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Paranormal Points of Racine County Racine History

Paranormal Points of Racine County Volume II: The Orphanage

“Orphanage”. The word brings to mind images of miserable unwanted children and rampant abuse. In Racine however, those that know of the Taylor Home Orphanage think of hundreds of happy children and the dedicated charitable hearts of its founding couple, the Taylors. The Taylor Home was a beloved place and many who lived there recall a past full of fun, laughs, simple comforts, and caring staff. Still, these happy times do not change the fact that many believe the site of the old orphanage is haunted by someone or something. I happened to have a unique opportunity of joining a paranormal team in their investigation of the former site of the orphanage and learned quite a bit about the alleged paranormal occurrences and experienced a few strange happenings myself during the night I spent there. It’s difficult to say for sure if the site is truly haunted, but today we’ll explore the history of the Taylor Home before we delve into the stories of the supernatural.

133.04 Taylor Home 100 dpi watermark
The Taylor Home building

History of the Home

The Taylor Home was founded by Issac and Emerline Taylor for the purpose of giving orphans the “chance to grow, be happy, and enter community life on sound footing.”[1] The idea for creating an orphanage came from Issac Taylor, who had been an orphan himself. As a child, he was often mistreated by many of his male caretakers and he made the decision that if he ever had the money that he would create his own orphanage to be a better place for children to grow up.[2] Issac died in November of 1865 of pneumonia, but his wife Emerline continued in his footsteps. Emerline too ended up passing away a year after Issac, but her will had created a future for the orphanage Issac had dreamed of.[3] After her death, 38 acres of farmland were bought to place the orphanage on, south of Racine’s city limits. Construction began in 1868 and was completed in 1872, the official opening took place on July 17th, 1872, Mrs. Taylor’s birthday.

 

The orphanage was self-sufficient, subsisting off of an endowment Mrs. Taylor had left when she died, as well as growing their own fruits and vegetables and raising livestock like cows, chickens, and pigs. Most of their homegrown and raised food was on the dinner table each night, but they also sold the excess of their labors back to the community.[7] Children were usually placed in the care of the orphanage due of the loss of one or more parent from disease, war, poverty, and—most commonly—tuberculosis.[8] The Taylor Home children enjoyed entertainment and events like ice cream socials, magic shows, fairs, concerts, and open houses, cementing its exceptional reputation with the Racine community. In the years that the Taylor Home served as an orphanage, over 1,000 children passed through its doors living the exact kind of life Issac Taylor had hoped they would.[9] The fate of the Taylor Home was unsure for a brief time in 1955 when the state of Wisconsin passed legislation that closed down orphanages in favor of foster care and social welfare, but the Taylor Home adapted.[10]

133.04 Taylor Home Children feeding pigs 300 dpi
Children of the Taylor Home feeding the pigs

The Taylor Home abandoned the orphanage model and moved their focus to becoming an institution that cared for the mentally disturbed and troubled youth—dubbed “psychological orphans” at the time. Kearns, who was in charge of the Taylor Home when it made the transition, believed that a child “needs to understand his own negative behavior rather than becoming resentful and trying to ‘get back at society’ for what he thinks life has done to him.”[11] It was this philosophy that the Taylor Home adopted in an effort to aid troubled children and help the return to a normal life. Five cottage-style buildings were built on the grounds, starting in the 60s, and these buildings gradually replaced the original building.[12] For a short time children that were part of the residential and day-care programs would dine in the old Taylor Home building,[13] but by 1973 all construction of the cottages was complete and the original building was razed, leaving only the cottages on the grounds.[14]

Notably, there were a few deaths at the orphanage. Three caretakers died there over the years, including Nellie Jane Wright, Medora Roskilly, and Nora Harnett. Nellie Jane Wright lived in the orphanage nearly her whole life, arriving there in 1873. Her records listed her as a “little lame girl” due to her limp and crutch.[15] The orphanage soon became Nellie’s favorite place to be and she enjoyed her time there so much she never left, staying there for 60 years. She continued to work at the orphanage even after she grew up by becoming a caretaker for the children. She befriended many of them and was beloved by nearly everyone.  Nellie stayed at the Taylor Home until 1933 when she died of a heart attack.[16] Dying in similar circumstances, Medora Roskilly, a supervisor of the Taylor Home, passed at the age of 62 of a heart attack in 1952. Fire and Rescue squads had been called to the Taylor Home, but she had already died before they arrived. She had been working there since 1946.[17]

