Haunted Northwest Indiana

Circus-animal ghosts, forlorn female ghouls, 'living' mannequins? Some say they are all too real here in the region ..
2007-10-28T00:00:00Z Haunted Northwest IndianaJANE AMMESON
Times Correspondent
October 28, 2007 12:00 am  • 

The cries of animals, burned to death almost a century ago in a tragic circus train wreck, echo through the night in Robertsdale.

A beautiful hermit, murdered by her lover, wanders the dune land, seeking solace in the only area where she knew peace.

A young Native American girl dies, and her ghost still wanders where she faltered -- on a small hill across the street from what would be come La Porte High School's baseball field.

These are just a couple of the ghostly legends that haunt Northwest Indiana.

"We've had a few unusual instances," says Shirley Schmueser of the Munster Historical Society, which operates the Kaske House Museum on the corner of Ridge Road and Columbia Avenue.

Creepy Kaske house

That might be an understatement, as spooky stories long have been told of this home, which was built in 1910. The year before, a tavern that stood here, dating back to the early 1800s, had burned down on Halloween night.

"The gal who was our past president was driving up to the house one day with her son to meet with some other society members," says Schmueser.

"She saw someone stick their head out of the old barn; it was a woman with white hair.

"But when she called to her, no one answered. So she walked up to the house and asked the others, who had been out in the barn. But no one had been. Later, she found a photo in the house of Wilhelmina Kaske, who was the original owner, and that's who she had seen."

Then there was the time that a painter, alone in the house, had paint splashed on him by an unseen force.

"He ran out of the house and said, 'I'm never coming back,' and he didn't," Schmueser says.

"They had to get someone else to paint the house. We always laughed about that one and said, guess Wilhelmina didn't like the color."

But the ghost stories don't stop there.

According to Schmueser, the park superintendent found a doll wrapped in a curtain, but when he returned to the empty room, it was gone. Workers outside sometimes see a woman looking out a second story window.

And the nurse for Helen Bieker, Wilhelmina's daughter, who donated the house to the historical society, remembered a little girl coming into her room one morning, telling her to get up. And so she did, throwing on clothes, running down the stairs and waiting outside until her replacement showed up.

"I don't know if it's haunted or not," Schmueser says.

"I just make it a point not to be there alone."

Several of the Indiana Ghost Trackers, including Len and Michele Walavich, are also members Munster's historical society.

According to Len, he and his wife have heard noises coming from the second floor of the house when no one has been there and have picked up voices when doing Electronic Voice Phenomena research. They also have ghostly photos, taken in the house, where faces appear in the picture that weren't in the room.

Len was eager to send all this information to my e-mail address. My first thought was, will it haunt my computer?

"If you ever don't want a ghost around, just tell it to go away," he says and then adds that though there's more than the usual ghostly activity around the Kaske House, it's all very friendly.

"I never found anything mean or dangerous."

More unexplained minor mayhem

Walavich says another busy spook house is the Old County Jail Museum in Crown Point.

"There's a lot of activity there too," he says.

Chris Sheid, media specialist at Indiana University Northwest, remembers doing a story at the former Indiana Botanic Gardens building in Hammond while working as a reporter for The Times.

The building was being used for the Reaper's Realm, a Halloween attraction. After the owner took them through the traditional gore-filled rooms associated with Halloween-style haunted houses, he left them alone for a while.

And that's when it really got eerie. Lights came on even though their batteries weren't connected, mannequins moved when their power source was switched off and lights shone where they shouldn't have.

"I think we were all genuinely surprised that we experienced something truly mysterious that night," Sheid recalls.

"Although we went into the building hoping to witness something scary or unusual, we were also rather skeptical.

"We're talking about journalists, after all. So when something happened that we really couldn't explain, I think it was even creepier because we really weren't expecting anything to happen."

Sheid says at first they suspected the proprieter of playing tricks on them, but he professed his innocence, and they believed him.

"I think that's the other reason the whole episode was so unsettling," Sheid says.

