After more than three decades since his first book of others’ stories of eerie phenomenon, local author Michael Norman has finally had his own unexplained experience. Ask him about it tonight at 7 p.m. at in Hudson when he reads from the newest edition of "Haunted Wisconsin," published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
“A couple of years ago I was performing in ‘Love Letters’ at UW-River Falls and something I can’t explained happened,” says Norman, who is a retired UWRF journalism professor and a trustee on the board of the Indianhead Federated Library System.
Norman and Sandee Blakeley, a local actress and retired Baldwin teacher, were costars in the minimalist but emotional A.R. Gurney play in which the actor and actress sit across the table from each other and read their lifetime of letters.
“We were in the second night of a three-performance run, when at one point during Sandee’s dialogue I heard what sounded like someone running their fingers over the strings of a ukelele,” remembers Norman. “I had seen the ukelele backstage as there was a table full of props for another production.”
Norman was a tad spooked because he knew no one had access to the backstage as it was locked. Due to the minimal stage and technical arrangement, the stage manager was holed up with the technical director in the light booth, and had locked the backstage doors to prevent unwanted, accidental access during the performance.
After the show Norman asked his costar and the other staff if they’d heard the same sound. They had, and were as puzzled as Norman.
Then yet another University professor had an unexplained sighting of a man in the theater; it’s speculated that Sanford Syse, a theater professor who died young, is the specter.
The newest edition of the book originally published in 1980 includes many more hair-raising tales from around the state.
“It’s my first book, the longest seller, and probably my best seller,” says Norman, whose other books include "The Nearly Departed" (Minnesota Historical Society Press 2009), "Haunted Homeland," "Haunted Heartland," "Haunted America," "Haunted Historic America," "Haunted Heritage," among others.
“After 31 years I think it is amazing that it’s still in print. It has a wide appeal, including teen readers, as kids just love ghost stories.”
In "Haunted Wisconsin," Norman chronicles both historical accounts and interviews contemporary sources who’ve experienced the eerie, including several from St. Croix Valley area.
New and updated stories include at the UW-River Falls theater and the former Ames School, the Lynch Affair in Cady Township, and the Coulee Road ghost in Hudson. “Hudson historian Willis Miller put me on the trail to the Coulee Road ghost,” Norman said.
Other local tales include a frightening accounting from a police officer on call to the Parker House on Maple Street in River Falls and a “phantom congregation” in Amery.
A former radio announcer, Norman just happens to have a baritone voice that’s the perfect cadence to recite unsolved mysteries, eerie happenings and strange events, and tonight’s reading and book signing is perfect way to start off a Halloween weekend. You might just want to keep the lights on, however, when you get home.