Spiritualism and the “Spook’s Temple”

The secrets behind the Morris Pratt Institute


Robbie Elsbury Jr.

The water tower, dubbed the “Witches Tower”, is one of the spookiest places on campus.

Olivia Storey, News Editor

Every Halloween, if you walk past the Starin Park Cemetery, you might be able to see them. These shadowy creatures, only visible in the dim streetlights, whisper through the chilly October winds.

No, they aren’t ghosts, but rather UW-W students looking for a fright. Everyone in Whitewater knows about its haunted history, but very little know about the school that started it all.

The Morris Pratt Institute was the nation’s first and only school for spiritualism when it was created in 1902 at 300 Center St. However, its founder, Morris Pratt, was not born a spiritualist like many of his students.

Pratt began his spiritual journey in 1851, after seeking out financial advice from a spiritualist in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. The New York-born businessman blindly followed the advice, leading him to acquire a small fortune, which he used to build the school in 1889.

Pratt decided to build the institute because he felt it was important that those who could communicate with the dead to develop and hone their skills in a proper learning environment. This institute also stressed the cultural aspects of its students.

The institute itself was three stories high and included classrooms, dormitories that could house up to 50 women, and one seance room that was completely closed off to the public to preserve the sanctity of the room.

The seance room was completely white. White carpets, white walls and white furniture filled the room in order for the spiritualists to contact the dead in a calm environment. The only people allowed to enter were mediums, who had to be clothed completely in white.

People from all over the country attended the institute and were willing to move to Whitewater just to enhance their spiritualist skills. Mrs. John Bezingue, a woman from Pittsburg, Kansas, wrote to the institute to inquire about its classes, even though she and her family lived 11 hours away.

“I am interested in enrolling in your class,” she wrote on Oct. 31, 1931. “Will you please send me details and price of admission?”

Tuition at the institute was only $50 a year plus a room for $2 a week. Sme of the classes offered to students were Ancient Religions, Mohammedanism and Saviors of the World. Many of the advanced classes involved seances and displays of communication.

Although the institute was dubbed the “Spook’s Temple” and “Pratt’s Folly”, much of the community was fascinated by the institute’s weekly event. Every Sunday night, a medium inside the institute would hold a public seance, in which they would call upon the dead for all to see. According to one boy, the spiritualists amazed all who attended with how accurate their statements were about a person’s past or future endeavors. They also would host lecturers or services for members of the Whitewater community to learn more about spiritualism.

Although Whitewater has a wide variety of spooky secrets and stories, none can compare to the spiritualists who resided on Center Street. Their experiences and studies may have shaped Whitewater into what we know it to be today.

Even though the Morris Pratt Institute was closed in 1930 and torn down in 1961, it still exists in Milwaukee, where you can learn about its history and its whereabouts today.