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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Summerwind

Located on the shores of West Bay Lake, Wisconsin, are the ruins of a once grand mansion that was called Summerwind. The house is long gone now, but the stories and legends of the inexplicable events still remains. Summerwind is perhaps Wisconsin’s most haunted house, or at least it was, before fire and the elements of nature destroyed her. Even the ravages of time cannot destroy the haunted history of the house.

Robert P. Lamont built the mansion in 1916 as a summer home for him and his family. Nestled on the shores of the lake, the house caught the cool breezes of northern Wisconsin and provided a comfortable place for Lamont to escape the pressures of everyday life in Washington D.C. He later served as the Secretary of Commerce under President Herbert Hoover. But life was not always sublime at Summerwind during the years of the Lamont family. For those who claim that the ghost stories of the house were "created" in later years, they forget the original tale of Robert Lamont’s encounter with a spirit. Legends say that Lamont actually fired a pistol at a ghost that he believed was an intruder. The bullet holes in the basement door from the kitchen remained for many years.

Upon the death of Robert Lamont, the house was sold. It seemed that nothing out of the ordinary really happened there, save for Lamont’s encounter with the phantom intruder, until the early 1970's. It was in this period that the family living in the house was nearly destroyed, supposedly by ghosts.

Arnold Hinshaw, his wife Ginger, and their six children, moved into Summerwind in the early 1970's. They would resided in the house for only six months, but it would be an eventful period of time. From the day that they moved in, they knew strange things were going on in the house. It had been vacant for some time, but it had apparently been occupied by otherworldly visitors. The Hinshaws, and their children, immediately started to report vague shapes and shadows flickering down the hallways. They also claimed to hear mumbled voices in darkened, empty rooms. When they would walk inside, the sounds would quickly stop. Most alarming was the ghost of the woman who was often seen floating back and forth past some French doors that led off from the dining room.

The family wondered if they were simply imagining things but continued events convinced them otherwise. Appliances, a hot water heater and a water pump would mysteriously break down and then repair themselves before a serviceman could be called. Windows and doors would open on their own. One particular window, which proved especially stubborn, would raise and lower itself at all hours. Out of desperation, Arnold drove a heavy nail through the window casing and it finally stayed closed. On one occasion, Arnold walked out to his car to go to work and the vehicle suddenly burst into flames. No one was near it and it is unknown whether the source of the fire was supernatural in origin or not, but regardless, no cause was ever found for it.

Despite the strange activity, the Hinshaws wanted to make the best of the historic house so they decided to hire some men to make a few renovations. It was most common for the workers to not show up for work, usually claiming illness, although a few of them simply told her that they refused to work on Summerwind. That was when the Hinshaws gave up and decided to do all of the work themselves.

One day they began painting a closet in one of the bedrooms. A large shoe drawer was installed in the closet's back wall and Arnold pulled it out so that he could paint around the edges of the frame. When he did, he noticed that there seemed to be a large, dark space behind the drawer. Ginger brought him a flashlight, and he wedged himself into the narrow opening as far as his shoulders. He looked around with the flashlight and then suddenly jumped back, scrambling away from the opening. He was both frightened and disgusted. There was some sort of corpse jammed into the secret compartment! Believing that an animal had crawled in there and died, Arnold tried to squeeze back in for a closer look. He couldn't make out much of anything, so when the children came home from school, he recruited his daughter Mary to get a better look. Mary took the flashlight and crawled inside. Moments later, she let out a scream. It was a human corpse! She uncovered a skull, still bearing dirty black hair, a brown arm and a portion of a leg.

The Hinshaws never reported finding the corpse to the authorities for reasons unknown. They left the corpse where they found it. Shortly after the discovery of the body in the hidden compartment, things started to take a turn for the worse at Summerwind.

Were the stories of strange events at Summerwind merely the result of two disturbed minds? It might seem so ... but what about the children? They also reported the ghostly encounters. Were they simply influenced by their parents questionable sanity ... or were the stories real? The family's connection with the house would continue for years to come.

While Arnold was sent away for treatment for a mental breakdown, Ginger and the children moved to Granton, Wisconsin to live with Ginger's parents. After getting a divorce from Arnold, Ginger eventually married a man named George Olsen. Things seemed to be going quite well for her in her new peaceful life, until a few years later, when her father announced that he was going to buy Summerwind. Raymond Bober was a popcorn vendor and businessman who with his wife Marie planned to turn the old mansion into a restaurant and an inn. He believed that the house would attract many guests to the scenic location on the lake. They had no idea what had happened to their daughter in the house.

Ginger was horrified at her parent's decision. She had never given them all of the details about what had happened during the six months that she had lived in the house and she refused to do so now. She begged her father to not buy Summerwind, but Bober's mind was made up. He soon discovered the house was haunted, but this would not deter him. He claimed that he had spent time at the house and knew the identity of the ghost that was haunting the place. According to Bober, the ghost was a man named Jonathan Carver, an eighteenth century British explorer who was haunting the house and searching for an old deed that had been given to him by the Sioux Indians. In the document, he supposedly had the rights to the northern third of Wisconsin. The deed had supposedly been placed in a box and sealed into the foundation of Summerwind. Bober claimed that Carver had asked his help in finding it.

