Like most small Wisconsin towns, the village of Ridgeway (population 637), a few miles east of Dodgeville, is a sleepy village known for its friendly people. It’s also haunted, at least according to some tall tales that have been circulating in our district for over 150 years.
Nobody knows for sure how it all began, but the most common opinion is that the Ridgeway Ghost represents the spirit of a miner murdered in a tavern brawl back in the 1840s. Less superstitious minds have claimed the ghost was the invention of local farmers who wanted to keep disreputable types away, or the work of pranksters tricking folks who’d had one too many.
A Dr. Cutler of Dodgeville was the first who claimed to see the phantom, which jumped onto his carriage and spooked his horses. Indeed, the ghost appears to have been fond of haunting the highways and leaping out in front of unsuspecting travelers. It also enjoyed playing practical jokes. One evening a teamster named John Riley tied up his oxcart outside a local saloon and went in for a drink. When he returned to his vehicle, the oxen had been unyoked and re-hitched to the back end of the cart.
As time wore on, the tales became creepier. One man who had gone out to collect some water turned around to see the pump handle going up and down by itself, and water gushing from the spout. Another farmer was stopped in his tracks one night by an apparition of three bodies hanging from a tree.
The most chilling tale is that of John Lewis, a Welsh farmer who died shortly after being attacked by a “gigantic and grizzly thing.”
Doc Cutler himself allegedly died of fright after seeing the specter for a third time, and a local maid succumbed to shock after her encounter. There are, it must be said, many more tales of this apparition and its numerous forms, bodily and otherwise.
After these horrifying events, not much was seen or heard of the Ridgeway phantom again, apart from sporadic reports of eerie happenings in the area over the years. Some folks suggested the coming of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad scared it away, although others tell tales of a spectral figure riding through the night on the front of a locomotive. Wherever the Ridgeway Ghost has gone, it still has some “friends” in the neighborhood. Mineral Point’s old Walker House is home to a venerable shade and even one of our local eateries is reported to host a poltergeist. None of us at Lands’ End have seen it, but hopefully it’s wearing one of our Supima® bedsheets.
So consider yourself warned: if you’re ever out our way you just might have an unforgettable encounter with a legendary wraith, especially if it’s a bone-chilling winter night when the moon is full and you’re driving a stagecoach!
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