DATELINE: Land O' Lakes, Wis. - As a true believer in ghost stories, I am driven on this Halloween weekend to once again check on one of America's most haunted houses - Summerwind, or what's left of it - a haunting aerie that Life magazine has called one of America's nine most haunted places.
Some insist there is a curse. One of its former owners is con-vinced there is.
A Realtor, who once handled the sale of the terri-fying haunted house, picked a brick off the porch as a souvenir. While driving away, she had an automobile accident and just last week told me she had "long ago thrown that brick away."
The last time at Summerwind, I stood on the porch of the wasted stone ruins, closing my eyes to the era when such lumi-naries as President Warren Harding stayed within its 26-room palaced walls. I honestly felt an exultant feeling of the creeps. I had been searching for the place for hours, and upon finding it hidden in the deep timber, was eerily excited.
I cupped an ear for transcendental organ sounds, said to still drift off the nearby lake at night because a one-time resident was driven mad by ghosts who demanded to be soothed by organ music. His wife attempted suicide.
As the legend goes, a Great Lakes captain, Jonathan Carver, once owned the tract but was tricked out of the deed at the site where Summerwind was built. He died a pauper, and is one of the ghosts claimed to reappear to reclaim ownership. The mansion itself was built in 1916 by mil-lionaire Robert P. Lamont, who became Pres-ident Hoover's secretary of commerce. Bizarre events followed as owner-upon-owner bought it, and sold it, spooked by apparitions and ghostly goings on. Wallpaper hung on one day would fall off the next. Paint would change colors overnight. A ghost named Ma-thilda was said to float through walls and windows. One owner was driven to a mental institution. A resident was struck speechless, to never utter another word, upon finding a skeleton sealed in a wall.
The empty mansion, built mightily of stone, brick and frame, had just burned under strange circumstances when I last visited. Still, walls and chimney stood gauntly. A stranger said, "Come back to me after you've been there and tell me what you smelled." I caught the strange essence of orange rind. "You're correct," he said. "That is from the spirits." There is no question among towners yet today that when the mansion burned, that skeleton, still sealed within a wall, was consumed by flames.
In recent years, several businessmen bought the site for $20,000, envisioning it as a potential haunted bed and breakfast. The tales of ghosts were too realistic for investors to get involved. All backed out.
"Certainly, now I'm out of the deal," says Jerry Olk, of Head-water State Bank of Wisconsin. "In everyone's mind around here, it's still a haunted place."
One of those who had invested in the restoration was Roger "Skip" Pfohl. He claims to have been clutched by the curse of Summerwind.
"My life has been a nightmare since buying an interest in that place," he told me. "I lost a franchise business. My best friends, who co-owned Summerwind with me, weren't speaking to me. I had a psychic visit it. He got out in a hurry, said it was so spooked that even he wanted no part of it."
The curse lingers. In recent weeks, Skip was starting an old Chris Craft in his boat house. It exploded, blowing him into the water and burning the house to water's edge. He escaped with a broken leg, and luckily friends were nearby to save his life.
Summerwind is now owned by a Chicago couple, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Tracy, who have left the place in a certain abandoned, spooky splendor, but banker Olk believes they might sell for $100,000. A Realtor said that in a recent closing of nearby property, so many unexpected things happened that she suspected ghosts were protesting. Last Friday, she put me in touch with a woman who claims to have an absolute photograph of a ghostly woman promenading down the grand staircase of Summerwind.
Stay tuned. I'll stay spooked.