We all have favorite books, movies, albums, and songs that you constantly go back to, over and over. It’s something that grabs you every time. It’s a reliable old friend you can always count on. It may give you inspiration, jog old memories, and provide comfort. That’s what touchstones are all about.
When glancing at NPR’s main page yesterday, the words “Haunted Wisconsin” jumped out at me. In this piece from All Things Considered, author Benjamin Percy talks about one of his guilty pleasures,¬†the book Haunted Wisconsin by¬†Michael Norman and Beth Scott.¬†
When I read this article, it was like I was reading my own thoughts. I grew up in the country on a dairy farm between two small villages (and when I say small, I mean 400-500 population each) in northwestern Wisconsin. There was a very small library in Prairie Farm, but we’d occasionally go to the library in Barron or Menomonie if I was bored out of my mind and needed new reading material. But when you live on a farm, your life is ruled by the weather and the animals, especially in the summer, and a trip to town or library wasn’t so easy. Fines were something my mom loathed, so library trips didn’t happen often. I was able to not drive my mother insane by a lovely feature of the local library system called Books by Mail. They would send you a catalog with the book listings, you’d send a postcard with your choices, and in a few days, a zippered pouch would arrive containing the books you requested. When you were finished, you turned the address card over and trudged up to the mailbox for the mailman to cart back to the library. And this was free, and continues to be. My mom is still an active patron.
In fourth grade I learned all about Wisconsin’s history and immediately fell in love with the subject. I don’t know if it meant more because it happened around me, but I was hooked. When I was poring over the BBM catalog, I stumbled upon Haunted Wisconsin because I thought it would contain more information for my brain to soak up. Ask any acquaintance of mine. I am a walking encyclopedia of Wisconsin facts.
When the book arrived, I was entranced. I was scared, intrigued, and I immediately wanted to visit every single place in the book. I then started to wonder if there were any haunted places in my area. Oh, the gears were turning. I sadly had to return the book, but I would put in another request every few months and re-read the book.
Many years went by and when I moved to River Falls, I thought of Haunted Wisconsin because there is a haunted home in town that is featured in the book. I had thought to myself “I need to find a copy of that book.” It eventually slipped my mind, as things so often do, and I was browsing the library book sale when I saw a very familiar and tattered cover. It was like purchasing a part of my childhood for an astounding 50 cents. The stories brought back so many memories, and I was once again inspired to visit the haunted locations.
I have hunted down some crazy things in the book Oddball Wisconsin, but not Haunted Wisconsin. After reading about Benjamin’s guilty pleasure, I have realized I need to dust off my copy and start planning some roadtrips. I have walked and driven past the house in River Falls many times, and I was lucky to hear the author, Michael Norman, speak at the River Falls Public Library a couple years ago during the annual fall author series. Norman is a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and has penned other collections of hauntings across the Midwest.
Haunted Wisconsin is my spooky touchstone for many reasons. It was a huge catalyst for my curiosity and interest in the paranormal, as well as provided historical facts and details about my home state. It was a much-loved book as a child, and still stands up almost 25 years later. It brings back good memories, is comforting, and always manages to spark the wheels that turn in my head.
What’s your spooky touchstone?