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Halloween review

The Late Post-Halloween Review

The general mood of spooky season for me this year was malaise and ennui. Each year it gets increasingly more difficult to get into the Halloween spirit when I spend the entire year knee deep in ghost stories and monster encounters while surrounded by real skulls and creepy antiques here in Mental Shed HQ.

Still, it wasn’t a total loss.

After years of trying to convince others to host/narrate Youtube content for Cult of Weird and Wisconsin Frights, I decided the only way to get it done was to ruin the mediocre media empire I’ve built over the last 20+ years by becoming the voice and face of my own brands.

One of my favorite pastimes is luring unsuspecting passengers into my car and taking them on strange trips into the wild weird yonder of Wisconsin. I’m surrounded by boundless Wisconsin weirdness, so why not start creating some travel videos in which I virtually whisk my unwitting audience away into the dark corners of history and legend?

I planned to kick off Halloween with a drive into Houdini country (Appleton, Wisconsin, where Erik Weisz lived—and nearly died—as a child) to visit a notorious bleeding grave and other curious historical landmarks. However, I ended up celebrating the beginning of fall in a more traditionally horrific sort of way: Kidney stones.

After a pain-filled, sleepless week of wishing for a quick death, I was feeling a bit better and opted to shoot something closer to home. So I grabbed my kids and took an impromptu drive to one of my favorite local haunts: Glenbeulah Cemetery.

Most haunted place in Wisconsin

We did eventually film the Appleton trip, which included stops at a historic asylum cemetery and the site of a senator’s exorcism. But the brakes went out on my car—while my daughter was driving—and I had to drive two hours home on the dark back roads with no brakes.

So I had the brakes fixed just so I could drive it to a dealership and trade it in out of spite.

When we returned to Appleton later for the mall, I had no idea until afterwards when I was researching Appleton content on Tiktok that we were in the presence of a notorious Bath & Body Works which has become a pilgrimage site for Wisconsinites.

Bring Me the Horizon live

Two weeks later we took a trip to Chicago to see Bring Me the Horizon (with openers Grandson—my son’s favorite—Knocked Loose, and Siiickbrain) and spent the next day being tourists in the Windy City. We visited the Bean, and then my daughter asked if we could go find the Gallagher house from the TV series Shameless. That took us into a curious neighborhood of fascinating architecture and an abandoned, overgrown overpass now being used for farming.

Chicago neighborhood near the Gallagher House from Shameless

Neighborhood near the Gallagher House

The Bean in Chicago

The Bean

Under the Bean

The view directly under the bean, which purportedly makes a lot of people sick

On the way home, we stopped in Kenosha to find the grave of the last man executed in Wisconsin.

The grave of John McCaffary, last man executed in Wisconsin

We also made it out to another nearby location known as Holy Hill, a basilica on a hill overlooking the mysterious Kettle Moraine where miracles have been said to take place since the mid-1850s when a monk sought refuge there after murdering his former lover in a jealous rage.

Miracles at Holy Hill

Visitors leave behind crutches, eyeglasses, and…other things…as a testament to the healing miracles at Holy Hill

It’s also the home of an exact replica of the Shroud of Turin, for some reason.

On the way home home we stopped nearby to visit the annual Holy Hill Skeletons display:

October Accomplishments

What I read

I haven’t had much time to read for pleasure lately, it’s usually just research. BUT I did pick up the new Miss Peregrine book by Ransom Riggs. I spent years reading and reading those books to my kids, but now that they’re too old for bedtime stories, I still can’t resist.

I also enjoyed the new Mrs. Friedly story by Cullen Bunn. I’ve been a fan of his work ever since I discovered Countless Haints—now Harrow County—by chance on his website a few years back (while researching haint blue folklore for Cult of Weird) and Mrs. Friedly has become a Halloween staple for my son and I.

Screenwriter Ian A. Stuart, who wrote The Pit (filmed in Wisconsin) said, “The traditional structure of a horror story isn’t the novel, it’s the short story that begins very realistically, introduces an element of the fantastic, and then has to wrap up relatively quickly. But the wrap-up is in the last phrase, the last sentence, even the last word, where the story really gives you a jolt.”

Cullen’s Mrs. Friedly stories are particularly great at that, but the jolt in this year’s story was so simple and expertly crafted that the true horror of it’s final moments sneek up and give you that jolt a beat or two after you’ve read the last line.

