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W-File: ghridgeway.html

Type: Ghost
Location: Iowa County, Wisconsin

Source: The National Directory Of Haunted Places by Dennis William Hauck, pages 385-386.

Mineral Point

Ridgeway Phantom

A shape-shifting phantom terrorized this area in the middle of the 19th-century. Named for the old crossroads town of Ridgeway, the ghost took the form of a headless man, an old woman, a young woman, a ball of fire, or any number of animals, including dogs, pigs, and horses. The phantom would pop out of nowhere to attack travelers and then disappear before they knew what happened. Panic gripped the area for over a quarter-century. Armed escorts traveled along the Ridge Road, and nobody dared go out alone at night. Researchers have traced the origin of the Ridgeway Phantom to the murder of two teenaged brothers, ages 14 and 15, at McKillip's Saloon in 1840. A group of rowdies tossed one lad into the fireplace, where he burnt to death in agonizing torment. The other boy froze to death trying to escape from the town. From those deaths by fire and ice arose the Ridgeway Phantom. During the same period, strange specters also haunted the Messerschmidt Hotel, McKillip's Saloon, Sampson's Saloon, the Catholic Church, the cemetery, and dozens of private homes. Some say the Ridgeway Phantom departed when the town burnt to the ground in 1910, but others believe he is still out there, waiting in the woods near Mineral Point. The well-documented case has become one of the scariest on record.

(The phantom was seen along Ridge Road between Mineral Point and Blue Mounds.)

Source: The book Wisconsin Lore by Robert E. Gard and L. G. Sorden, pages 13-23 (published 1962)


Wisconsin contains, if the yarns are an indication, more ghosts per square mile than any state in the nation. Apparently the fabrication or perception of haunts has been an important pastime of Wisconsin people, for there is seldom a community that does not have its haunted house, or its favorite ghost story. Werewolves and other unsavory critters range the Wisconsin farmlands and woods, and are either native to the Badger State or else have been transposed here from haunted spots in the Old World.

Many legendary ghosts of Wisconsin seemed endowed with a puckish sense of humor, and of all the mischievous ones, the famous ghost of Ridgeway, in Iowa County, was (and indeed is) the most notorious. The Ridgeway Ghost ranged over the length of the old Military Road from the early Pokerville settlement at Blue Mounds to near Dodgeville, a distance of about twenty-five miles. Ridgeway was approximately halfway between these two mining communities and was the definite headquarters of the pesky phantom.

Over this early highway, known itself as the Ridge Road, were driven the creaking, ox-drawn lead wagons proceeding to Milwaukee from Mineral Point, Dodgeville, and other towns in the "lead region" of southwestern Wisconsin. Along the Ridge Road between Dodgeville and Pokerville were no fewer than a dozen saloons, most of them with somewhat soiled and dented reputations. They outnumbered the other businesses and had sprung up as indispensable adjuncts to the post offices, hotels, and groceries which were established along the route to the lead markets at Galena and Milwaukee. Ridgeway was a strategically located stopping-off place for the traveler and teamster and offered liquid sustenance and rest at the Sampson House or Messersmiths Hotel. The taverns were frequented by toughs and gamblers as well as by the miners from the area. There were many fights and robberies, and murders were common.

The miners had spread into the lead district, coming from Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, and from the American South, as many as ten thousand a year for a time, to lay claim to every available likely piece of lead-bearing land. Drinking and gambling were their milder amusements. Justice moved so slowly as to encourage spirited knifing frays, shooting contests, and miscellaneous brawls. Deaths were frequent, burial services informal. As one county historian wryly remarked: "Preachers didn't prove indigenous to this uncongenial soil."

It was in this environment, among people already steeped in Old Country superstitions, that the Ridgeway Ghost worked his own special havoc in the 1840's and 1850's. He ranged the Highway and the surrounding farmlands, playing his mischievous and harmful pranks upon travelers and inhabitants alike. He was that most exasperating of phantoms, the practical joker, and one who shamelessly exploited his obvious advantage, played according to no rules whatever, and generally turned out to be a downright nuisance.

