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A history of terror

The Witches of Whitewater
(A paranormal investigation)
Whitewater, WI
Published October 19, 2009
( documentary film added October 1, 2015)

stone water tower
stone water tower entrance
stone water tower
stone water tower
Oak Grove Cemetery
Oak Grove Cemetery

Story and photos by Phil Bonyata

What most of us know about Whitewater are of a fine university, great parks and our old neighbors to the north located in the northwest corner of Walworth County, Wisconsin. But, what many of us don't know are the things that lurk in the shadows there and ignite the subconscious in uncharted areas deep in the mind.

Whitewater is rife with dark legends and lore. Some trace the origins of these tales to The Morris Pratt Institute - a Spiritualist college that was founded in 1889.

Morris Pratt purchased the property in 1888 with the vision of having a place where the studies of the occult could be held equally among other respected institutions of learning. The classes taught at the Pratt Institute were Science, Mathematics, and Language, Oratory, Voice and Physical Culture, English and Rhetoric, Bible Exegetics, Higher Criticism, Logic and Parliamentary Law, Comparative Theology and Psychic Culture.

There was a hall that was called "the all white room" where seances were conducted. Whitewater locals called it "The Spook Temple." Surprisingly, the college and wary townsfolk coexisted until the school held its last classes there in 1930s. After that it became a boarding house until it was torn down in the 1960s.

In Morris Pratt's obituary, published in The Whitewater Register in January 1903, Pratt was quoted as saying shortly before his death "Death is neither to be dreaded or feared - in fact, it is only a birth out of the physical body into the spiritual world."

The tales grow even stranger - some believe that there was a coven of witches here in the late 1800s. Local folklore has it that the witches maintained an altar and would hold satanic ceremonies in Oak Grove Cemetery. Perhaps the lure of the supernatural here is the fact that Whitewater's early developers built over early Indian burial grounds.

In fact, the stone water tower in Starin Park is supposedly a place where witches rituals were held. Evil forces are said to be lured to this place. The earlier fence that encircled the water tower had spikes that were pointed inward (to keep the bad forces in rather than to prevent the curious from entering?).

It is believed by many locals that there is a Witch's Triangle. Formed by the three cemeteries in town - Hillside Cemetery, Oak Grove Cemetery and the eerie Calvary Cemetery. Many houses and buildings contained within the perfect isosceles triangle are said to be haunted.

My daughter, her dog Peyton and I decided to investigate the dark and surreal grounds of the Calvary Cemetery. It is believed by many that dogs sense the paranormal before humans do. As we approached the lone gate we noticed the foreboding barbed wire atop the chain link fence that encircled the oblong cemetery. Mary Worth is purported to be buried here. Legend has it that if you say her name three times in front of a mirror at midnight she will kill the summoner in an extremely violent way.

Another interesting inhabitant here is Nellie Horan, a young woman who was accused of poisoning her sister, but acquitted in 1885.

The remains of a baby girl were dug up from these grounds and left on the steps of the university's student center. Some say it was an anti-war protest while others say it was something far more sinister.

As we entered the cemetery the legends started catching up with us - the grey skies appeared bleaker, the wind colder and ordinary sounds became unfriendly. The thought of a UW/Whitewater student who committed suicide by hanging himself there last year also weighed heavily on our thoughts. As we parked the car at the end of the cemetery we walked about 10 feet and our dog started to bark violently.

My daughter and I looked at each other in amazement as his barks intensified. There was nothing we could see that would prompt this people, no animals, but he fixed his attention on one spot...and barked with continuous fury for more than 30 seconds, understanding something that we couldn't or wouldn't. Peyton calmed down after we hurriedly moved on.

It wasn't until later when researching for this story that I found that the student had died in the northeast corner of Calvary Cemetery. Peyton's unusual behavior occurred in the same northeast corner where we started our venture.

The story of "The Witches Book" makes the tales of Whitewater even creepier. There is rumored to be a book written by the witches of Whitewater that if read would result in a nasty death by suicide or go completely insane. There are believed to be at least four student suicides attributed to the turning of it's pages. The book is rumored to be housed and protected under lock and key in the basement of the UW/Whitewater library.

Deronica Goldsmith, Archives Assistant for the Anderson Library said, "The Witches Book" doesn't exist and as far as I know there are or never were witches here in Whitewater." A reliable source, who was once a library assistant at Anderson Library, told me that as part of the hiring process they are instructed to deny the existence of "The Witches Book."

You be the judge. Take a stroll through the Calvary Cemetery on a cold and late afternoon without a companion or walk around the stone water tower in Starin Park a few dizzying times. I promise that you will become disoriented if you look up at the top of the tower the entire time. The curse of the witches or simply vertigo?

Dig deep inside and ask yourself if you are ready to accept the things that could be.

Oak Grove Cemetery
Oak Grove Cemetery
Calvary Cemetery
Calvary Cemetery
stone water tower
The spiked fence of stone water tower
Archives Assistant Deronica Goldsmith
Archives Assistant Deronica Goldsmith denies the
existence of "The Witches Book." Here in the
basement of The Anderson Library is where the book
is believed to be under lock and key.
Hillside Cemetery
Hillside Cemetery
Morris Pratt grave
The grave of Morris Pratt - Hillside Cemetery
The grave of Mary Worth?
The grave of Mary Worth in Calvary Cemetry?
The barbed wire of Calvary Cemetery
The barbed wire of Calvary Cemetery
Calvary Cemetery
The spot in Calvary Cemetery where Peyton went wild

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