The death of Nora Harnett in 1899 was the most bizarre, though she did not die on the orphanage grounds.  Nora worked at the orphanage as a domestic and was well-liked by her employers there.[18] Though it was unsuspected until after her death, Nora was thought to be possibly psychologically disturbed. It wasn’t until one April day when she was walking down Sixth Street that she swallowed two ounces of carbolic acid and took her own life. She left three letters, one to her mother, one to a man to deliver the letter to her mother, and one to her employer at the orphanage. What she wrote to her employer is unknown.[19]

133.04 Taylor Home Children in Snow 100 dpi watermark
Children of the Taylor Home playing in the snow

Tragedies aside, the Taylor Home holds a special place in the Racine community. The Taylor Home officially ended its programs in the early 2000s, but it was not forgotten. In 2015 while walking the grounds Wendy Spencer found a large marble slab lying face down around where the old orphanage building once stood. It turned out to be the plaque that once adorned the building before it’s demolition. With the help of the community, a monument was erected on the old Taylor Home site, the marble slab being the centerpiece of the memorial.[20] Currently, the Taylor Home site is privately owned and houses various institutions including the administration of the village of Elmwood Park. It is also what some believe to be a paranormal hot spot.

 

Haunts of the Home

This volume of Paranormal Points of Racine County is a special one. Reports of ghostly activity on the site have centered mostly within a school that occupied one of the newer cottages. To accommodate the growing student population the school planned to relocate to a larger building and preparations for the move began in June of 2018. With the impending move, staff at the school saw an opportunity to call in a team of investigators to explore some of the alleged paranormal activity they had experienced. I was personally invited to come along and participate in the investigation and serve as a consulting historian. Prior to the investigation I researched the location. the above report is a summary of my findings. On June 15, 2018 I arrived at the Taylor Home site and met some staff from the school and the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee (PIM). Before the investigation began, we did a walkthrough of the building and were informed of the various paranormal incidents that have occurred throughout the building.

Staff sitting at the front desk in the lobby of the building have often heard the sounds of running footsteps in the hallway to the side of the desk, sometimes even accompanied by the sounds of giggling and the rustling of the papers hung on the walls, like someone is running by at top speed. The noises have also been heard on the walkie-talkies while only staff is present. Near the lobby a teacher was working inside during recess when she heard the voice of a child ask, “Can I go?” At first, she responded, assuming it was a child that had been left behind in the building, ready to go out for recess, but she realized moments later no one was there.

Many of the incidents have occurred in room 23, a classroom on the first floor of the building. One afternoon, around 1pm when classes had finished for the day, a teacher in room 23 felt as if there was a presence in the hall outside of her door. She got up and shut the door but after she sat back down she heard the paper decorations on the outside of her door rustling as if someone was running their fingers up and down them. She then saw a beam of yellowish light sweep beneath the door, similar to a flashlight beam, before it suddenly disappeared. Frightened, the teacher stayed in the room for several hours before she left. The same teacher reported that she and her students have heard knocks on the door while it was open. A student got up to answer the door, but no one was there. The same teacher also has had chairs fly off onto the ground after being carefully stacked on the tables at the end of the day. While the teacher is out sometimes other staff have reported hearing furniture moving around in the room but when they investigate it appears as if nothing has moved. In the hall outside of room 23 a black shapeless shadow has been seen darting around the hall on multiple occasions.

820 Taylor, Mrs Issac 150 dpi watermark
Emerline Taylor

Outside of the school, multiple teachers have spotted a woman through one of the front windows of the building’s first floor. The woman is wearing a blouse with a tall collar and ruffled front with her hair tied back into a neat and tight bun. The entity seems to be friendly, leading staff members to speculate that she may be the spirit of Mrs. Taylor, back to check on the children. One teacher’s young son, around 3 at the time of the incident, was sitting in the back of the car outside the building with a sibling. He began to make faces out the window towards the school and when asked about who he was making faces at he said he was playing with the little boy he saw in the window.