"If we'd heard disembodied voices or screams or footsteps or some other special-effects hokum, we'd have assumed someone was putting on a show. But what actually happened was fairly subtle by comparison, so much so that when we first noticed that the mannequins in that one room had been activated, we chalked it up as something routine.

"It was only later, when we showed the proprietor what had happened and he couldn't explain it, that it seemed weird.

"And the next day, when he told us what his electrician said about the wires being crossed, and when he told us that his motion detector was still out of whack and had to be serviced, that's when the goose bumps came out."

Find some spooks of your own

For those wanting to feel goose bumps of their own, here are some local sites said to be haunted. Much of this information was taken from the Web site www.hauntedindiana.com. If you're trying to avoid seeing a ghost, beware, as the Web site lists a lot more places reputed to be haunted in the area.

Chesterton: The ghost of a man has been spotted near the underpass/bridge on U.S. 6 wandering around and looking for the train that he fell (or was pushed) from back in the 1900s.

Black Oak: Along the interstate stood an old speakeasy now gone, but a woman in red can still be seen.

Indiana Bridge in Lowell (Interstate 65 to the Lowell exit and then a right on Clay Street): Three people supposedly were murdered here and thrown off the bridge. Thick fog, cars rocking and other odd events occur.

Intersection 173rd Avenue and Holtz Road in Lowell: Top either of the hills and glance at the intersection at Holtz Road. Reports are that there are flashing red lights and a horrific accident, but when you descend the hill and then top the next one, the accident is gone.

Reder Road in Griffith (off Colfax and where the road dead ends): Elizabeth Wilson drowned in the swamp here when her car veered off the road. Some say she can be seen at the side of the road waiting for a ride back to her house. Those who give her a ride report that when they get to Ross Cemetery, where she was buried in 1955, she disappears.

Wihala Beach in Whiting: At night, the ghostly outlines of old sailboats and people in antique bathing costumes can be seen by the light of the moon.

So, are they true?

"Not only do I look for the traditional ghost tales, but I also research the history of the stories to see if there's any truth to them," says Wanda Lou Willis, who has written several books on Indiana ghosts including "Haunted Hoosier Trails: A Guide to Indiana's Famous Folklore Spooky Sites" (Emmis Books) and the sequel "More Haunted Hoosier Trails."

"For instance, if there is a story about a ghost of a person who committed suicide on a bridge, I research to see if there is a kernel of truth from which the story grew -- if someone did commit suicide from that bridge."

Thus, says Willis, one of the most popular Northwest Indiana ghost stories, the one of Diana of the Dunes, does have a factual basis.

"There is a lot of truth to that one," says Willis, who has a degree in folklore from Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis.

"Diana was from a wealthy family who chose to live in the dunes, maybe she was an early environmentalist, and she did have a male companion who disappeared after her body was found."

There's also a kernel of truth to the story about the wrecked circus train.

According to a June 23, 1918, article in the New York Times, the Hagenbeck-Wallis circus train caught fire near Hammond after being hit by another train. Close to a 100 performers were killed. The accident is said to have been the inspiration for the train wreck scene in "The Greatest Show on Earth" and is considered to be one of the worst circus train wrecks ever.

But in the legend that survives, it isn't the ghostly circus people who haunt the area, it's the animals. Except, as the article reports, despite rumors of wild animals breaking free and roaming the nearby woods, there weren't any on the train.

Willis has an explanation.

"We often hear of humans dying in transportation wrecks," she says.

"But how often would there be circus animals killed? The rumors would've been rich with the stories of these strange exotic creatures being crushed and/or burned to a crisp in the accident, their remains being buried along with the entertainers and how very strange, unearthly it would be to 'hear' in the Hoosier air the strange tormented sounds of exotic animals.

"Sad to say, though probably true, it makes a far better ghost story about this train wreck than the humans haunting the area."

So, if at night, in Robertsdale, you hear the sounds of lions roaring as their manes are enveloped in flames, forget about it. It's just a ghost story.

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