Wisconsin’s most famous haunted house sat amid a stand of pine overlooking West Bay Lake, in the northern part of the state. This once-proud mansion, called Summerwind, had fallen into disrepair as vandals, bats, and the harshness of the northern winter combined to reduce the shingled structure to a mere shell of its former self. Although it remained empty for a number of years, rumors spread that perhaps something—or someone—still lingered in its lonely halls.
Built-in 1916 by Robert Patterson Lamont, who would eventually become Secretary of Commerce under President Herbert Hoover, the house was the family’s summer retreat. The family still owned Summerwind when the first incident of paranormal activity occurred. Legend holds that Lamont confronted an intruder in the kitchen. Armed, Lamont shot the individual after he failed to respond when challenged. The two bullets passed through the figure and struck the door behind it. When the smoke cleared, the intruder had vanished but the bullet holes remained.
When I visited the mansion in 1987 as part of a small team of paranormal investigators, the door from the kitchen to the basement did indeed show two bullet holes. The door mysteriously disappeared sometime between my first and second visits, and I’ve always wondered who took it and where it might be today.
Skeletons in the closet
Summerwind had many owners over the years, including Arnold Hinshaw, who bought it in the early 1970s. In the few years that Hinshaw, his wife, Ginger, and their six children lived in the house, windows frequently refused to remain shut, voices heard in empty rooms grew silent when the rooms were entered, and electrical appliances malfunctioned yet mysteriously repaired themselves. The family was also visited on several occasions by an apparition of a lady in a white gown, whom they saw dancing in the living room, through the French doors of the dining room. Hinshaw’s car burst into flames in the garage one day, and the source of the fire was never determined.
During a house renovation, Hinshaw discovered a crawl space behind a closet on the second floor. Looking inside it, he spied something suspicious. Too large to crawl in, he enlisted one of his children to investigate. The child came back terrified, saying he had seen a human skeleton. Hinshaw sent in a second child, who confirmed the story. For reasons unknown, the Hinshaws decided to leave the skeleton in place and never notified the authorities. What is known is that not long afterward, paranormal activity in the house increased. No doubt, as a result, Hinshaw soon had a nervous breakdown and his wife attempted suicide.
Ginger Hinshaw’s father, businessman Raymond Bober, believed the stately old house would make a perfect hotel and restaurant, and began planning the renovations. While taking measurements for the dining room, he noticed that the room seemed to expand and contract; measurements taken one day would change the next. It was also at this time that Bober learned from his daughter of the strange events she had experienced in the home. While historians differ on whether Bober actually ever bought the house, his plans never came to fruition.
Bober did, however, pen a book on Summerwind. Using the name Wolfgang von Bober, he wrote The Carver Effect: A Paranormal Experience. In his book, published in 1979, Bober claimed that the spirit of Jonathan Carver, an eighteenth-century British explorer, had revealed to him in a dream that the deed to the upper two-thirds of Wisconsin was sealed up in the foundation of the house. The deed was supposedly given to Carver by the Sioux Indians. To hardly anyone’s surprise, Bober’s claims were later discredited. Some suspected that his aim was to cash in on the house’s reputation by opening it for haunted house tours
One Last Scare
Abandoned, Summerwind stood empty for most of the 1980s and became a local magnet for people looking for a good scare. Tales continued of ghostly shapes seen in the hallways and mysterious lights in the windows. Vandals had their way with the house, breaking out windows and spray painting the walls. They also knocked holes in the foundation, looking for the lost deed that Bober claimed was hidden there.
It was during one of my visits to the mansion in the spring of 1987 that I had a paranormal experience. I was on the second floor taking measurements and photographs when I entered the bathroom off the master suite. Suddenly I had the sensation that something was in the room—not so much a presence as a feeling of dread. As I stepped back into the hallway, the feeling went away. Thinking that what I’d experienced was temporary, I again entered the bathroom. The feeling returned, and this time it was so overpowering that I felt nauseated. After I made a hasty retreat to the safety of the hall, the feeling faded.
During the course of my team’s investigation, this overwhelming feeling of dread returned each time I entered the upstairs bathroom and left when I returned to the hall. In no other room of the home did I experience such a sensation, and in later visits, I would have no trouble entering the room.
In June 1988, Summerwind met its end when it was struck by lightning during a violent thunderstorm and burned to the ground. Today only the foundation and chimneys remain. Recent visitors still speak of seeing lights hovering in the basement and having feelings of dread and foreboding. They also claim that animals avoid the place and plants won’t grow on the grounds.
Was Summerwind ever haunted? We’ll never really know, but the legend of “Wisconsin’s most famous haunted house” lives on.
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