Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

New Document

October 01, 2009

Stories of Apparitions In The Dells

Every town has its tales of ghosts, some the product of overactive teenage imaginations, but some just plain difficult to dismiss. Take the historic Showboat Saloon, a 100-year-old wedge-shaped building located at 24 Broadway in downtown Wisconsin Dells, that's long been regarded as haunted. Employees tell stories of the ghost of a past resident, believed to be named Molly, who haunts the upstairs kitchen, opening and closing doors and fiddling with appliances. She's non-threatening, but her appearances have understandably spooked staff, including kitchen manager Dave Pugh, who once lived upstairs. As he tells it, "It was eight years ago, early morning and I heard the door open and close and then felt someone tickling the bottom of my feet. When I opened my eyes, no one was there." Current owner of Showboat Saloon, Jesse DeFosse, says he no longer allows people to live upstairs because "too many strange things were happening." The bar area has apparently seen some supernatural activity too, with stories of human forms in turn-of-the-century clothing materializing in mirrors, sometimes appearing to be walking along the bar toward the exit door. Some say a strange voice has been heard numerous times near the stage area. In the cellar, unusual cold spots are apparent and employees have been known to experience feelings of nausea and sudden anxiety in this area. One little disclaimer - the sightings seem to happen after 3 a.m.

Others in the community say the ghost of riverboat captain Leroy Gates haunts the waters of the Wisconsin River. More than 150 years ago, visitors first came to the Dells for up-close tours of the craggy sandstone cliffs that tower over the river. One of those first entrepreneurs to see the sightseeing potential in the waterway was lumber rafter Leroy Gates. In 1856, he took out an ad declaring he had purchased a boat for the purpose of touring occult caves of the Dells. Gates met his death on September 8, 1895, but not before he carved in the sandstone bluffs an inscription that would preserve his place in Dells history forever: "Leroy Gates, Dells & River Pilot, from 1849 to 1858."

Then there's Belle Boyd, famous Confederate spy who spent her final days in Wisconsin Dells. As the story goes, Boyd, who hailed from Virginia, bravely aided Confederate generals, using her flirtatious charms to get information from a Union general's aide, even setting out on horseback that same night to personally deliver her findings. By the end of the war, she traveled the country to present dramatic narratives of her spying adventures. On June 9, 1900, she arrived in Wisconsin Dells to give a speech to veterans of the Union Army. Two days later, at the age of 56, she suffered a fatal heart attack. Her gravesite in the Wisconsin Dells' Spring Hill Cemetery was completed with stones from each of the Confederate states. Some claim her ghost wanders the paths of the cemetery yet today.

Apparently there is also a ghost haunting Highway 12 between Lake Delton and Baraboo. The man, dressed in a green jacket and seemingly transparent, is said to be hitchhiking, disappearing and then reappearing out of nowhere farther down the road. Drive carefully!

Wisconsin Dells Haunts - Showboat Saloon

More Dells Ghost Lore

The demise of two hotels, both burned to the ground, show up in haunted tales of Wisconsin Dells. The Crandall Hotel, a popular vacation spot in the late 1800s for travelers who got off at the downtown train station across the street, was run by George Humphrey Crandall. Crandall was lauded for his efforts to preserve the natural beauty of the area and was also owner of the Dells Boat Company. The hotel burned down in 1974, but, as folklore has it, ghosts of hotel guests still roam the grounds where the hotel once stood on the 800 block of River Road.

The infamous Dell House was built in 1837, just beyond a harrowing bend in the Wisconsin River called the Narrows, at the southern tip of Black Hawk's Island. The story goes this was not a "classy establishment," but rather a place that catered to the basic needs of rough river men who came there - food, a place to sleep, bad whiskey, gambling and women. Fights were not uncommon, and some unlucky patrons were rumored to have found their final resting place on the muddy bottom of the nearby Wisconsin River. The days of river traffic came and went and the Dell House was abandoned. Tourists brave enough to camp near the site spread tales of mysterious sounds like pounding footsteps, cursing and breaking glass and shadowy figures slipping past the trees. The building burned to the ground in 1899, with the ruins engulfed by the surrounding forest.

The Ghost Town of Newport

On the Wisconsin River just over a mile from the current city of Wisconsin Dells, the village of Newport sprung up in 1853, as several thousand settled here after hearing the Milwaukee and La Crosse Railroad would cross the river at this spot. When the bridge and dam ended up being located a mile upstream after an alleged secret moonlight survey, Newport became a virtual ghost town in favor of Kilbourn City, known today as Wisconsin Dells. Only Dawn Manor, a grand mansion built in 1855 by Captain Abraham Vanderpoel, signer of the Wisconsin Constitution, remains as a reminder of Newport. The building now houses the art collection of George Raab, one of Wisconsin's famous artists.

Modern Day Halloween In The Dells - Scary But Fun

Area businesses are getting into the fun (or should we say fright) of Halloween this year with some new offerings. Dells Boat Tours is bringing visitors the first-ever "Ghost Boat Tours" of the Wisconsin River. This 90-minute cruise runs every Friday and Saturday in October and departs at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. from the Dells Boat Tour's Drinker Dock on River Road just two blocks north of Broadway in downtown Wisconsin Dells. The Ghost Boat will wind its way to Witches Gulch where passengers will disembark and sneak along the narrow boardwalk as it winds deep into the darkened gorge. The tour will also take passengers past the spot where the Dell House once stood, with the tour script drawing from both the history and folklore of the area. This after-dark tour is not recommended for children under the age of 11.

The Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort opens its new haunted Tombstone Town Haunted Hotel & Livery on October 10. Located off a lobby area, visitors can explore the town's spooky saloon, a ghostly guest room, creepy attic and haunted jail. There's also a maddening mine shaft mirror maze. The attraction open exclusively to resort guests.

Chula Vista Resort, set along the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River shoreline, is featuring "Spooktober" every weekend in October with performances by illusionist Jeremy Allen and a Monster Mash Halloween night.

Less than a half hour from Wisconsin Dells in nearby Mauston, Red Ridge Ranch Riding Stable will have haunted hayrides and a haunted corn maze Friday and Saturday nights from dusk to 10 p.m. beginning October 2 and running through the end of the month. Their web site cautions guests to beware "the headless horseman rides again."

Wisconsin Dells Scenic Tours - Dells Boat Tours


Our monthly e-newsletter gives you the scoop on things to do in Wisconsin Dells, so sign up today!

Privacy Policy

Wisconsin Dells respects your privacy. Your information will not be shared, sold, or used for any other purpose.

Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

701 Superior Street, PO Box 390
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965-0390
(800) 223-3557
(608) 254-4293 (Fax)

This site is powered by the Northwoods Titan Content Management System