I first visited this area back in February of 2006. My friend and I had been wanting to check it out and find out if some of the stories were true. Would we see the “phantom cars” out there? Would the sad yet beautiful ghost of a young woman named Mary Dean reach out to us from beyond her watery grave? Would we be able to keep our wits about us to get out unharmed… There have been numerous stories that have circulated about the small unincorporated town of Caryville, Wisconsin, which is just outside of the town of Eau Claire. The odd thing is, there are five locations reported to be haunted, but none of them are in the actual town itself. I was totally hooked and needed to know more.
We made our way out on a cold winter day with the icy wind howling through the bare trees. We had bundled up and were relaxing in the nice warm car as we turned down the road that leads to an old schoolhouse and church which face each other ominously. As we sat inside the car, we both glanced at each other in curiosity. I peered over at the bell tower of the church, watching and waiting to see the supposed ghost of the priest who hanged himself years ago. Suddenly, a branch squeaked and then snapped under the cold wind, making us both jump. We laughed nervously and then turned our attention to the quaint little schoolhouse, sitting so prim and proper against the wintry elements. I thought to myself, “This must have been exactly what the weather was like about fifty years ago when that little boy ran away from home and took refuge inside the school.”
Legend states the boy was running away from his abusive father, and the only safe place he could think of was his little one room schoolhouse. He then huddled inside, desperately trying to keep his frail, tiny body warm. Sadly, he was found frozen to death in his desk the next day. Legend trippers and paranormal investigators have stated that if you sit in his desk, you will feel the rush of his spirit or energy pass through you. Having been inside the school once, there were so many desks that honestly I wonder how in the world anyone would be able to locate the little boy’s desk successfully.
In truth, back in the 1950s there was a young boy named David Grohn who attended the Fosbroke Schoolhouse across from the church. He did not die at the school, and in fact stepped on a rusty nail and ended up with tetanus. He passed away from the infection at his home surrounded by his family. So you see, many of these ghost lore legends are indeed laced with real events.
We then attempted to head down to the isolated boat landing, but became horribly lost. I always seemed to end up on 240th Avenue, which seemed to me like a road out of an episode of, “The Twilight Zone.” No matter how many times I turned or changed directions, I ended up on this same road. At one point, in frustration I stopped at a fork in the road with the irritating road sign looming above us. My friend looked at the sign, blinked a few times, then looked at it again and she swore to me that the sign seemed to spin or move. Knowing her well, I did believe that she saw something odd that day. On a whim, I decided to take a totally different road that I figured would lead us in the wrong direction, but instead, we found ourselves cruising down a long curving dirt road. Luckily this particular winter was not as harsh and we were able to drive down this road without sinking into the snow. As we veered around the last corner, there it was. The landing sat peacefully with the river’s current lazily stirring below.
Across from the landing were a few islands and I realised that the island directly across from us was Happy Island or “Old Meridean.” There was a town situated there in the 1800s into the early 1900s. There are many versions of “Mary Dean,” but the most popular talks about a little girl traveling by steamboat with her mother to Happy Island back in the late 1800s. They were headed to meet her father, who was working on the island. Sadly though, during the journey the little girl named Mary fell violently ill and passed away before their arrival. In a loving gesture, the town named the island after her and they buried her in a tiny wooden coffin beneath a tree on one side of the island. Several years later, her grave was washed away in a flood. The town actually ended up relocating to where it is today due to heavy flooding and horrible fires. “Old Meridean” is now overgrown with no signs of life except for the occasional animal rusting amongst the trees. Back in 2010, my husband and a couple friends and I took a flat bottom boat and visited the island. I was in awe because the old dirt roads were still visible and mapped out!
When my friend and I were at the landing, we did not get out of the car because it was extremely cold, but also because we both had this foreboding feeling, as if someone or something was telling us to get out and not come back. I have visited this area many times with my husband Tony, and we have both felt this same feeling on certain occasions. As we sat there, I took all the beautiful snow laden scenery in, but jumped and almost hit my head on the ceiling of the car when my friend sitting in the passenger’s seat let out a blood curdling scream! After my heart started beating again, I asked her what happened and she told me that she saw a very dark shadow towards the back of my car on her side. One of the legends attached to this location is a black shadowy demon nicknamed, “Blackie.” He has been seen at the landing and the cemetery on top of the hill. Was this the same shadowy demon that my friend saw? Needless to say, after that incident, we got out of there fast!
We headed from the boat landing up a steep, rutted road. When we approached the top, I was proud to say we had reached the Sand Hill Cemetery. I could see the few headstones peeking out of the snow and counted only a small amount. Many have claimed that this particular cemetery was used specifically for the island town of Meridean, but this is not the case. I did extensive research on this cemetery, and only found one person who had actually lived on the island at one point in time. All the other deceased were either related or neighbours. This desolate graveyard is not marked with a sign or any gates, but instead is littered with garbage and beer cans. Over the years, many people have gone up to this spot to party rather than pay their respects to the dead, which is very disheartening. Perhaps that is why there are reports of restless spirits roaming about.
There are many children buried there, and some have stated that they can be seen dancing about the graves, and have even approached the living, wanting to play. There’s also an evil dog that stalks the ground as well as the boat landing. Hellhounds are part of mythology and folklore and are deadly signs indeed. Lore states that if you see one, you may as well plan out your funeral and last wishes because you will die soon after. Some say these hounds guard the gates to Hell and have long razor claws and sharp white teeth with glowing red eyes that will pierce right through you. Over the years, I have thought back and chuckled; for such a small local cemetery, it is overgrown with ghost lore.
As our trip was coming to a close, we had one more location left: “The Phantom Cars of Caryville Road” or what is actually called 240th Avenue—yes THE 240th Avenue that I adore so much! In reality, this is a small country bridge that looks like any other you would see out in the countryside. However, not many come attached with a horror story. Stories have circulated about a young beautiful prom queen named “Jenny” who was on her way home from the prom one night, but was very inebriated. She lost control of her red truck and plummeted off the side of the bridge into the murky water below. Now if you pull over and step up to the side of the bridge, peer over to look down at the water, you may just see the dead prom queen’s ghostly headlights shining up through the water. Others have told terrifying tales of phantom headlights that try to play chicken with other vehicles, nearly running them off the road. To speculate, I have wondered if there are local vigilantes that are chasing people out because they are sick and tired of the area polluted with young kids stirring up trouble.
Either way you slice it, the area of Caryville is littered with spirits, tall tales, and perhaps some truth amidst the sprawling countryside and farms. If ever you are in the area, take a map and venture out for yourself. Maybe you will come face to face with a hellhound, or the shadowy demon “Blackie”, or if you are feeling very brave, you will play with some of the spirit children at the Sand Hill Cemetery. In the end, be prepared to bring home some stories of your own to tell.
Devon Bell currently resides in Wisconsin with her husband Tony. Devon and Tony own a paranormal film company called The Haunting Experiments. She has published five books on the ghostlore of Wisconsin and her latest, Haunted Summerwind: A Ghostly History of a Wisconsin Mansion, will be released by The History Press in Spring 2016.