Some think that the Ridgeway Ghost was originated by wags who were hopeful of ridding the district of an undesirable element which frequented the taverns. In any case practical jokers spread the growing popular belief in the Ghost, whose presence and pranks soon became more or less feared by nearly all the settlers.

In the course of many years inhabitants of the Ridge Road settlements and of the adjoining valleys had, or thought they had, experiences with the Ridgeway Ghost.

After the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line was built into Mineral Point, in 1857, the hauling of lead and supplies over the Military Road was discontinued, and with it came the end of most of the saloons and the taverns. Strangely, the Ridgeway Ghost also largely vacated the region he had haunted for so many years, yet the scare and the superstition remained. It was said that the famous night visitor left because he could not stand the whistle and puffing of the railroad engines, and the rattling over the rails of the trains of freight and passenger cars. Indeed, the Ghost was reported to have been seen seated on the cowcatcher of an engine as it was leaving Ridgeway. Perhaps it was then that the wraith took his departure from the scene of his countless exploits. The yarns, however, never did stop. He has been seen by many persons, some of whom were sober.


One night three men sat down to a game of cards in a saloon in old Pokerville. It is said that they had been doing some really serious tipping of the jug and were ready for anything.

There was a fourth vacant seat at the poker table. They played several hands, and considerable money on one hand of "stud" lay in the center. The miner with the full house won the pot and was about to reach for his spoils. Suddenly an unseen hand seized the deck and began to deal the cards. They appeared to fly from a ghostly hand to the table in front of the three men. They now noticed that the fourth seat was occupied by a stranger whom they had never before seen. His hat was pulled partly over his face.

The stranger began to play and the cards performed all sorts of peculiar tricks as he cast them down. When a player tried to pick up a card it would instantly leave his grasp and fly around the room. Soon cards of every suit were circling the table. The poker players couldn't stand the strain. They rushed for the door, stumbling over each other, and in their hurry carried the door right off its hinges as they went out. The money on the table disappeared, and so, of course, did the mysterious stranger.

Obviously, the Ridgeway Ghost had come to the tavern. Seeing a vacant seat, he took a hand in the game. The tavern keeper dropped behind the bar when he recognized the Ghost and remained behind the bar for some time. While there, it is said, he consumed several bottles of the stock-in-trade.


There was a young fellow who lived at or near Ridgeway and went one evening to call on his girl at the settlement. The house where she lived was a two-story house with an outside stairway leading to the second floor. The young lady's home was on the second floor, and another family lived on the ground floor.

On this particular evening the calling suitor mounted this outside stair and paused on the landing before his sweetheart's door. From this landing he looked down, and saw, on the ground, seated on an old iron stove, a man whom he had never seen before. As he watched, the suitor decided there was something queer about the fellow, but soon he entered his sweetheart's home. He was very nervous and immediately told her about the strange man. In fact he was so nervous that he was not particularly pleased with the idea of going home alone in the dark. The young woman invited him to spend the night, but he felt that, since he was a gentleman, he must leave.

As he climbed down the stair and reached the bottom the strange man appeared beside him and walked with him step for step. Silently they walked side by side. The stranger made no move to interfere with the young man's progress, but the young man couldn't shake him either. When they were within sight of the young man's home there was a sound like a little explosion and the stranger disappeared.

As he broke into the fastest running he had ever done in his life, the young man knew that he had been walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the Ridgeway Ghost. He never went back to see that girl again.


Two Pokerville citizens were walking one evening along the road carrying a plank or a rail on their shoulders. As they were passing a brush thicket the brush parted and an apparition in white leaped onto the plank between them. The men, badly scared, began to run. They held onto the plank and the Ghost, standing in the middle of it, lashed them painfully with a switch as they ran. Finally they fell down exhausted, and when they could bear to look the white thing had vanished.