No haunted location would be complete without creepy basement stories, and the Taylor Home site has plenty. Once, a teacher was alone in one of the basement classrooms when she began to feel uneasy. The uneasiness turned into an uncontrollable sadness and she began to cry. The feelings stayed with her the entire time she was at the school, following her until she passed the stoplights on Durand and Taylor Avenues, when they abruptly stopped. , but one particular incident in the basement stood out. While teaching, one of the teachers felt something touch her back and jolted a little. One of her students noticed and asked, “Did it get ya?” For three weeks the teacher had back spasms around the area she had been touched.

The storage room in the basement is also host to a few strange incidents, including the lights frequently turning on and off, a general feeling of oppressiveness reported by those who have entered the room, and once a door slammed shut behind a staff member entering the room to gather supplies for a project. almost like water running through the plumbing despite the fact that no one is in the bathrooms. Early one morning a teacher was in room 222 to prep for class when she started to hear her door handle rattling from the inside of the open door. When she looked over it was not moving, but after a few minutes, she heard another doorknob rattling across the hall, outside of the room. When she looked up again a door that had been closed when she arrived was now wide open, before it suddenly slammed shut.

The Investigation

After listening to the staff and their stories, PIM began the investigation. There is nothing quite like being in an empty school building after dark. While I was there several minor incidents occurred, mostly small noises that were left unexplained. The investigation team went to great lengths to come up with plausible explanations for many of the incidents, but some were left unknown. During controlled silences, we heard the sound of a soft female voice whispering something and a chair shifting near room 23. In the basement, we heard many other shifting noises along with creaking and shuffling sounds—some which could be attributed to the building settling, while others seemed too distinct. One of the staff members that was there heard a series of three short breaths in front of her face while sitting in the basement classroom, but it was not recorded on any audio, as she was sitting a distance away from the members with recording devices.

It was nearing midnight when the strangest incident occurred. we were in the second basement classroom when we heard a very loud thud from upstairs that sounded similar to something heavy falling, or maybe a large textbook being dropped in the middle of the floor. A storm was starting to roll in but the rain and wind had not yet picked up and the sound was very unlike that of thunder. The team quickly made their way upstairs but the source of the noise was never determined. As the storm began to roll in, faint knocks could be heard from various parts of the building but definite sources could not be discerned, though the storm may have been the cause. The storm eventually became too loud to continue the investigation any further and we dispersed after the equipment was taken down. From that night I cannot say for sure that the Taylor Home site is haunted, but I can say the experience was unsettling and I heard many unexplained sounds that left me wondering.

Sources

  • [1] “Compassion built into Taylor Home by Racine Couple 100 Years Ago,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), November 24, 1968.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] File 1, Folder 1. Taylor Home Vertical File (Racine Heritage Museum, Racine, WI)
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] “Compassion built into Taylor Home by Racine Couple 100 Years Ago,” Racine Journal Times
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] “Taylor Orphan Asylum,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), August 20, 2003.
  • [8] “Compassion built into Taylor Home by Racine Couple 100 Years Ago,” Racine Journal Times
  • [9] File 1, Folder 1. Taylor Home Vertical File (Racine Heritage Museum, Racine, WI)
  • [10] “Taylor Orphan Asylum,” Racine Journal Times
  • [11] “Taylor Home Adopts New Concept of Child Care,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), October 9, 1955.
  • [12] “Compassion built into Taylor Home by Racine Couple 100 Years Ago,” Racine Journal Times
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] “Taylor Memorial Monument dedicated,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), November 15, 2017.
  • [15] “Death Takes “Miss Nellie” From Racine Orphan’s Home Which She Entered as a Lame, Young Girl 60 Years Ago,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), March 29, 1933.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] “Medora Roskilly Dies Suddenly,” Racine Journal Times (Racine, WI), January 7, 1952.
  • [18] “The Suicide of Nora Harnett,” Racine Daily Journal (Racine, WI), April 29, 1899.
  • [19] Ibid.
  • [20] “Taylor Memorial Monument dedicated,” Racine Journal Times

5 replies on “Paranormal Points of Racine County Volume II: The Orphanage”

i know that that building back in the 1980’s was where the girls stayed at and well yes theres is some thing there as to what i dont know my guess would be its neilly. also if well maybe if you talk to the racine paranormeal investigator team just maybe they could give you more info on the places as well.

