Community travels through haunted past

By Abrielle Backhaus

 

It was a dark and dreary night, citizens of Whitewater gathered to be spooked by the spirits that haunt the small town in which they reside.

Although Whitewater is a tiny little town, it has a mysterious past filled with legends, spirits and witches.

The Whitewater Chamber of Commerce along with the Whitewater Historical Society joined forces to offer the community a tale of both fact and fiction for a Halloween scare.

For $35 and an itch to hear about Whitewater’s history, one could enjoy the Whitewater Spirit Tour, held on Oct. 11. The night began with drinks, appetizers and a presentation from the Whitewater Historical Society on the Morris Pratt Institute.

Pratt originally invested in mining to earn enough money to fund his institute. The town of Whitewater was
skeptical of the construction, and the building earned a poor reputation.

“They only allowed spiritualists into the building,” said Whitewater Historical Society Member Carol Cartwright. “There was a lot of unknown about what they were doing and people started calling the building ‘Pratt’s followers’ or ‘Spooks Temple.’”

Built over a century ago, the Whitewater’s Pratt Institute focused on the study of spiritualism. Spiritualism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a belief that spirits of the dead communicate with the living usually through a medium.”

“In 1902, after Pratt’s death, it [Pratt Institute] became a school that not only taught general education classes but spiritualism classes as well,” Cartwright said. “One could train to be a medium and work outside in spiritualism groups.”

In Milwaukee, a different Pratt Institute is still in session offering classes to any interested in spiritualism.

After the Pratt presentation, one school bus was filled and the group set out on the town. The first stop was at Oak Grove Cemetery followed by a visit to the Winchester home. The first two stops had their own spirit enchanted stories of unexplainable light flickers, slamming doors and angry spirits.

The bus unloaded at the well-known Whitewater Water Tower. It is said that each year many séances are still held on the grounds around the tower.

At the tower, tour goers were visited by the spirit of Myrtle Schaude a.k.a The Poison Widow. It is said Shaude had a bout with the law after allegedly attempting to kill her own children after the death of her husband. The book “The Poison Widow” written by Linda Godfrey was available for purchase after the tour.

A few more stops were made at the former Pratt Institute location, and a couple more locations. The last stop for the bus was the Hillside Cemetery to visit the Crypt of Mary Worth, a self-proclaimed witch, best known for her curse on the Winchester family. Morris Pratt also was buried in this cemetery. The Hillside Cemetery is known to be part of the legend of the location of three cemeteries in Whitewater that form an isosceles triangle, a part of a pentagram: an occult symbol.

Chamber of Commerce member Marie Koch played a big role in the Spirit Tour and said she hopes to include more people in the Halloween festivities.

“We’re hoping next year to offer something that’s geared towards the students at a lower rate and then still offer something for the community like there was this time,” Koch said. “So we’re planning on offering two different types of Spirit Tours next year.”

The Chamber of Commerce had about 12 people working on the event as early as five months in advance.

“[The Spirit Tour Committee] has been the most fun because you have the people in here telling stories about all the legends, it’s just been really interesting,” Koch said. “I just have to say I really enjoyed it.”

For a list of Whitewater Chamber of Commerce’s upcoming events, visit
whitewaterchamber.com.

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