John Riley, a teamster, who was hauling a wagon load of pig-lead, stopped at a saloon in Jennytown for a couple of drinks of "bug juice." He knew that he was near the stamping ground of the Ridgeway Ghost and needed something stronger than water to transfuse his courage. When he returned to his wagon after dark he noticed that his oxen had been hitched to the rear. As John Riley looked down the road he saw the Ghost walking away with his lantern and whip. John put up for the night at Jennytown.

Such antics were typical of this pest. Most of his tricks seemed to have no meaning at all, and were simply designed to make settlers' lives unbearable. The Ghost milked cows dry as they stood in the pasture; he loosened carriage-wheel pins and caused several bad accidents; he stampeded horses by mounting one and plaguing the others until they rushed madly around the field. In fact, most of life's misfortunes could be traced directly to the Ghost of Ridgeway.


Welshmen and Cornishmen had the most adventures with him. One day at dusk a Welshman was trudging along the road just west of Ridgeway. This was in the 1840's. As he walked along the dusty road he noticed that he was being followed by someone. Taking a good look at this hazy person, the Welshman decided that it was the Ridgeway Ghost, and he quickened his pace. The apparition did likewise, always keeping the same distance behind. The Welshman, determined to lose this evil phantom, broke into a dog-trot. The Ghost did the same. The Welshman now became downright terrified and began to run, faster and faster. (And a frightened Welshman can travel mighty fast!) He ran so hard that he was soon out of breath. Finding a log by the side of the road, he sat down to rest on its far end. The Ghost, running close behind him, now came up and sat at the other end of the log. It was one of the few times when the Ghost uttered a word. He said, "That was some good running you were doin'."

"Yes," the Welshman said, fighting for breath, "and I'm goin' to be doin' some more in just a minute." And he did.


There was another Welshman named Johnny Owens who was walking toward Ridgeway one night, singing some Welsh songs to keep up his spirits. As he approached a big roadside tree he saw three dark "somethings" hanging from a limb. They were swaying in the moonlight.

When Johnny came nearer he saw that the three things were human bodies hanging by their necks. Johnny didn't hang around to do any investigating. He ran all the way to Ridgeway. The next morning, with several friends, all sober, he returned to the tree. No bodies were hanging there.

The Welshmen had a continuing battle with the Ghost. One teamster from the mines swore that he encountered the Ridgeway Terror in the guise of a drove of phantom pigs. On his approach the pigs dissolved into a cloud and were blown away by the wind. Many came to know the specter as an old woman who would trudge on for a distance ahead of their wagons, then suddenly vanish in a ball of fire. Very commonly the Ghost appeared as an itinerant peddler, who would vault agilely upon hub or whiffletree. There he would ride in apparent comfort, staring fixedly at the horrified driver.


A Welsh farmer living near Ridgeway went to his pump one evening to get two pails of water. When he reached his house with the full buckets he looked back at the pump and in astonishment saw that the pump handle was still going up and down and water was still pouring our of the spout. He had heard stories about the Ghost, and now he knew that the rascal was haunting the pump. He ran into the cabin and blocked up the kitchen door.


A Welsh settler who was riding over the hills on horseback thought he saw something move in a deserted cabin he was passing. Dismounting from his horse, he went to the cabin and looked in. There he saw the Ghost, who was visiting the cabin on some nefarious business of his own. The rider struck at the Ghost with his whip and the Ghost disappeared. The man noticed the next day that in his own fright his fingers had sunk into the stock of the whip with which he had struck at the Ghost. The impressions made by his fingers were plainly seen. This man's name was Lewis.


The Irishmen had their troubles too with the Ghost. One time an old Irishman built quite a large house on a lot he owned. He was going to live there in the best style. After the house was completed and before he moved into it he went one evening to inspect. He entered by the front door and wandered through the rooms on the ground floor. Suddenly he saw before him in the dining room a hazy white light which he made out to be a human figure. He rapidly decided that this must be the Ridgeway Ghost, also come to look over new quarters. The Irishman tore up a few boards leaving by the front door. He would never live in that new house. He built himself a small house in the rear and lived there while the large, new house stood empty.

