Saturday, July 31, 2010

At First, It Seemed Like Just A Pleasant Home

This story comes from the Milwaukee Journal.

Oct. 25, 1985

Haunted Heartland

5th in a series of 12.

The Hollywood film "Poltergeist" popularized the idea that the wrath of the dead might be vistied upon the living if a burial ground is disturbed. The unwitting family in the movie lived in a house built on a graveyard. A series of catastrophic events -- including the kidnapping of their young daughter by spirits and a nightmarish march of ghosts down their staircase -- eventually drove the family from the house.

The movie was fiction, of course. But, is it possible thyat a haunting as in the film "Poltergeist" can actually happen? Yes -- events like those described in the movie did occur in Wausau, Wisconsin during the early 1970's!

The split-level home in the Wausau subdivision looked ideal to Harry & Jackie Fischer when they first saw it in 1972. The house was no different in appearance from the other dwellings in the neighborhood, but the couple felt fortunate to find a place they could decorate and complete to their own tastes. The last thing on their minds, and they would have laughed at the idea, was that the pleasant house could be haunted.

For Jackie Fischer, a hint of evil in the house came shortly after they moved in. Pots and pans rattled in kitchen cupboards, soda bottles on the counter swayed -- and some-times moved -- and a ringing, like that of a tiny bell, floated through various rooms.

The couple dismissed the events as coincidences, or vibrations from passing cars, until Jackie's father had a peculiar encounter with his radio. He was spending a few days with them, and had settled down one evening with his radio. He just finished tuning in a station when a high pitched whine erupted frolm the speakers. At almost the same instant, a lighted candle sitting on the coffee table in front of him rose straight into the air and flipped onto its side so that it pointed directly at his heart, then settled back on the table!

He reported the incident to Jackie. She looked at her husband. They both shook their heads.

Soon, the couple realized that what was happening had an origon beyond comprehension. Various household items began sailing through the air, the radio periodically changed stations or emitted the same sound Jackie's father had heard. The local radio-TV repairman couldn't find anything mechanically wrong with radios.

The small hallway just inside the front door, with short flights of stairs leading up to the first floor or down into the lower level, seemed to be the center of a physical presence. The Fischers decided this after their cocker spaniel started to act particulary sensitive there. The dog often sat in the hall, stairing down the steps to the basement. Her hair stood on end as she growled her distress at whatever it was that she "saw". She refused to go down the stairs by herself.

The Fischers almost began to believe there really was a natural cause for everything that happened.....until the footsteps began.

That was in the second year, 1973. The soft treading began at night, in the basement, and proceeded up the stairs, across the landing and up to the first floor. Then nothing more until the next night when the episode would be repeated. But not every night, making the occurrences even more disturbing.

Accompanying the footsteps was a gradual increase in ghostly activity. A warm bath suddenly turned icy.....lights flickered in the middle of the night and doors opened and closed of their own will. Like the gradually-increasing beat of a tribal drum, the house began to vibrate with the hauntings.

Jackie Fischer remembered a particularly unnerving eveing in 1975. She was in the bathroom preparing to shave her legs when the safety razor floated straight up and shot past her head. It missed her by only a few inches. Never before had the family been physically threatened. The Fischer now felt the entity haunting their house had turned against them.

In that same year, the footsteps mulitplied in frequency. On one occasion, Harry Fischer grew so irritated at the incessant stomping that interrupted his sleep that he got out of bed and crept from his room into the hallway. He threw on the lights, hoping to catch a glimpse of their unseen visitor. Instead, the lights flickered off, almost as if they had been a candle blown out by an unfelt wind. But the lights worked again the next morning.

Then there was a second, potentially serious, incident. A fire broke out in the Fischer's basement. Fortunately, it was discovered early and the fire department was able to extinguish it. The fire fighters determined the blaze had been caused by a faulty battery charger. The Fischers disagree -- the charger wasn't even plugged in.

In desperation, the couple turned to their pastor. His blessing, they hoped, would rid the house of its evil.

It didn't work. On the afternoon after the minister's visit, Jackie was washing clothes in the downstairs utility room. She heard a thump-thump-thump from the storeroom a few feet away6. The timid cocker spaniel sat at her feet, growling at the noise.

Jackie walked over and pushed against the door. It struck somethying solid -- an object that shouldn't have been there. Jackie scooped up her dog and flew up the stairs.

A later inspection of the room, found no reason for the door to have hit anything. Indeed, it always swung open easily before and after that day.

The experiences proved to be too much for the Fischers. They decided to sell, and were fortunate to find a couple they knew, Jim & Mary Strasser, willing to buy the house. The Strassers knew of the problems they Fischers had encountered, but thought there was a reasonable explanation.

Whatever haunted the house, however, would not let Jackie Fischer escape without one last jolt. A few days before they were to leave, Jackie awakened before dawn to let the dog outside. As she entered the kitchen and turned on the light, a gray mist evaporated in a far corner. Jackie was convinced it was the "residue" of whatever shared the house with her and Harry.

The Strassers lived peacefully in the house for a time, but then they, too, became targets for the resident ghost.

As with the Fischers, the episodes began infrequently and then grew in number and intensity. First, a loud humming, almost like a song, according to Jim Strasser, was heard in the house. Strasser said it seemed melodic, although it was never loud enough to be heard distinctly. Possibly an Indian chant, he speculated.

The Strasser's 3-year-old daughter, Lorrie, complained that someone squeezed her toes while she slept. When she changed bedrooms, the pinching stopped. But the footsteps, floating objects and evaporating mists continued.

The entity in the house went one step farther with the Strassers -- it made an appearance in Jim Strasser's sleep. In the nightmare, Jim saw himself as an old Indian, wrapped in a blanket, choking to death. He awoke trying to catch his breath.

There was never any physical harm done to either family. But both couples knew there was something in the house.

What was it?

A local historian's research showed that the house had been built over an ancient Indian burial ground. Perhaps the restless spirits of the ancient dead were showing their anger at having their graves desecrated. The Fischers recalled that the hauntings were paticulary noticable between the end of October and Thanksgiving, the usual time for Indians to gather in large numbers to celebrate harvest.

To date, neither the Fischers nor the Strassers have come up with a better explanation.

1985, by Beth Scott and Michael Norman. Reprinted from Haunted Heartland.

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