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I worked in a work-study program from UW-Parkside at Taylor Children’s Home in 1970 and 1971. At first I was hired to do maintenance, like repairing broken windows and torn window screens. The maintenance shop was in the basement of what we called “the old building”. I never had any unusual (that is, paranormal) events happen. At that time, the clients were emotionally disturbed boys between 13 and 17.

When I first interviewed for the position, I was told not to loan the children any money, because that established a dependency. I remember leaving the interview and one of the kids came up and asked to borrow a quarter. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a quarter, and offered it to the boy. He told me “nevermind”. He must have been on the kids interview committee.

I welcomed the kids into the maintenance shop to help. It was located in the basement of the old building. I operated the dangerous stuff like the table saw. but had them work with the wood and hold pieces while I assembled frames. I was alert and kept an eye on the kids, and I never had a problem with kids wandering off or stealing tools. Kids like to be respected and talked to like peers. When someone’s attention wandered, I gave him an assignment to watch for something like a piece of wood out-of-place. I remember being tested by one child when we were cleaning up. He held the dustpan while I swept sawdust into it. He moved the dustpan toward the trash can, but intentionally dumped it on the floor 6 inches before the can. I treated it in an exaggerated way as an accident, and re-swept it into the dustpan. We repeated the exercise about 10 times, after which he dumped it into the trash can, and told him good job, and we finished up and went back to the cottage.

I quickly showed that I worked well with the kids, and was made a child care worker.

We had several recreational activities we did with the kids. These were supposed to be done with a pair of child care workers, but I often did them on my own. One was slot car racing at a hobby shop in Racine. Was it Don’s Hobby Shop? Another was roller skating at a rink in Waukegan, Illinois. The rink had rules against wearing blue jeans, swearing and spitting. They let our kids wear blue jeans, and I tried to keep their language clean enough that we didn’t get kicked out. The first time I took them down I told them I didn’t skate. They asked me my shoe size and got a pair of skates my size, and put them on me. Then one kid took each of my hands and pulled me out onto the rink. They had a great time watching me take pratfalls and learn to skate.

I remember one heated discussion I had with one of the kids, who told me I was too old to understand. I told him a year before I could have been in there with him.

One of the things that got the kids all wound up was going home for a “home visit”. I remember one of the boys, after coming back from a weekend home visit took off his sneaker and started hitting one of the bricks on a wall in the cottage. In two hours he had loosened one brick and was working on a second.

One of the cottages had a discipline room that they called the “quiet room”. It was a padded, locked room. One of the discipline methods I preferred was called “holding”. I held the child from behind, holding his arms so he couldn’t hit and feet so he couldn’t kick. No pain was given, the child was just prevented from hurting himself or others. They would often yell and cry and struggle, all while the person holding them told them that they were safe and cared for. Teenage boys have to save face, so they couldn’t say that they needed a hug to get through an emotionally hard time, but I treated holding as a safe hug, and it did help the kids deal with their frustrations with the world.

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Don’t know where all these Class rooms were located, almost sounds like they were in Taylor Hall at Dekoven Foundation.

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Just figured it out … all the class rooms where in the new buildings I was a resident in the old building 1951 -1959.
Sorry about that.

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My grandparents ran Taylor Home in the mid 60’s
Recently I found photo albums and journals they had. I am trying to locate some of the boys but not having much luck. They should be in their 60s or 70s by now. Cottage three was built from generosity of Elmer G Voigt. They moved in on January 23, 1963 with 8 boys in the junior dorm

Not sure if anybody will receive this but I am looking for more history on Taylor Home. My oldest brother remembers visiting and playing there but I was too young

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