What I watched

Halloween Ends

Halloween Ends

This film didn’t remotely make sense as a sequel to the previous installment. Everything was off. But I didn’t hate it. Felt like a genuine 80s slasher sequel that goes off the rails into WTF territory. Oh, and that opening scene with the kid and the babysitter…holy shit.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

My Best Friend's Exorcism

Grady Hendrix popped up on my radar with the release of Paperbacks From Hell, and he has since become my favorite author whose novels I haven’t even read yet. I include his latest releases on the Fall Reading List each year. So I was excited for the Amazon adaptation of My Best Friend’s Exorcism. It did not disappoint. As someone who was traumatized by Satanic panic as a child (and is still being bombarded almost daily with my mother’s QAnon obsession in recent years) I feel a certain catharsis in the way Hendrix handles the subject matter.

The Midnight Club

The Midnight Club

I love Mike Flanagan’s work (Midnight Mass, holy hell) but I went into this expecting some YA Nickelodeon horror. It was NOT that. Turns out it was an incredible series filled with horror, despair and mystery. At first, I was put off that so much focus was placed on the kids’ fictional stories. One of my biggest pet peeves is watching things that aren’t really happening in the world of the story, like dream sequences, or all those episodes of Star Trek when everything is wrapped up neatly and none of it actually happened or had consequence by the time the credits roll. Real stakes or GTFO. That’s just bad storytelling.

As The Midnight Club unfolded, however, those stories became increasingly more important as they were telling us so much about what the kids had gone through, and what they were feeling in the face of their irreversible death sentences. Brilliant.

Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curiosities

I love short horror stories. They have the freedom to be weird and experimental, and explore absurd ideas in ways that the novel cannot. That love extends to horror anthologies, as it’s essentially the same format but on film. Often, a story is better off short, as drawing it out takes away the bite. That’s probably why the latest season of American Horror Stories is surprisingly watchable compared to most of what came before it.

Naturally, a Guillermo Del Toro-produced anthology series is bound to be great.

What really makes this series stand out to me is that each episode felt literary in that the stories retained that experimental absurdity to some extent. Even the weakest episodes were great for that. No complaints here. With one minor exception, I suppose, in that I was expecting a particular gut punch twist at the end of the final episode, The Murmuring, which admittedly would have ruined the unexpectedly tender, heartfelt ending…but would have been a glorious moment of grim horror.

I have a file where I’ve been jotting down bits of story ideas for the last 10 years, making notes, slowly fleshing them out. I have an entry for murmuration, because I felt an inherent mystery and horror in it, but hadn’t flesh out exactly what it was yet. Now I know.

Ironically, the episodes of Cabinet of Curiosities based on works by H.P. Lovecraft felt the least Lovecraftian of all the stories.

The Munsters

The Munsters film by Rob Zombie

It’s hard to find things to say about this one. I liked the bad makeup and rubber masks. The cinematography and color grading are good, I guess, if you can look past the obnoxious digital noise applied over the top of every scene to give it a faux film look. Didn’t look great on my 65-inch 4K TV.

Wisconsin cemetery covered in snow in early October

Snow in early October

In other news, I also managed to get in approximately one hour of video games in October, which consisted of fumbling through Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Bioshock 2 because it’s been so long since I had time to play them. By the time I remembered the controls and what was going on, I was bored and wandered off to do other things.

I always feel a particular emptiness when Halloween is over, even when I wasn’t really feeling it that season, but then, toward the end of November, the doom and gloom of Wisconsin winter begins to settle in and my head fills with gothic horror. Even when I was young, scrawling (probably terrible) stories across innumerable piles of notebooks, I was always consumed with the urge to write gloomy gothic horror tales of rotting castles and cursed tomes around Thanksgiving when the land turns brown and dead.

Most haunted place in Wisconsin

VIDEO: Most Haunted Place in Wisconsin

My favorite pastime is luring unwitting passengers into my car and taking them on drives into the strange history and bizarre legends of the weird Wisconsin countryside. Unfortunately, I only have a limited number of seats, and trunk space is tight. So instead, I’ve decided to take you with me virtually for a new Wisconsin Frights Youtube series.

When I initially launched Wisconsin Frights years ago, I asked followers what they believed the most haunted place in Wisconsin was. This can be a great way to learn about new places and hear about people’s personal experiences, but if I’m being honest, this question was mostly to stir up some social media engagement. I was expecting to hear a lot about the Summerwind Mansion, Wisconsin’s most notorious haunted house, or the mausoleum in Dartford Cemetery where visitors claim to get pushed by ghosts. Both are well known haunted locations, mostly due to their exposure on paranormal TV shows.