Bober wrote a book about his experiences at Summerwind and his communications with Carver through dreams, trances and a Ouija board. The book was published in 1979 under the name of Wolffgang von Bober and was called THE CARVER EFFECT. It is currently out-of-print and very hard to find. Shortly after Bober bought the house, he, his son Karl, Ginger and her new husband, George, spent a day exploring and looking over the house. The group had wandered through the place and as they were leaving the second floor, George spotted the closet where the secret compartment was hidden. He began pulling out the drawers and looking behind them, although Ginger begged for him to stop. George was confused. He had simply been curious as to what might be in the drawers. Up until then, Ginger had never told anyone about finding the body behind the closet. Sitting in the kitchen later, she would tell them everything. After hearing the story, the men rushed back upstairs and returned to the closet. Ginger's brother, Karl, climbed into the space with a light and looked around. In a few moments, he climbed back out ... it was empty! Bober and George also inspected the small space and found nothing. Where had the corpse gone? Had it been removed, either by natural or supernatural forces? Had it ever really been there at all?

Toward the end of that summer, Karl traveled alone to the old house. He had gone to get a repair estimate on some work to be done on the house and to check with someone about getting rid of the bats which inhabited the place. He also planned to do some yard work and to get the place cleaned up a little. It started to rain the first day that he was there and he began closing some of the windows. He was upstairs, in the dark hallway, and heard a voice call his name. He looked around but there was no one there. Karl closed the window and went downstairs. He walked into the front room and heard what sounded like two pistol shots! He ran into the kitchen and found the room filled with smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder. Karl searched the place, finding the doors locked and undisturbed. There appeared to be no one inside and he returned to the kitchen. He began looking around the room and discovered two bullet holes in the door leading down to the basement. He examined them closely and realized that they were not new holes at all ... but old bullet holes that had worn smooth around the edges. They were apparently holes left behind from Robert Lamont's encounter with a ghost. No matter what the explanation, it was enough for Karl and he left the house that afternoon.

The plans to turn the house into a restaurant did not go smoothly. Workmen refused to stay on the job, complaining of tools disappearing and feelings as if they were being watched. Marie Bober agreed with their complaints. She was always uneasy in the house and frequently told people that she felt as if she was followed from place to place whenever she was inside. Most disturbing to Bober however was the apparent shrinkage and expansion of the house. Bober would measure rooms one day and then find that they were a different size the next day. Usually, his measurements were larger than those given in the blueprints of the house ... sometime greatly larger. At one point, Bober estimated that he could seat 150 people in his restaurant but after laying out his plans on the blueprints of Summerwind, he realized that the place could seat half that many. Photographs that were taken of the house, using the same camera and taken only seconds apart, also displayed the variations of space. The living room was said to show the greatest enlargement. Bober compared his photos of the living room with those that Ginger had taken when she and Arnold moved in. Ginger's photos showed curtains on the windows that she took with her when she moved out. The curtains were physically absent in the room that Bober photographed ... but somehow they appeared in his photos! Like the incident involving Karl and the pistol shots, could Summerwind be a place where time inexplicably repeats itself? Perhaps the place wasn't haunted at all, but instead, was a mysterious site where time was distorted in ways that we cannot understand. Perhaps the shadows and figures that were seen could have been people or images from the past (or the future) and perhaps the sound of someone calling Karl's name would happen in reality ... several months later. We will never know for sure now, but the idea is something worth considering.

Eventually, the project was abandoned and Bober would never see the dream of his restaurant and inn. Strangely though, despite his claims that he was an earthly companion of the ghostly Jonathan Carver, the Bobers never spent the night inside of the house. They chose instead to sleep in an RV that they parked on the grounds. Also strange was the fact that Carver (if the ghost existed) chose to manifest himself in such malevolent ways ... especially if he was looking for help in finding his deed. Bober's explanation for this was that Carver resented anyone living in the house or trying to renovate the place, at least until the deed was found. Bober spent many days searching the basement for where the deed might be hidden, chipping the foundation and peering into dark holes and crevices. To this day, the mysterious deed has never been found.

In the years that followed Bobers abandonment of Summerwind, a number of skeptics came forward to poke holes in some of Bobers claims. Many of their counter-claims, however, have been nearly as easy to discredit as some of Bobers original ones. Obviously, we are never going to know for sure if Summerwind was really haunted. The house is gone now and we are left with only the claims, reports and witness accounts of Bober and his family. We can examine the claims of the family, and the skeptics, and try to make sense of it all.

Those who live near the house claim that the idea that it is haunted has all come from the fact that the mansion was abandoned and from Bober's wild claims. But what else would they say? These neighbors have often made it very clear that they resent the strangers who have come to the property, tramping over their lawns and knocking on their doors. They say that the chartered buses that once came and dumped would-be ghost hunters onto the grounds of Summerwind were also unwelcome. These are the last people to ask for an objective opinion on whether this house is actually haunted. So there remains the mystery ... was Summerwind really haunted? No one knows and if they do, they aren't saying.

The house was completely abandoned in the early 1980's. It wasn't until 1986 that the house was purchased by three investors who apparently thought that they could make a go of the place again. Unfortunately, Summerwind was struck by lightning during a terrible storm in June of 1988 and burned to the ground. Today, only the foundations, the stone chimneys and perhaps the ghosts remain.






*Taylor, Troy (2001). Summerwind: Wisconsin's Most Haunted House. Retrieved on February 7, 2006 from the Prairie Ghosts website: http://www.prairieghosts.com.

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