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Paranormal Points of Racine County Racine History

Paranormal Points of Racine County Volume I: Burial Grounds

Cemeteries and other burial grounds have a long history of being considered sacred sites to humankind. The places where we put our loved ones to rest hold deep significance to our funerary rituals and beliefs in the afterlife. Unfortunately, these sites can be forgotten or deteriorate as time goes on and they are forgotten. They are not always given the reverence and care that would be assumed of such a site. Doing research on supposed haunted locations in Racine County I ran across three sites that shared a similar history and have chosen to write about these three sites for my first volume of Racine’s paranormal locations. 

Winslow Elementary School and Saint Luke’s Hospital Site

Formerly Racine’s first official cemetery

Racine’s first official cemetery was established in 1842 between current-day 13th and 14th Streets and College and Villa Streets.[1] It was simply known as “the Old Cemetery” by residents of the village during the pioneer days of Racine. Little is known about the site itself, but one of the first residents to be interred in the cemetery was supposedly a man who died of consumption, a disease the plagued early Racine.[2] Much more is known about the cemetery’s fate than the cemetery itself. Not long after the cemetery was established, the land was set to become the site of the future Third Ward School.[3]

Several hundred bodies had been buried in the Old Cemetery and had to be exhumed before the school was constructed, most being moved to Mound Cemetery or nearby Evergreen Cemetery.[4] Notice, written by city clerk J. Redburn, was given via Racine’s newspaper in 1853:

Notice is hereby given to all those having an interest, that in accordance with a resolution passed by the City Council of the City of Racine, November 7th, 1852, all the bodies buried in the Old Cemetery must be resolved by the 1st day of January 1854.[5]

121.02 Winslow Elementary School 72 dpi watermark
Third Ward/Winslow Elementary School after its renovation by Chandler

The Third Ward School was constructed along with two other schools, known as the Fourth and Fifth Ward Schools, after Racine’s original schools began to run out of space. In 1855 money was raised to establish them and in 1856 they were completed.[6] Later they would be known as Winslow, Janes, and Garfield Elementary School, respectively.[7] The original buildings were designed by Lucas Bradley, brother-in-law of Horatio Gates Winslow, and were constructed of cream city brick and limestone in an “Italianate style” at a cost of $4,500.[8] In 1899 expansions were made to the buildings by James G. Chandler and very little of the old building’s exterior remained. The building was instead constructed in a Victorian and castle-like manner. It was in use for over a century and a half and went through many additions during its lifespan.[9]

Although the architecture and history of Winslow are interesting in their own right, Racine residents were far more fascinated by the history of the lot as a cemetery. Residents who had loved ones buried in the original cemetery and could no longer find their remains were especially interested in the ex-cemetery.[10] During construction of many nearby homes over the years since the cemetery was converted, homeowners began to find bones on their property. It seemed that while exhuming the bodies in 1853 they missed a few.[11] The number of bones found near the lot is unknown but at least two complete skeletons have been found over the course of Winslow’s history.[12] Even children who attended the school were aware of the lot’s history, occasionally finding bones in the school yard and referring to the water that came out of the pump on the lot as “skeleton juice.”[13] Over the years paranormal occurrences have also been reported at the site, including the nearby hospital, St. Luke’s.

132.01 St. Luke's Hospital Old Building 72 dpi watermark
Old St. Luke’s Hospital
132.01 St. Luke's Hospital May 1988 72 dpi watermark
St. Luke’s Hospital 1988

Patients staying at St. Luke’s have reported strange occurrences during their overnight stays; from creepy sounds to handprints and writing appearing on windows after they had just been cleaned to showers and sinks turning on by themselves in patient bathrooms. Those who have worked at St. Luke’s have had even more experiences with the haunts of the site, including hearing voices and seeing shadowy figures roaming the halls when they thought they were alone. One third shift employee was in the kitchen when everything began to go off including the alarms, steamers, ovens, and lights before the power went out completely. Another employee who worked third shift experienced multiple patient deaths during her time working at St. Luke’s. Often times patients would claim to see Jesus, or other ethereal beings before their death and when patients died it was common practice among staff to open all the doors and windows in a room to make sure their souls would not become trapped. Almost all employees who reported strange happenings worked third shift and agreed that the kitchen was a hot spot between 1:00am and 4:00am.

Winslow School itself was also home to many paranormal occurrences, that both students and staff witnessed over the many years it was in operation. Staff said it often felt like they were being watched when completely alone in a room, or that while walking through the hall they would pass through an unusually cold spot. Orbs have also been repeatedly sighted all over the building. In 2009, right after receiving new computers students were playing with the webcams and taking pictures of themselves. After going through the photos, a teacher said she saw a young child she did not recognize in the background of one of the photos. It was a young girl with dark hair in long braids and a dress that appeared to be made from animal hide. Before she could send the photo, the computer crashed and everything on it was lost.

