Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Research at haunted Inn yields surprising finds

Old Inn puts the "boo!" in Baraboo

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Members of the Southern Wisconsin Paranormal Research Group, based in Janesville, recently completed an investigation of some strange happenings at the 141-year-old building and have concluded there are some unexplainable phenomena going on.

The group detected movement on tapes and high electromagnetic readings in areas of the building. The findings don't surprise the owner of the building, B.C. Farr.

"I don't really care what people think," said the 42-year-old Farr. "I know what I've seen."

What Farr has seen includes dishes flying off a rack, a floating broom and doors opening and closing on their own. He's not alone in seeing these things. At last count, more than a dozen people have reported seeing things since Farr renovated and opened the restaurant and bar in 2002.

One of the tenants in an upstairs apartment, who is trying to get out of his lease, claims he hears a woman's voice calling his name. He told a Lee Newspapers reporter a few weeks ago that he once joked, "C'mon, Casper, come and get me." Suddenly, he heard an eerie tapping on his door.

The Inn is a former tavern and brothel, located across from the site of the old Baraboo train depot. Baraboo once was a railroad hub between Minneapolis and Chicago.

A prostitute named Mary reportedly bled to death in the building around the early 1900s. Several other people have reportedly died in the building, including two former owners.

Farr bought the building in 1998 and first renovated the upstairs apartments. The first tenant of those apartments reported hearing honky-tonk piano music, people laughing and singing in the downstairs bar before it even opened and seeing a female figure dressed in a saloon dancer costume.

"We kept it quiet for a long time," said Farr in an interview with Beyond Milwaukee. "I was raised in Baraboo, and my dad ran a tavern just down the street. This place had a fire in 1988 and was deteriorating badly. I was taking care of it -- shoveling the snow, fixing windows, dealing with the vandalism and that -- after a friend from Madison who had bought it died.

"The more I was around the building, the more attached I felt to it. I didn't want to see this area lose any more of its history, so I threw every penny I had into it and bought it."

Farr said even when he was working on the building's renovation, which took four years, he frequently heard and saw things and "never felt like I was alone."

He kept it quiet because he felt it would hurt his business, but "too many people have seen and heard things at different times of the day and night" to keep it under wraps any longer.

Farr said the strange happenings have made it hard to keep tenants in the apartments and help in the restaurant and bar. "My own sister, who has worked on our books, won't go down in the basement where our office is," Farr said.

Some recent coverage by Madison area media have led to people coming in out of curiosity, but "they aren't staying that long" or spending a lot of money, according to Farr.

Farr said the old inn has seen a lot over its history. "There were gunfights in here. There are bullets in the walls," he said. "It was a brothel and tavern, so you had so many emotions in here."

Rob Johnson, the lead investigator for the paranormal team that visited the inn, told Lee Newspapers that equipment they use picks up on the energy of emotions.

"We use them (the equipment) to pick up spirits, and in our opinion that is how they manifest. They have to get the energy from somewhere. Emotions are made of energy, the base principle of energy," Johnson said.

"My opinion is the majority of spirits we deal with don't know they have died. One of the biggest keys in dramatic events -- untimely deaths."

Farr said he was very impressed with how professional and high tech the paranormal investigators were. He said another research group from Antioch, Ill., has contacted him about doing more studies of the site.

"Now that it's out in the public, I'm as interested as anybody in seeing what is going on here," Farr said.

More ghostly tales from today's news:

Old theater home to ghosts with something to share

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, keep reading. The ghosts in Shelby want you to know what they have to share.

This is a story of days gone by in the City of Pleasant Living. It's a story of dreams, life, death and hope for a future of pleasant living once again.

The story begins in the Rogers Theatre, a now decaying testament to a time when Shelby residents dreamed big dreams. It was the last of four theaters in uptown when it opened in 1936. With its vaudeville stage that attracted the biggest of stars and its 1,000 seats, the Rogers' future was bright.

"Lon Chaney Jr. and the Three Stooges played there," said Mayor Ted Alexander.

For the 1940 opening of the movie "Test Pilot," one of the Rogers' projectionists landed a small plane in front of the theater, according to Bobby Rogers. His father built the theater. In 1946, Rogers opened a music store next door. He still runs the shop to this day.