Sometime later this same Irishman was walking one night up the railroad track toward Barneveld. As he was approaching the town he saw a white light coming toward him along the track. This mysterious light was dancing up and down, now bright, now dim. The Irishman didn't wait to see anything more. He jumped off the track at right angles and legged it fast across the fields.


One yarn tells about this Ridgeway Ghost really being the spirit of a Virginia man killed in a duel in Mineral Point over a pretty woman in 1825. The ghost of the Virginia man haunted his antagonist, a Missourian, until he was dead. Then the haunt stayed right on along the Ridge Road doing his dirty work. Certainly he was still haunting the Ridge Road country in 1869 when the railroad was being built through Ridgeway. The members of the construction crew at this time were quartered in an old frame building.

This building had a trap door in the ceiling leading into an attic above. When the men were all in bed one of the crew, unable to sleep because of the snoring of his fellow workers, retreated to this attic. Here he conceived the idea of playing a great joke. He knew that the Irishmen were all frightened of the Ridgeway Ghost anyway, and figured that he would use this to his advantage.

So sometime during the night mysterious noises from the attic awoke some of the Irishmen sleeping below. One man who was of strong courage decided to investigate the cause. A table was placed in the center of the floor and a chair lifted on top of that. The courageous one mounted the chair and lifted the trap door to the attic. As he did so a pair of ghostly arms reached down, lifted him up and dashed him down, chair, table, and man crashing down together.

The thump aroused all of the sleepers who were not already awake and in the dim light the whole crew rushed for the door. In the stampede several of the crew were slightly injured. Convinced that the place was really haunted, none of the crew would return to the building that night. Some slept in trees and elsewhere. Some never did return to the construction crew. They had fled the Ridge Road country for good.


The Ghost nervousness infected others than the railroad gang. A young farmer went out to hunt small game for his home larder. He was returning in the early, misty evening when he suddenly saw a mysterious white object directly in his path. The thing appeared to be very threatening, and the farmer knew that he was about to have an encounter with the famous Ridgeway Ghost. Quickly he raised his shotgun and fired. The white object remained just where it was. He managed to load and fire again, but with no effect. Then, tossing away gun and gamebag, he took to his heels.

Next day he managed to persuade himself to return for gun and game. The white object was right where he'd seen it before: a large fencepost from which the green bark had been removed. The post had plenty of lead in it, but the farmer never bragged too much about this encounter.


One summer when the Ghost fever was high along the Ridge Road, a settler who wished to give his neighbors a real fright jumped into a partly filled flour barrel and covered his features and his clothing with flour. Then he visited the homes of several neighbors about dusk and, peering in doors and windows, accomplished what he came for. Several of the inhabitants took off across the country. In fact, he scared everybody except one salty old farmer, a hero of the Blackhawk War, who grabbed his shotgun and took after the "ghost."

It was now the "ghost's" turn to be frightened, and he fled through a woodlot, down into a ravine, and into another woods with the old farmer hot after him, trying to get in a good shot. The "ghost" was nearly dead with fright and exhaustion when he finally succeeded in hiding in thick brush until the ghost-killer had given up and gone home.

The ghost-hunter often boasted how he had run the Ridgeway Ghost out of the country.


In those Wisconsin frontier days when all entertainment had to be homemade it was a temptation to take advantage of every opportunity to do something spectacular or dramatic. Scaring one's neighbors was a part of the neighborhood fun.

One day a Welshman was returning from a day's work on a farm where he had been helping to shred corn. On his way home he had to pass through the bars of a pasture fence. A friend, who wished to give him a real fright, had dressed himself up as a ghost and was waiting for the Welshman behind the stone pasture fence. This man had a white rooster which he held on top of his head.