DeKoven Center and Lake Front Site

Formerly Racine College and Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery was dedicated on June 12, 1851 and the first burial at the cemetery was reportedly in 1852.[14] The cemetery was established along the scenic Lake Michigan, close to the water below. No official records of the cemetery’s burials were kept until 1870[15] and those that were kept afterward were destroyed in Racine’s infamous Blaze of 1882.[16] Shortly after the first burial the charter for Racine College, an all boy’s school, was granted. Today we know the site as the DeKoven Center, named after James DeKoven, a warden and president at the school who, after his unfortunate death in 1879, was buried on the site near St. John’s Chapel—his favorite building.[17] The college was to share a border with Evergreen on the southeastern corner of the lot.[18]

After Mound Cemetery was opened, it the newly preferred burying grounds in Racine County and Evergreen began to fall into disrepair and neglect. The property was sold at one point to Daniel Bull for the purposes of farming, and it was his responsibility to exhume and relocate the bodies on the property, but only 76, of what was assumed to be originally hundreds, were found.[19]

113.04 DeKoven Center 72 dpi watermark
DeKoven Center
113.04 DeKoven Center St John's Chapel 100 dpi watermark
St. John’s Chapel

The cemetery began to become a problem when vandals went after the remaining headstones and medical students from Milwaukee and Chicago robbed some of the graves for cadavers.[20] Students from Racine College would also frequent the property, and on one occasion a 12-year old student was injured when part of the embankment fell out from beneath him. After he was rescued the students found a coffin jutting out of the side of the land and pried the bottom open. A complete skeleton was discovered and the college took possession of the bones and burned them.[21] Seeing coffins jutting out of the side of the embankment and bodies falling into the lake became common-place.[22]

In the late 1920s a battle over the fate of the abandoned Evergreen Cemetery began. The parties involved with the most authority over the site were Racine College and the town of Mt. Pleasant. Both had different ideas for how to handle the ill-kept site. Racine College wanted to clean up the property since it shared a border with the school and there was a lack of any supervision of the site.[23] Mt. Pleasant, on the other hand, wanted to take ownership of the land to turn it into a park. They believed it would add a more beautiful landscape to the sewage plant that was being built nearby.[24] This problem would not be an issue for very long however, as a majority of the site became washed away by the lake, leaving little of the original land behind. Family members of those who had been buried at Evergreen were never notified if their loved ones were reburied elsewhere, or if their body was one of the unlucky souls that would become a victim to Lake Michigan.[25]

Though the cemetery no longer exists on DeKoven Center’s border, it has not been forgotten. In 1984 sand was brought from the sewage plant and hauled to a lot on the 5300 block of Wind Point Road. It was to be used in construction for a new home.[26] During construction the crew found a human skull, pelvis, and other bones in the pile of sand. The bones were speculated to be from Evergreen Cemetery since they were over 100 years old.[27] The unfortunate homeowners thought that would be the end of their taste of Evergreen Cemetery, but 33 years later they found out that would not be the case. Late November of 2017 the owners of the home began digging to widen their driveway. While digging they found a human jawbone with several of the teeth still attached, multiple ribs, an arm bone, and many other bone fragments. They contacted the Racine County Sheriff to find out that these bones were also likely from Evergreen, from the same sand deposit they had used on the lot years earlier.[28] That being said, it’s no wonder why so many believe that the DeKoven Center and the surrounding area are haunted.

One resident of the DeKoven area moved into her home a mere two blocks away from the center. Oftentimes she would hear footsteps and doors opening and closing around the home after her family had already gone to bed. Strange noises aren’t particularly uncommon in old homes like the ones built around DeKoven, but this homeowner and her husband both saw apparitions in their home. One was of an old woman standing in the bedroom doorway and another was of a union soldier in the basement, an experience her son also claimed to have had. After talking with a neighbor, she found out that she was not the first resident to see the soldier’s apparition in the area. Other homeowners nearby have experienced opening and closing doors and appliances turning on and off, as well as the unnerving feeling of being watched at night.

Apparitions and other-worldly occurrences have also been reported on DeKoven’s grounds. A woman wearing a wedding dress can sometimes be seen among the trees at night and some who have visited for weddings have reported cold spots and seeing apparitions in the garden and surrounding grounds. A woman who lived in the gatehouse at DeKoven had several auditory experiences. The woman was often plagued by the sounds of old flute music, footsteps running up and down her apartment stairs, or the sound of doors being slammed shut. When she walked her dog around at night near the closed gymnasium she could hear gym shoes squeaking on the wooden floors and basketballs being bounced on the floor. The presence apparently even tied her shoelaces and vacuum cord in knots once.

