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Area ghosts spell spooky Friday the 13th

October 12, 2006

For anyone afflicted with paraskevidekatriaphobia, the combination of their fear of Friday the 13th, two ghosts, a poltergeist and the upcoming Halloween holiday forecasts a spooky end to October.

While Friday the 13th and Halloween superstitions occur across the globe, three known spirits are very local, as a ghost resides on the UW-River Falls campus, a poltergeist is found in a River Falls house and another ghost calls Hudson home.

UW-RF professor Jim Zimmerman is all too familiar with the campus ghost, as it paid him a visit one summer evening.

The account of his paranormal experience is recorded in retired UW-RF professor Michael Norman’s book, “Haunted Homeland.”

After finishing a rehearsal, Zimmerman was on the stage of the Blanche Davis Theatre, writing some notes for his cast.

Feeling someone walking on stage, Zimmerman looked up to see a man dressed in a red T-shirt and jeans walking to the center of the stage.

Not recognizing him, Zimmerman asked the man if he needed anything, but there was no reply. The man was gone.

When Zimmerman spoke of the incident, he was told he saw Sanford Syse, a former UW-RF speech professor who designed the Blanche Davis Theatre.

The unsettling aspect of Zimmerman’s story is that Syse died on Nov. 28, 1973.

“I know it seemed as real as if you … came and sat right here,” he said, speaking of a chair directly across from where he was sitting in his office.

While the occurrence did not seem paranormal at first, Zimmerman now has a different opinion.

Looking back, the incident seems “surreal or ghostly because of not being able to logically figure out where he went,” he said. “The back door was the only place he could have gone.”

Zimmerman knows Syse did not exit through the back door because there were students standing there who said they did not see anyone.

The experience left the UW-RF professor puzzled and pleased.

“I can’t figure out any other rational reason for him disappearing,” he said.

While the sighting may have left some uneasy, Zimmerman wishes it could have lasted longer.

“It would have been nice to talk to my predecessor, to sit down and have a conversation with Sanford,” he said. “If it was him, in retrospect, it was nice to have him pay a visit.”

Throughout Zimmerman’s time at UW-RF, some of Syse’s former students have come back and talked about the man in the red T-shirt and jeans.

“He seems like the type of person I would have wanted to know,” said Zimmerman, who summed up his ghostly experience with Syse as, “one interaction is better than none.”

While a UW-RF professor had a supernatural experience on campus, UW-RF students share their home with a poltergeist.

Located at 315 Maple St., the Parker mansion is set apart from other homes near it with the white cupola that sits on top of the structure.

It also houses a poltergeist, a supernatural force that Norman describes as “an entity that is heard but not seen.”

The German word for “noisy ghost,” a poltergeist may leave people thinking they are seeing things.

“People have reported objects seeming to move of their own volition, doors opening and closing without any assistance, or mysterious occurrences in a place that seems to be without logic,” Norman said.

In the 2001 revised edition of “Haunted Wisconsin,” Norman featured the Parker House poltergeist.

Built by Colonel Charles Parker, an early Wisconsin lieutenant governor, the home has evolved from a single-family house to its current state of four apartments.

Jennifer Bejblik moved into the Parker mansion Sept. 1, and has not noticed any of the paranormal poltergeist behaviors that former residents spoke to Norman about, such as doors opening on their own, lights flickering on and off, or stereo volume increasing with no assistance. 

Despite living in a haunted house, Bejblik is not frightened of her new residence.

“There are weird noises at times, but usually I know what they are,” she said.

While she is comfortable in the Parker mansion, Bejblik sees a possible link with the rumors of a poltergeist and an empty house.

“Maybe that’s why they’re having so much trouble filling the apartments,” she said.
Paranormal experiences do not stop at the city limits.

About 15 minutes from the UW-RF campus, Hudson is home to the Coulee Road ghost.

As recorded in Norman’s “Haunted Wisconsin,” Paschal Aldrich, the son of Hudson’s first postmaster, Dr. Philip Aldrich, simply did not have the fortunes of his prominent father.

Upon Dr. Aldrich’s death, Paschal was given his estate and built a house on Coulee Road. When illness took over, Aldrich was forced to sell a large portion of the property he had farmed for so long.

Norman also notes in his account the reasons behind the sale are disputed. A newspaper reported an unidentified man was somehow responsible for the family losing its large property during Aldrich’s illness.

Aldrich died on Oct. 13, 1860 in his house on Coulee Road, and apparently has never left.
While his home no longer stands, Jana Gaffer thinks she has met the spirit of Paschal Aldrich on at least two occasions.

As owner of the Casanova Liquor Store and Restaurant, Gaffer spends a lot of time in her business, located at 236 Coulee Rd.

One evening, Gaffer and her staff “were all back in the kitchen.”

As they stood with a clear view of the restaurant floor, they watched a wine glass fall from the wall rack.

Instead of falling straight to the floor, Gaffer said the glass floated across the carpet for a considerable distance and then finally fell to the floor and broke.

She said the event has remained “unexplained.”

Another supernatural experience occurred when Gaffer was working, and it was “really busy in the kitchen area.”

As she was preparing to bring a meal to patrons, she suddenly stopped.

“I could feel a person in front of me,” said Gaffer, who could see nothing blocking her path. “It made me stop – there was something that was there – I didn’t want to walk through it.”

While possible paranormal visits from Aldrich were enough to make Gaffer “kind of” believe in his presence, they have seemed to make an impression on her staff.

“They are all afraid to go in the cooler late at night,” she said.

The combination of Sanford Syse, the Parker house poltergeist and Paschal Aldrich’s unfinished business on Coulee Road could provide UW-RF students who have a sense of superstition with an interesting Friday the 13th and Halloween.

Junior Kyle Vergin is one UW-RF student who welcomes the paranormal.

“I would want to see one [a ghost] – then it would make me believe,” 20-year-old Vergin said.

While Vergin is looking forward to a supernatural experience, he was unaware of the stories about Syse, the Parker mansion and Aldrich.

Freshman Ashley Riedesel is also unfamiliar with any stories of area hauntings, but the 19-year-old is “not bothered” by the thought of haunted buildings campus.

Her mentality may prove to be beneficial to the ghost of Sanford Syse if he is checking up on his Blanche Davis Theatre.