest landowners. Suddenly, Wendy cries out from the darkness: “Hey, you guys, I just got scared!”

She had gotten lost along the way and had tried to open the door to the upstairs dining room, one of the ghost’s favorite stalking grounds. A distinct chill down her spine made her beat a hasty retreat.

According to Glanzer, ghost tricks from the past include: a door in a wait-staff restroom that opens by itself, even when locked from the inside; a heat-register panel in a downstairs room that has been found mysteriously detached and moved elsewhere; and numerous abrupt temperature changes, particularly on the third floor.

“I’ve never had anything happen to me, personally,” Glanzer says. “I’ve always thought of him as a friendly ghost.”

There have also been many reports of guests who carried on conversations with someone as they walked down a hallway, only find no one there when they turned around. A few people have bumped into an invisible mass as they walked through the inn, and one or two waitresses have had their hair – literally – stand straight up as they worked. A previous owner had the place exorcised.

Still, after another glass of wine, we all chalk Wendy’s experience up to the good old-fashioned willies; and when the cabernet sauvignon runs its course later, I deliberately take the same route Wendy had taken earlier back toward our room. I reach for the dining room door knob in almost total darkness. Sure enough, I get a deeply strange feeling of foreboding – as if I’ll get my throat cut if I take one step farther.

“Okay hotshot, quit fooling around,” I laugh at the ghost, half whistling in the dark, half reaching out with heart-felt good humor.

I grab the knob again, but, harmless willies or not, I simply cannot make myself walk through the door. Hey, I’ve seen “Psycho.” I remember the REET, REET, REET violin music when Anthony Perkins sliced up Janet Leigh in the shower. And I know that if this were a movie, everybody in the audience would be thinking: You idiot! Get the hell out of the house!

Earlier in the day, Glanzer had put it this way: “I don’t believe in the ghost, and I don’t disbelieve. This is a place where your imagination can play tricks on you. But there’s a pattern to what people have said.”

Of course, Wendy and I didn’t spend our entire time in Mineral Point bumping into doors and getting drunk in a dank stone pub. The city of a few thousand or so – nestled in the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin, about an hour or so from the Mississippi River – is full of things to do, even through the winter. About 80 percent of the quaint gift shops, restaurants, art galleries and inns stay open year-around Friday through Sunday. There’s also Pendarvis, Mineral Point’s nod to the famous Williamsburg Settlement in Virginia. Governor Dodge State Park and the Military Ridge Bike Trail are nearby, and when the snow flies, there are more snowmobile and cross-country ski trails here than you can count.

There’s also a lot of local color, and after we bid goodnight to Mr. Glanzer, we go for a walk and check out one of the “Pointer” bars on High Street about a block away. As we head back to the Walker House at about 1:30 a.m., we notice a light on in one of the third-floor rooms. There, a woman in a nightgown watches our approach from her window, then turns and walks away. We crash in our room and sleep like babies until the sun is full and warm the next morning.

At breakfast, we eat with two other guests who got in late – Irene Pieczynski and Rose Worzelle, who combined their Walker House visit with a trip to American Players Theater in nearby Spring Green. I mention that we saw their third-floor light on as we came in the night before, and they both glance at each other.

“No, that couldn’t have been us. We were on the second floor in the back.”

Glanzer adds that there were no other guests.

Great, I’m thinking, the ghost is a cross-dresser. And as I shower later before checking out, the “Psycho” music starts shrieking in my head: REEEET! REEEET! REEEET! REEEET!

 

 

 

 

 

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