Just about any weekday from about nine to noon, you'll find Rogers, along with what he calls his "daycare group," swapping tales and political stories on the benches outside his store and the crumbling theater. Rogers' family sold the theater to the Uptown Shelby Association a few years ago.

"I'd like to see it become a theater or performance center again," said Rogers.

His conversation is interrupted by the friendly greetings of passers-by. He knows them by first names. Rogers and his friends all remember the days of pleasant living in Shelby.

"You could walk down the street and see everybody you knew," Rogers recalled.

And Rogers and everybody in town at the time knew "Tex." Sometime in the 1950s, Tex came to work for the Colonial Theater Company as sort of night watchman and janitor at the Rogers.

"He slept in the basement and loved cowboy movies," said Rogers. But one morning, Rogers found Tex, sprawled on the floor near his bed. He had apparently had a stroke. When Tex died a week later at the hospital, Rogers and Jim Gold of Palmer Funeral Home buried him.

Does Rogers believe stories that appeared in 2001 in Our State magazine that claim Tex haunts the Rogers Theater?

"No," Rogers says. "No."

Last spring, Chandler Poole, executive director of the Uptown Shelby Association, brought up the article and idea about the ghost in the 1,000-seat theater. So, The Star contacted a Kannapolis woman who said she has helped police departments find missing people.

Nicole Henderson describes herself as a "no-nonsense business owner." She's married to a retired Concord police officer, and together they operate a landscaping business. She said after struggling for years to understand why she would become overwhelmed by emotions when she entered a room or saw things other people could not, she learned through prayer to accept her abilities as a gift from God.

"I have this ability so I can help other people," said Henderson. "That is my spiritual gift."

But Henderson can also pick up on how other people are feeling.

"Energy is the universal language," said Henderson. "Everything is made of energy and everything around us has a voice and a past history."

Until July 8, Henderson had never visited Shelby or the Rogers Theatre. But she volunteered to see if she could pick up on any energy there. She said the night before her visit, she started getting feelings and images from a woman who knew and loved the city decades ago.

That woman identified herself as "the Captain's Wife." Her husband, the Captain, was fighting in World War II. To Henderson, the Captain's Wife appeared as a well-dressed woman of the 1940s. Thin. Healthy. Short strawberry blond curls that looped around her egg-shaped face.

Showing Henderson the image of a map, she indicated she had lived on a farm in southwest Cleveland County.

"I see a community with the first letters A-R," said Henderson. A check by The Star found a community southwest of Kings Mountain called Archdale that existed during World War II.

Henderson said the Captain's Wife wore her favorite outfit - a flared skirt with pleats and a bib neckline and matching tan shoes.

"They looked like nurses' shoes with laces and broad heels," said Henderson.

The Captain's Wife indicated through a series of film-like images that she loved to come to Shelby to shop, buy produce and to go to the movies. She showed Henderson an open air market.

"It has the word Morgan associated with it," said Henderson. "There's a mill with the name Lilly and railroad tracks that cross in front of it."

Although Henderson said the woman indicated an earlier theater was her favorite, she said the Captain's Wife did see picture shows at the Rogers after it opened. Even with the war, this was her favorite time of life.

"It was a simpler time and she was happy to see Shelby progress," Henderson said. "She's showing me her happiest time of life."

But apparently the Captain's Wife wants to see that way of life return to Shelby.

"She said the city needs a simpler way of life rather than the chaos that has been created here," Henderson said.

And the Captain's Wife showed a possible future for the Rogers. Standing in the darkened theater lobby, heavy with the musty smells of aging walls, Henderson addressed Poole.

"There was a spark, an attempt sometime between 2002 and 2004," said Henderson.

Poole agreed the city had missed an opportunity to restore the theater. And Alexander confirmed such an effort to build another theater uptown had occurred during that time.

But Henderson offered Poole some surprising advice.

"You tend to keep all your information in your head," she said. "You need to write down a plan on paper in detail for the theater. You need to write down your vision."

Poole said he was amazed that a stranger knew something like that about him.

"I do tend to keep things in my head," Poole said.

The conclusion?

"No," Henderson said. "There are energies here like the Captain's Wife, but the building is not haunted."

She said the woman who appeared in images to her just wants the people now to know that the City of Pleasant Living can be that again.

The Dispatch


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