By Emma Cunningham
You’ve probably heard the horror stories or seen the eerie movie trailer about the infamous “Witches of Whitewater.” Although it is hard to say what is true about the local tales, during this time of year you can’t help but get a dark and creepy feeling.
The urban legend of the witches and spiritual happenings began in the late 19th century, leading Whitewater to become known as the “Second Salem.”
It is said that the tales began around 1889, when the Morris Pratt Institute was built in town. The Institute was known for teaching spiritualism, which was a popular belief during the 1800s, and regular lectures were given on psychic subjects and paranormal activities. It is said the building had an “all-white” room that was used to conduct séances.
“That’s probably the spookiest thing in Whitewater, the old Morris Pratt school,” said Karen Weston, a UW-Whitewater’s archivist of 27 years.
The school functioned for about 40 years until it was turned into a telephone office. In 1946, the institute was moved to Milwaukee where it still exists today.
What many people find intriguing is the story about a locked book in the special collections section in the basement of Andersen Library.
Rumors say that the dark contents of the book have driven three students and a professor to kill themselves. According to legend, one person who borrowed the book was locked in a mental institution. Because of this, the book is not hidden under lock and key at the Andersen Library. If you ask to see the book, you will be expelled, or so they say.
“The only locked book we own is actually a Catholic hymnal,” Weston said. “We think the stories about it come from the fact that up until 1989, 100 years after the Morris Pratt Institution was founded, the storage we used for the book was a locked cage because it’s the only storage unit we had. A locked book in special collections got this image of being dangerous. However, none of the people who have ever talked about this Catholic hymnal have given us a publisher, a title, an another, no date, nothing.”
It is unknown if the mysterious book remains unlabeled for a reason or for a coincidence.
Adding to the town’s eeriness, Whitewater’s three cemeteries have something unusual about them:
Calvary Cemetery, which sits on the northern edge of campus, Oak Grove Cemetery, located up on a hill near next to the Washington Elementary School on the east side of town, and Hillside Cemetery adjacent to Cravath Lake, are positioned in the shape of a perfect isosceles triangle. Legend has it that the “triangle” can be connected to witchcraft.
“There was a coffin of a little girl mysteriously put on campus back in 1970 during Halloween week. People think it was taken from one of these local cemeteries,” Weston said.
Oak Grove Cemetery is said to be the final resting place of axe-toting murderess Mary Worth. On Halloween Eve, legend says that Mary can be spotted among the tombstones.
But the haunting stories continue about this small Midwestern town including one about the stone water tower in Starin Park.
Stories say that witches would surround the tower at night, performing rituals in the park. An iron fence was put up around the tower with the barbed wired spikes pointed inward as if it was trying to keep something in, rather than keep people out.
The tower sits just south of Wells Hall, which also has been said to have had many hauntings since it was built the late 1960s.
Wells Hall is not the only student housing that has had questioning stories. In 1981, the girls of the Alpha Sigma sorority heard loud noises coming from the basement while they ate dinner. Bricks of the basement floor were found scattered everywhere when they went to check it out, revealing a never before seen tunnel entrance.
The story says that the tunnel system was used by witches as a way of traveling between the town’s oldest mansion-sized homes without being spotted by the civilians.
The most recent story about the witches took place in 1992 when three students witnessed a late-night ritual on the beach near Whitewater Lake, watching the ritual until it appeared as if a huge object was coming out of the lake.
As time passes, the stories become more unusual and persistent, and although they are all undocumented and extremely vague, they do a good job of keeping their creepiness factor haunting students year after year.