Pritchard Park, High Ridge Centre, and Regency Mall Site

Formerly Gatliff/Racine County Insane Asylum, High Ridge Hospitals, County Home/Poor Farm, & sunny Rest Tuberculosis Sanatorium

The location which Racine’s Regency Mall, High Ridge Centre, and Pritchard Park currently occupy has a very long and troubled past, unknown to many residents of the city. The location sits between Highway 11, 21st Street, Ohio Street, and may extend slightly past Highway 31, where more paranormal experiences have been reported. This is where the Asylum for the Chronically Insane was built in December of 1889.[29] Most Racine residents simply referred to it as Racine County Insane Asylum, and over the years it went through other names like Gatliff Asylum and High Ridge Hospitals.[30] Patients included not only the insane, but also the elderly, immigrants, and poor. By 1904 the asylum held 133 patients when it suddenly burned down in a fire. All of the patients were able to escape mostly unharmed and their records were saved by staff. Within a year the building was already rebuilt.[31] The County Home, better known as the poor farm, moved to the same property as the asylum around the early 1900s. Some of the patients were occasionally transferred from the asylum to the poor farm when they were able to show that they could do well in a less structured environment.[32]

133.01 Racine County Asylum 1898 100 dpi watermark
Racine County Insane Asylum 1898

The asylum and poor farm were mostly-self sustaining, growing their own food, raising livestock, and sewing many of their own garments.[33] This also meant that the asylum and farm had their own burial grounds for unclaimed deceased patients and inmates.[34] Originally, it appeared that the cemeteries were kept separate from each other, but around 1910—after problems were being brought up about the neglected condition of both burial grounds and a lack of headstones for the buried individuals—the cemeteries were merged. Records of burials were also found be inadequate[35], raising further concerns about the manner in which they were buried, and sometimes reburied in incorrect graves. At one point the land was bought and the bodies that were set to be removed ended up being left buried and plowed over to even out the land.[36] By 1916 it was decided that the graves would be marked and that the grounds would be kept up and given more attention than before.[37] At the time there were thought to be over 250 graves that were known on the property.[38]

Though not much is known about the care of living patients in the early asylum, in the 1940s two cases were brought against staff members at the asylum for abuse, neglect, and use of excessive force. The accused were Mr. and Mrs. Overson, an orderly and a matron at the asylum.[39] Mr. Overson was accused of handling a male patient roughly and using turpentine to make him easier to deal with. Mrs. Ezra Overson was accused of keeping female patients in straight jackets and straps for over twelve hours a day, to the point where some of them had discolored, possibly dead hands.[40] The witness and expert that were brought in to testify both attested to the cruelty of such a method. When restraints are used they often cause fear, anger, and injury to patients including stretching nerves, muscles, and tendons which can cause severe nerve damage.[41] The court was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these actions were, in fact, abuse.[42]

133.01 High Ridge Hospitals 10-15-1967 100 dpi watermark
High Ridge Hospitals 1967

This wasn’t the last time that ill-treatment of patients at the asylum was brought to the forefront either. In 1954 a visiting psychiatrist criticized the facility claiming it was akin to a medieval dungeon and that care was “lacking and inadequate.” Records were incorrectly kept and many patients were physically sick.[43] In 1971 county employees went on strike, citing the degrading treatment of patients.[44] The asylum was closed c.1970 and razed c.1980. The pond that sat on the edge of the property still exists on what is now known as High Ridge Centre, a local shopping center by Regency Mall.[45]

Also on the same plot of land as the asylum and poor farm was Sunny Rest Tuberculosis Sanatorium, opened in November of 1913 to treat victims of the deadly disease, often known as consumption. During the time the sanatorium was open they treated thousands of patients.[46] Though the sanatorium was fairly successful in treating patients, due to the nature of the disease, many died there. Sunny Rest was closed in 1962 when tuberculosis was no longer as threatening as it had once been.[47]

The rumors about paranormal activity on the High Ridge and Regency Mall site are numerous. Between employees at the old Office Max, Culver’s, Home Depot, and K-Mart there is no shortage of stories to tell. Carts would roll around the grounds overnight and doors in dressing rooms would open and slam shut. Occasionally things would knock themselves off shelves within the stores and employees claimed to have to go back to the same fallen item and pick it up multiple times in night. One employee even recalled her experience during a closing shift at K-Mart where Christmas music kept coming on even after they had turned everything off. At the mall, signs would mysteriously fall over and strange sounds unnerved employees. Cameras and sensors would also occasionally detect movement at night after the mall was closed and no one was there. Affectionately, some employees would blame these occurrences on the “ghost children.”