As the Welshman, tired from his day of labor, climbed painfully through the bars this "friend" suddenly rose up from behind the fence. As he did so he released the frightened white rooster which flapped its wings and flew directly into the Welshman's face. The Welshman dropped the pitchfork he was carrying and with a loud yell burned up the sod across the pasture. He never learned of the hoax his friend had played on him, and often told of the day he had met the Ridgeway Ghost and how the varmit took the wings of a great white bird and pursued him across the fields.


Old Mr. Lewis was returning home one evening from a farm where he had been doing some butchering. As he trudged homeward along the Ridge Road he noted the presence of a sow and some young pigs in the road just ahead of him. They were moving up the road very slowly. Every time he looked at them the pigs and the sow grew in size. As he drew near they were already as large as the cows. They were growing larger and larger. He struck at them savagely with his butcher knife. At this they disappeared from sight, vanishing in the air. He now knew that these were ghost swine, and that they were the brood of the Ridgeway Ghost. The old man reached home, but his experience was too much for him, and he sickened and died soon thereafter as a result of his fright.


Just west of Ridgeway on Highway 18, formerly known as the Ridge Road, is the area which old timers called "the haunted grove." This is now peaceful open farming country; but as late as fifty years ago anyone who had to travel through this area did so only in broad daylight. If they were forced to travel through "the haunted grove" at night they whipped up their horses and sped through with their eyes straight ahead and their ears closed to all sounds.

It seems that in the earlier days someone, nobody knows who, encountered a ghost in this timbered area. The haunt had appeared driving a great team of black horses hitched to a black rig. This phantom carriage rushed straight at the traveler and passed over him, leaving him senseless in the trail. Later stories recounted a strange, flitting, white critter which dashed among and beside horseback riders as they were passing through the grove. Some of the riders also said they heard a wailing sound at night in the woods near the roadside.

Natives in the Ridgeway region still talk about this "haunted grove." In fact it's unlikely that the Ghost will ever quit the imaginations of the Ridgeway people. In 1910, at least, Pat Burns one night put the matter of the Ghost to a waggish test. Driving north from the Ridge with "a man named Smith," Pat clucked to his team and said suddenly aloud, "Come on, get up here on the seat. You don't have to ride on those eveners."

"Who are you talking to, Pat?" Smith asked, turning white.

"Why that man sitting down there on those doubletrees," Pat said. "Don't you see him riding backwards and looking at us?"

Smith looked but saw nothing. Nothing at all. Meanwhile Pat had edged along the seat, as though making room for another companion. He settled himself and remarked, comfortably, "There, friend, that's better. You'll be easier up here on the seat with us."

Smith, according to Pat, departed rapidly, and didn't budge from the local tavern for several weeks.

Source: Paranormal Story Archive, November 1999

The Ridgeway Ghost

by Mark G.

I want to relate an experience I had around Halloween, 1993. I'm from Ripon, Wisconsin. At the time of this story, I was also a student at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. To get to my school, I would travel from Ripon to Madison, get on highway 151, and go there to Platteville, which is in Grant County. On the way there, I would pass an old, abandoned farmhouse on 151. It was a very old building, completely isolated, and with no driveway. When going by, I would look through the windows. The interior of the dwelling was completely gutted, as if there had been a fire inside at one point. It looked as if a strong wind could knock the whole building over. Anyway, it was Halloween weekend. I was going back to Ripon with my roommate. By the time we left it was around 9:00 p.m. When we drove by the old house, I noticed that the building's interior was brightly lit, as if someone had been inside and turned on all the lights. That was what confused me. I saw what it looked like inside. There was no wiring of any sort in the building. I couldn't understand where the light was coming from. It wasn't lantern light; it looked like electricity, but it didn't seem possible. When we came back a couple days later, we noticed that the house looked like it had before - gutted. Strange! Several years later, I bought a book called Haunted Wisconsin. I read a chapter about the legendary "Ridgeway Ghost." In the chapter, there was a photo of the house where the ghost supposedly "lived." It was the same house! I got out a map and double-checked it with the book to make sure they were the same - and they matched. Apparently, when we drove by, the Ridgeway Ghost was "home."

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