Unexpectedly, many of the responses to my question cited a place I wasn’t even aware of at the time: A small, secluded cemetery in the village of Glenbeulah.

Local legends and oral histories are the true lingering spirits of places like this, and visiting them may be the closest we actually get to experiencing ghosts of the past. So, since Glenbeulah was less than a hour drive, I soon found myself walking among the crumbling gravestones of early Wisconsin pioneers in Walnut Grove Cemetery.

Most notable was the grave of Grace Baumann, an infant who passed away at just five days old in 1943. Visitors had been leaving offerings of toys and teddy bears at her grave. Some had clearly been there for years, and were slowly moldering into the ground.

I have returned to Glenbeulah Cemetery frequently since that first trip, usually at least once a year to snap some photos and see how horrific the toys at Grace’s grave have become in my absence (they never seem to disappoint, by the way). When I finally decided to embark on the perilous journey of creating Wisconsin Frights content for Youtube, this seemed like the obvious first destination – somewhere that many consider to be the most haunted place in Wisconsin.

Watch that video on Youtube right here.

Most haunted place in Wisconsin

Be sure to WATCH, LIKE and SUBSCRIBE for more. Help me pay for gas and get some better gear!

There are a lot of places and people whose stories I hope to have the opportunity to tell. And I’m already editing the next trip, which involves an INSANE ASYLUM, a SENATOR’S EXORCISM, and a BLEEDING GRAVESTONE.

If you know of a place I should check out, tell me about it!

Weird and haunted Wisconsin book

Haunted Wisconsin Book

I was in the crowd when Rob Zombie took the stage at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin on April 5th, 1999 (performing with Korn on the “Rock is Dead” tour) and announced that it was “great to be back in the land of serial killers and cannibals.”

I was 18 years old, and I believe that moment may have been the first time I realized that in Wisconsin, we grew up surrounded by a uniquely high concentration of weird and deranged that has become inextricably entwined with our DNA, and we don’t even realize it’s not normal until it’s far too late to turn back.

To be honest, I was proud of it. Wisconsin, it turned out, was more than just beer, football and the reckless use of the word “ope.”

Sure, we make headlines for things like having 12 of the country’s top 20 drunkest cities. We (well, not me) wear bright yellow foam cheese heads to sporting events. The world gapes in horror at the customary “cannibal sandwich” which often necessitates warnings from health department officials about the dangers of consuming raw meat. We’re known for supper clubs and Old Fashions, not to mention garnering worldwide attention for some of the dumbest headlines north of the Florida border.

But there is a rich layer of folklore, strange history, oddities, curiosities and mystery lurking just beneath the surface, from spiritualism to UFOs to bizarre creatures possibly conjured from the very depths of Hell.

Not to mention, we have no shortage of eccentric weirdos and, until recent years, one of the most brutal and prolific underground metal scenes in the world. (You haven’t lived until you’ve attended a drunken metal show deep in the Wisconsin woods or a field somewhere.)

Wisconsin should should be one of the top travel destinations for curiosity seekers and dark tourists, which is why I started this website about weird and haunted Wisconsin places.

But there are so many bizarre stories to tell, and I have plenty of my own unique research and experience to share that you won’t find in other weird Wisconsin books. So I’ve decided to compile all my work into a new book dripping with all the shock and schlock of the yellowed paperbacks I grew up reading about the Bermuda Triangle, ghost stories, the crystal skull of doom, and innumerable unexplained Fortean mysteries.

In keeping with the style of a small 8-page pamphlet I printed as a handout at the Cult of Weird table for the inaugural Milwaukee Paranormal Conference in 2015, I’m calling it Tales from the Weird Backroads of Wisconsin. And I’ve already designed the cover as an incentive to finish this project no matter what other creative endeavor may distract me:

Haunted Wisconsin book coming soon

The goal is to have this on shelves and in trick-or-treat bags by the Halloween season, but is that realistic? Between running multiple websites, trying to get a few Youtube channels going, writing an album, attempting to write a novel (or at least complete one short story) and doing dad stuff, probably not. I always seem to be the most unreasonably ambitious in July, for some reason. But let’s check back here in October and see, shall we?

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