sjhstrangetales

SUMMERWIND MANSION

Posted on: February 7, 2017

Summerwind Mansion has the unenviable title of being Wisconsin’s Most Notorious Haunted House.  For over a 100 years now strange, disturbing stories have circulated about this eerie, derelict property.  And yet there may still be a happy ending to this often sad tale, as it seems the current owners are keen to take care of it and give it some much-needed love.

Situated on the shores of West Bay Lake, Vilas County, Wisconsin, Summerwind was, in the early 20th century, originally a fishing-lodge.  Then in 1916 Robert Patterson Lamont, President of American Steel Foundries, acquired the property with the intention of turning into a summer vacation refuge for himself and his family.  The Lamont family would stay at the house until the 1930s.  Robert would eventually become US Secretary of Commerce during Herbert Hoover’s administration in 1929.  The house became simply known in the area as the Lamont Mansion.

Robert Lamont employed Chicago architects to completely remodel the house, and renovations took two years to complete.  One of the most famous ghost stories about the house comes from this era.  Apparently the Lamont’s maids had told them for years that the house was haunted, only for it to fall on deaf ears.  The story goes that Robert and Mrs Lamont were having supper in the kitchen one evening in the mid-1930s, when the door to the basement was flung open, and a man materialised out of thin air.  Robert fired a pistol at the strange intruder, who (presumably) evaporated, and the bullet hole could still be seen in the basement door for many years afterwards.   The Lamonts abandoned the property soon after this.

The Keefer family owned the property from the 1940s until the 1960s.  Sometimes it is put out that nothing untoward was reported about the house during this period, and yet some visitors have claimed that the Keefers never lived in it on a permanent basis.  In the 1960s Mrs Keefer tried repeatedly to sell the house, but financial difficulties with the new owners meant that the house always reverted back to her.  It is said that visitors to the mansion at this time would be handed the keys by Mrs Keefer, who would leave them to look round it on their own.  All of which helped fuel its odd reputation I’m sure.

It is in the 1970s that the stories about the house became ramped up to another level entirely.  In the early 70s Arnold and Ginger Hinshaw moved into the property, along with their 6 children.  They were to only spend 6 months at Summerwind, and yet it would be an eventful time to say the least.  During that time they reported seeing vague shapes and shadowy figures in the hallways,  and heard mumbled voices in empty rooms.  Windows and doors opened and closed by themselves.  A ghostly woman was seen floating past the French windows in the dining-room.  The boiler and hot water heater constantly broke down, and yet by the time repairmen came to fix them they had somehow mysteriously righted themselves.   On one especially dramatic occasion, Arnold was going off to work one morning.  When he stepped outside, his car burst into flames.

Whilst painting a closet Arnold uncovered a small crawl space.  He sent his youngest daughter, Mary, in to investigate it.  She found the remains of human skull and a handful of black hair.  This grim finding was never reported to the police, and the skull disappeared completely at a later date.

Whatever was really going on at the house at this time had a marked effect on the family.  Arnold suffered a nervous breakdown, and subsequently lost his job.  He took to acting strangely, such as staying up late playing the organ, in the belief that it would drive the demons away.   His wife Ginger – who believed the house was responsible for Arnold’s breakdown – herself suffered from severe depression at this time, and tried to take her own life.

After they left the property, curiously, Ginger’s father, Raymond von Bober, acquired it, with the intention of turning it into a restaurant.  This was to prove unsuccessful, reportedly down to the fact that he could never get workmen to stay on site long enough to do the necessary renovations.  According to neighbours, Bober never actually stayed the night in the property, but lived in a trailer on site.  Nevertheless Bober made some pretty bizarre claims about the house, including that the rooms could change shape due to supernatural powers.

Using the pen-name, Wolfgang von Bober, he wrote a book about the property, called The Carver Effect: A Paranormal Experience, in which he claimed the house was haunted by an 18th-century Great Lakes explorer and militia-man called Jonathan Carver, who died in 1780.  The book is now extremely rare and hard-to-find.    Von Bober abandoned the house, and – inevitably – it became a haunt for local teenagers to hang out and be … well teenagers I suppose.

In 1986 Harold Tracy bought the house as an anniversary gift for his wife, Babs.  They never actually stayed in the house, although they did once camp in the grounds.  Babs said that she saw the mansion breathing, getting larger as if it was inhaling.  The Tracys never got to live in the house, because Fate took a hand.

The house came to a suitably dramatic end on 19 June 1988, when it was struck by lightning.  The fire devastated the empty property, and all that remained were the concrete foundations and the fireplaces.   The house continued to be a magnet for thrill-seeking youngsters, but in 2014  it was reported  that the Summerwind Restoration Society were looking for funds to restore it and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast establishment.

The last report I could find was from a news site in August 2015, which reiterated the plans to turn it into a B&B, and that Paranormal Research Teams occasionally camp out at the site, and find it “really just nice and peaceful”.  One ghost-hunter said “I absolutely love it up here”.  Perhaps whatever troublesome spirits once frequented the site have now departed, and Summerwind now enjoys the serenity, and the refuge from the rat-race feeling for which it was originally intended by Mr Lamont all those years ago.

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