Paranormal occurrences have been reported in Pritchard Park, behind Regency Mall. Apparitions have been spotted multiple times in the wooded areas and sometimes at night strange sounds and voices can be heard. A group of ghost hunters even caught what appeared to be a voice while recording on site. Those who know about the burials in Pritchard have also talked about the feeling of being watched and seeing things out of the corner of the eye in the park. Some are even afraid to enter the park after dark because of the oddities and unnerving atmosphere.

Even the site across the street from High Ridge Centre and the mall has had its share of strange stories. One in particular, told by a former employee of Lone Star Steakhouse, sticks out. She recalled an early Monday morning when the manager was taking in shipment alone by the bar when three steaks were thrown onto the kitchen floor while no one was around. She also attested to the number of times that employees felt like they were being watched or heard voices. Perhaps one of the most unnerving experiences occurred after an employee died in a car crash. As protocol, her employee number and other information were taken out of the system by corporate, but in a bizarre turn of events orders behind the bar and in the kitchen would often turn up with her name on them, even late at night after they closed. They would be random items, like a steak or a vodka tonic, but they never had any table number listed on them. After years of the phantom orders, management called corporate offices to make sure that her number had been removed from the system only to find out it had indeed been removed for the past several years.

Racine has had a rich history of the dark and bizarre, and these are only three of many sites rumored to be haunted throughout the county. Stay tuned to read future volumes of Paranormal Points of Racine County, in which we’ll explore the history of even more mysterious locations.

 

Sources

  • [1] “Little known about early cemetery,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), July 14, 1984.
  • [2] “Early Days,” Racine Daily Journal (Racine, WI), October 24, 1885.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] “That Skeleton,” Racine Daily Journal (Racine, WI), November 26, 1890.
  • [5] Daily Morning Advocate (Racine, WI), December 19, 1853.
  • [6] File 1, Folder 1. Winslow Elementary School Vertical File. (Racine Heritage Museum, Racine WI)
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] “Buried in Racine in 1846,” Racine Journal (Racine, WI), May 5, 1905.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] “That Skeleton,” Racine Daily Journal
  • [13] File 1, Folder 1. Winslow Elementary School Vertical File.
  • [14] “Evergreen burying ground dedicated here in June 12, 1851,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), May 5, 1931.
  • [15] Ibid.
  • [16] Racine Daily Journal (Racine, WI), November 12, 1886.
  • [17] “Historic Racine College, Episcopalians Shrine, will observe centennial,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI) February 28, 1952.
  • [18] Ibid.
  • [19] Racine Daily Journal (Racine, WI), November 12, 1886.
  • [20] “Vandals at work,” Racine Daily Journal (Racine, WI), May 5, 1894.
  • [21] “Students ghastly find,” Racine Daily Journal (Racine, WI), February 13, 1902.
  • [22] Racine Review (Racine, WI) June 7, 1928.
  • [23] “Old Cemetery to figure in court battle,” Racine Review (Racine, WI) December 14, 1928.
  • [24] Ibid.
  • [25] “A Mystery Unearthed,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI) November 17, 2017.
  • [26] “Bones found in wastewater plant sand,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), October 14, 1984.
  • [27] Ibid.
  • [28] “A Mystery Unearthed,” Racine Journal Times
  • [29] File 1, Folder 1. Racine County Asylum Vertical File. (Racine Heritage Museum, Racine WI)
  • [30] Ibid.
  • [31] Ibid.
  • [32] Ibid.
  • [33] “Insane asylum self sustaining,” Racine Journal (Racine, WI), November 22, 1910.
  • [34] “Death claims man who gave his life to a hobby,” Racine Journal News (Racine, WI), May 12, 1915.
  • [35] “Abandon old basis of equalization,” Racine Journal (Racine, WI), November 22, 1910.
  • [36] “Not to remove bodies,” Racine Journal News (Racine, WI), October 17, 1916.
  • [37] “More care to be given to graves of the poor,” Racine Journal News (Racine, WI), November 21, 1916.
  • [38] “County of Racine operates 5 institutions; all showed progress during past year,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), January 7, 1939.
  • [39] “Defense rests in Overson case; arguments scheduled March 31,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), March 20, 1942.
  • [40] Ibid.
  • [41] “State rests case against Overson,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), March 13, 1942.
  • [42] “Overson free on 3 counts, Fined on 4th; Wife Cleared,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), June 26, 1942.
  • [43] “Racine psychiatrist criticizes facilities at county hospital,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), April 29, 1954.
  • [44] “Employees on strike at county institutions,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), August 31, 1971.
  • [45] File 1, Folder 1. Racine County Asylum Vertical File.
  • [46] “Sunny rest annex, recently completed at cost of $50,000, to be dedicated soon,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), November 15, 1939.
  • [47] “TB loses status as No. 1 Killer,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), April 5, 1964.

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