Ghosts of Portage County
Visiting past hauntings...Or is it the past?

of The Gazette

Area youngsters will dress as ghosts and goblins to go trick or treating in Portage County on Sunday, Oct. 31.

Their counterparts, the ghosts and goblins in the supernatural world, will also be out as usual, or at least according to lore.

While the ghosts may not rival the stories in other locations, Portage County has a few stories of its own, although they may be nothing more than urban legends, or perhaps tall tales.

Maybe they have their roots in the stories that Polish mothers used to scare their children with the threat of calling "jedza," the horrid old witch, as reported by Malcolm Rosholt in his book, "Our County, Our Story."

One of the more common stories, particularly among high school students in the 1960s and 1970s, involved the ghost of Calvin Blood, supposedly guarding a small cemetery in the town of Linwood.

Civil War veteran Blood, or a member of his family, was found one day hanging from a tree near his residence under mysterious circumstances, the story goes.

Whether he was lynched by unknown individuals or committed suicide was never clear as the story was passed down.

Some call the cemetery where Blood is buried "Blood Cemetery," and its location in a marshy area, which is often shrouded in fog at night, presents an eerie scene.

The site was used for beer parties and often gravestones were vandalized and Blood's gravestone stolen.

People told of strange occurrences when they visited the cemetery at night.

One Stevens Point woman reported she went to the cemetery on several occasions more than 25 years ago.

One time, she said, she and others walked around the cemetery but nothing happened. As they were leaving, they turned on the engine of the car and the needle on the temperature gauge went to hot and all the water boiled out of the radiator.

Another time she walked around the cemetery area and was coming back to her car when her cousin pulled her in the car and slammed the door, explaining that a blue light in the sky was zig-zagging toward her.
Another woman said she went to the cemetery on a calm night and, when she walked through the entrance of the cemetery, the wind started blowing within the fenced-in area.

After returning to her car, the woman said the interior lights of her vehicle kept going on and off, even though she wasn't touching the light switch or opening the car door.

A man said he and a group of friends went out to the cemetery to check out the story but nothing happened when they walked around. They got back into his car to turn around and leave, he said, but the car wouldn't budge so his friends got out and pushed the car so they could get out of the area.

The cemetery is on the patrol route of the Sheriff's Department, particularly during the Halloween season because of the vandalism. But deputies have been called out there at other times after reports of people dressed in white clothes in the cemetery, possibly causing damage.

Historically, Calvin Blood's life doesn't fit the story. He served in Companys A and D, 5th Infantry Battalion, from Aug. 13, 1864, to July 17, 1865, and was wounded on April 2, 1865.

He was born in July 1845 and died an elderly man in May 1922 from consumption.

The story attributed to his death is probably due more to his last name than reality.

The town of Linwood is the scene of another story, a man with his lower legs missing, carrying a bouquet of flowers and trudging along the road.

Residents of the area are familiar with the story, knowing he's only out looking for the grave of his wife so he can be together with her in death as they were in life.

The legless man was named Swenson or Swanson and worked for a railroad, possibly the Soo Line.

The legend says that one day at work around the turn of the century Swenson was caught under a train, cutting off both his legs just above the knee.

While he was in the hospital being treated, his wife died before she got to see him, and her family, supposedly opposed to her marrying him, buried her without telling him where the grave was.

Swenson reportedly died in the hospital from his injuries and was buried in another cemetery because his wife's family wouldn't reveal the location of her grave.

The story says he continues to search for her grave today, carrying the bouquet of flowers and asking if people know where she is buried.

Deputies have received reports from motorists saying they were flagged down by a man who asked directions because he was trying to find where his wife was buried. Deputies said the motorists reported the man was dressed in white and was almost struck by their cars.

One former resident of the area never saw the man but said an out-of-town relative stopped in to visit one night and was visibly shaken.

The relative was driving in the rain and reported he slammed on his brakes to avoid a short man, dressed in white or light tan clothing, walking along the side of the road.

The resident said he didn't tell his relative about the story of "old Swenson," fearing he would disturb him further.

Documentation for the story is lacking. Records in the Portage County Register of Deeds office list no one by the Swenson or Swanson name who owned property in the town of Linwood or might have died from complications of the injuries described in the tale.

But statistical records from the era, particularly before the turn of the last century, are often spotty, at best. And if either died outside Portage County, the records might be in that county.

Deputies get a number of strange calls, and one of the strangest came in the 1980s when the parents of a preschool child reported their daughter would wake up early in the morning and play with a woman the daughter called by a nickname.

The parents would hear the daughter giggling and talking with the "woman" but every time they entered the room, no one was there, not even the closet where the woman reportedly was hiding.

Deputies looked into the history of the home and found a woman with the same nickname the daughter was using had died in the home a number of years earlier under mysterious circumstances.

The woman had called deputies to report noises and voices in a garage attic. When deputies arrived at the scene, they found the woman at the foot of the steps leading to the attic, dead of a gunshot wound, with the weapon beside her.

The death was ruled a suicide, but deputies said the new investigation indicated the death was more likely an accidental shooting so the death ruling was revised to that finding.

After that, they received no more reports from the family about the woman.

In the mid-1980s, occupants of a Plover restaurant reported unexplained events in the establishment. The tale was even included in the book "Haunted Heartland" by Beth Scott and Michael Norman in a story entitled "Teetotaling Poltergeist."

The occupants reported glasses mysteriously breaking, the front door unlocked after being locked earlier and lights being on in the morning after being turned off at night.

The "spirit" was dubbed "Shermie," after a long-ago occupant of the house, although the restaurant occupants felt the spirit might be due to a family of devout Methodists who were reportedly teetotalers and used to hold catechism classes, choir practice and other church meetings in the house.

But the spirit may have been exorcised from the building. Succeeding occupants haven't reported similar incidents.

Speaking of occupants, the next time you drive across the Jordan dam on Highway 66 in the town of Hull on a foggy night, don't check the back seat of your car in the rearview mirror. You might find a wedding couple sitting there.

The story says that the couple was killed in an accident there years ago and still visits travelers through the area.


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