Cinematic Haunts #5: Summerwind Mansion, WI
Cinematic Haunts #5: Summerwind Mansion, West Bay Lake WI
Article By: Annie Riordan
“It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.”
Shirley Jackson ~ The Haunting of Hill House
I don’t know about you guys, but the state of Wisconsin has never conjured images of ghosts and haunted houses for me. When I think of Wisconsin, I think “cheese.” And Fargo. Oh no wait, that took place in Minnesota, except for the fact those guys were from North Dakota… Umm…did I already mention cheese?
Nevertheless, it was in Northern Wisconsin, nearly five years before the events in Amityville, New York would spark a whole new generation of paranormal enthusiasm, that another house earned a sinister reputation, a rep that remains every bit as hotly debated today as Amityville.
In the north woods of Wisconsin, not far from the shores of West Bay Lake, there stands a burned out hollow of a building once known as Summerwind Mansion. Nature has almost thoroughly reclaimed the ruins of the once grandiose estate, wrapping leaves and vines around the remaining chimneys and stone terrace. In 1988, when several strokes of lightening struck the already long-abandoned mansion, reducing it to ash and cinders, nobody in the immediate vicinity mourned much. Beautiful as it had been, Summerwind had been the Spooky Old House that Nobody Dared Go To for nearly fifty years. Every attempt to restore the house had been abandoned, and contractors often outright refused to set foot on the property upon learning of its location.
The mansion was already in a state of serious disrepair when Ginger Hinshaw happened upon it in 1970. What started out as an innocent day trip to a local haunted house quickly turned into an obsession. Ginger fell in love with the sadly neglected home and soon had her second husband Arnold infatuated as well. The couple bought the house and moved in with their six children, planning to restore the place to its previous majesty. But their efforts were not rewarded. Upon removing a shoe drawer from a closet, Arnold discovered a crawlspace hidden behind it, too small for him to investigate. Upon sending his daughter into the tiny space, a mummified human skeleton was discovered, its skull still covered in long black hair. For reasons unknown, the Hinshaw’s did not remove the corpse, nor did they alert the authorities. Ginger later reported that the body had disappeared when she and her brother went to retrieve it several years later.
Shortly after the discovery of the body, Arnold began to exhibit signs of severe mental deterioration. Formerly a loving husband and father, he turned into a bullying tyrant who spent the long nights playing sinister dirges on the pipe organ and even going to far as to slaughter a family pet as punishment for his children’s perceived disobedience. His transformation into a reclusive maniac led to the loss of his job and the family’s plunge into despair. The heat and electricity were shut off. Ginger made a suicide attempt. Finally, six months after having moved into the home, Ginger’s father collected his daughter and grandchildren and the house was abandoned. Arnold was sent to an insane asylum and was never heard from again.
Vowing never to set foot back on the property, Ginger nevertheless took an interest in the paranormal and began studying the field. In 1972, despite her angry pleas, Ginger’s father purchased Summerwind as a fixer-upper project for his son Ray, recently returned from Vietnam. Ray, like his father, was a staunch skeptic when it came to ghosts, but his tenure at Summerwind was far shorter than his sister’s. After hearing phantom gunshots in the kitchen and witnessing a full form apparition materialize in the basement doorway, Ray too abandoned the property, shaken to the core. A few weeks later, he agreed to allow his sister hypnotize him for a common nail-biting problem. Once under however, Ray underwent a complete change of personality, morphing into a powerfully pissed off tyrant of a man who insisted that Summerwind was his property, no others need apply.
Research into the history of the property revealed a once famous explorer named Jonathan Carver, who had once settled a dispute between two warring Native American nations and claimed to have been granted the northern Wisconsin territories by the grateful Indians. It was rumored that the land deed was secreted away on the property, and that this was the reason for the haunting, but no such document ever surfaced. Originally constructed as a fishing lodge in 1916, Summerwind’s servants had complained that the house was haunted even then. The owners – Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lamont – paid no heed to the stories and continued to live in the mansion until the mid 1930s, when they suddenly abandoned it. According to legend, Robert and his wife were startled one night by an apparition in the basement doorway, at which Mr. Lamont fired with his revolver. The bullet holes could still be clearly seen up until the 1980s, when the door suddenly went missing, no doubt stolen by over eager legend trippers.
Abandoned for the remainder of the 1970s, Summerwind was again purchased in the mid 80s and restoration again commenced. However, contractors remained reluctant and the process was slow going. Strange phenomena was reported by the new owners and the mansion’s reputation soured all the more. Then came 1988, and the fateful lightening storm which leveled the house in fiery display of Heavenly Judgment, the likes of which had not been seen since Patty McCormack got her ass fried in the 1956 film “The Bad Seed.”
In 2005, the story of the Summerwind Mansion was turned into a one hour docudrama for the Discovery Channel series “A Haunting.” Oddly, the reenactment left out some of the more salient details, including the discovery of the body in the crawlspace, and set off hot new debates as to the authenticity of the tale. The majority of the haunting of Summerwind seems to rest solely on the eyewitness accounts of the Hinshaw family, whom some claim were simply cashing in on the notoriety of the property, much as the Lutz family was accused of doing in 1977 with the release of the book “The Amityville Horror.”, their collaborative effort with Jay Anson. But those who make the long, lonely trek to the ruins (which are on private property, so I don’t advise it myself) still claim to experience strange phenomena, ghostly noises and paranormal side effects. Any proof of Jonathan Carver’s existence most likely went up in flames twenty years earlier, in the freak fire that reduced the once gorgeous palace to a mere spooky legend. But perhaps it’s just as well, for as Russ Tamblyn so succinctly put it at the close of the 1963 film “The Haunting” – “It ought to be burned down and the ground sown with salt.”
Obviously, something felt the same way about the Summerwind Mansion.
Norman Michael, Scott Beth (1985), Haunted heartland, Stanton & Lee Pub, ISBN 0-88361-092-2