A door unexpectedly slams shut, papers fly off a desk, something seems to whisper in your ear, the lights flicker on and off. Do you blame ghosts or chalk it up to a sudden gust of wind, or maybe even that extra glass of wine?
Over the years, people have reported “unsettling” experiences at some of Kenosha’s oldest and best-preserved buildings.
Some of the first Curious Kenosha requests came from readers asking us to explain the unexplainable. Here’s our investigation, just in time for Halloween. We recommend you read this with the lights on.
Candice Shatkins, author of “Haunted Kenosha,” said she witnessed something, maybe a paranormal presence, about 10 years ago on the Kemper Center grounds, 6501 Third Ave.
“I saw a figure out on the grounds in the shape of a human, blacker than night, walk behind one tree to another one,” she said. When Shatkins walked toward it to get a better look, it vanished.
“That was weirdest and probably the scariest,” she said.
“I don’t know what it is. There’s a lot of theories. Some people call them shadow people. Some people might consider it a ghost; some people might consider it an alien, or something like that. It wasn’t of this realm.”
We searched the Kenosha News archives and found another story of ghostlike shadows at the Kemper Center. According to an article published in June 1996, fiction writer David Schmickel snapped a photo of the facade. When he developed the film, he said he believed he captured ghosts peering out the windows.
“Everyone expects to live their lives in reality,” Schmickel said. “Sometimes that gets challenged. I think this picture challenges it.”
There are several different tragic stories relating to the former boarding school for girls:
— A young nun committed suicide by jumping off the rocks and into the lake.
— A young girl jumped from the tower after being forced to leave a boyfriend at home to attend the school.
— A nun fell (or threw herself) down the stairs in the observatory tower.
None of these “incidents” have ever been verified, but that doesn’t stop people from speculating.
The Kemper Center declined requests for a tour of the grounds for this report because staff and volunteers don’t want the historic lakefront property associated with ghosts and ghouls — that could scare off brides and grooms considering the facilities for their wedding receptions.
“There are always stories with old buildings, and there are those who say they’ve seen faces in the upper dormitory windows late at night at a full moon or have heard footsteps in a supposedly empty Ambrose Hall,” said bookkeeper Kari Turco in a statement.
“We’d like to think that Mr. Durkee checks in on us to be sure we’re keeping his beloved home and gardens well-tended or that Mrs. Anderson approves of her mansion hosting art shows and classes and the Gallery of Trees at Christmastime, but we really don’t know, do we?”
The city’s oldest library is rumored to have been built over a burial chamber. According to “Haunted Kenosha,” millionaire sponsor Zalmon G. Simmons and noted architect Daniel Burnham made provisions for a tomb to be located in the center of the building, which was constructed in 1900.
The first person to be buried in it could have been Simmons’ son, Gilbert M. Simmons, who died in 1890 from complications associated with pneumonia.
According to legend, Simmons had his son’s remains removed from Green Ridge Cemetery and reinterred underneath the library, 711 59th Place.
The legend continues: In 1910, Zalmon Simmons’ deathbed wish was to be buried next to his son. All library employees were sworn to secrecy and helped facilitate it.
“Strange Wisconsin: More Badger State Weirdness” published a similar story, adding that numerous library employees were buried there, too.
“This is a weird, random, story,” Shatkins said. “They say the toilets flush for no reason, and all kinds of other things.”
Librarian Diane Smith said she has encountered some suspicious activity in the library. She said a few years ago, while closing up the children’s room for the night, she heard someone walking.
“I heard footsteps, and the restrooms are down here, so I thought maybe someone was there,” she said. “There was nobody around.” She called the experience, whatever it was, “weird.”
Other librarians said they’ve heard stories of books falling off the shelves and papers flying off desks without anyone touching them.
Lakeside Players, the company that runs the Rhode Center for the Arts at 514 56th St., provided us with an hourlong tour of the massive complex, allowing us to photograph nooks and crannies seldom seen. The complex is so big, dank and dark, stories about strange phenomena are inevitable.
“If you’re here by yourself, you’ll hear something,” said Joseph Vignieri, who doesn’t believe in ghosts. “There’s a theory that because I’m so skeptical, ghosts don’t bother me. Everybody else sees (expletive). I don’t see anything.”
According to Shatkins, nobody knows for sure why the facility is haunted, but in her book she suspects actors and actresses from the past come back to visit their favorite venue.
Milton Smith, who helped run and direct shows at the theater, compiled a list of a dozen stories told to him by actors, volunteers and directors over the years:
— “A man was seen sitting at a desk on stage in the west auditorium. The man and the desk then disappeared.”
— “During ‘Laura,’ a volunteer was working backstage. He was falling asleep back there. Suddenly, with no one else around, he heard a female voice say, ‘Are you tired?’”
— “A member has seen a female spirit while standing backstage when she was very little.”
— “Most recently, during the summer Shakespeare show, I was in the east tech booth during the show when I thought I saw someone out of the corner of my eye standing outside the booth. At that moment, the woman running sound and myself both felt a cold breeze, though there was nothing that could have produced such a breeze, and it was quite warm in that booth.”
— “Another crew member told me that he was standing backstage and felt and heard a person walk behind him, without anyone being there.”