Around Halloween, minds turn to ghost stories, hauntings, the unusual and unexplainable. From various books and websites, it’s known that Ripon has its share of supernatural occurrences which can only be expected in a community founded in the 1840s.
In 2014, Ripon College was named as the No. 2 most haunted college in the Midwest.
Bev Christ, Ripon College class of 1996, wrote her senior seminar paper on ghost lore at Ripon College, which was founded in 1851. Christ started her paper by saying, “According to the stories, virtually every building on campus has been the site of a supernatural experience at one time or the other.”
The best known of these stories is recorded on page 244 of Robert Ashley and George Miller’s book, “Ripon College, A History,” which was published in 1990.
The book describes the speech and drama department when it moved from Grace Lutheran Church to Benstead Theater. Grace Lutheran Church was located next to the present day First Congregational Church of Ripon at 220 Ransom St. A new church was built in 1960 on Griswold Street
The college used the church after the Red Barn Theater burned in the mid-1960s until the Rodman Center for the Arts was built in 1971.
The book said that, “Unfortunately, the later razing of church building dispossessed Raphael the Ghost, who had turned lights on and off, locked students out in the cold, and rung bells in the nearby Congregational Church.”
It went on to say that, “In revenge for his displacement, he allegedly caused the roofing problems at Rodman Center.”
The book also added, “He is also said to have played the role of the invisible rabbit in the story and movie Harvey.”
Christ noted in her paper, “this postscript seems to imply that the stories are not to be taken seriously. Nonetheless, the legend played an important enough role in college lore to be included in the official history of Ripon College, and people still talk about Raphael.”
Raphael also was mentioned in “Haunted Heritage,” by Michael Norman and Beth Scott. This book, printed in 2002, noted that Raphael now has moved to what is the current home of the theater department, Rodman Center of the Arts.
The Rodman Center is located at 300 West Seward St. off South Union Street.
The Ripon College campus also was also the site of the original cemetery in Ripon.
The cemetery was located on the hill along Ransom Street with the first burial in 1849.
It is believed that the Ripon Cemetery Association was organized as early as 1952, but the deed of the present Hillside Cemetery was not obtained until March 9, 1854.
Full records of Hillside Cemetery started to be kept in 1863. Ripon College was founded in 1851 and one Commonwealth Press article account stated that “most of the burials on the college hill were removed to Hillside Cemetery.”
This leaves people to wonder why the word “most” was used instead of “all.” Hillside Cemetery now borders the college on the northwestern edge of the upper campus. Although undocumented, does this mean some bodies may have been overlooked or left behind when others were removed and placed in the Hillside Cemetery?
The 2007 book, “Strange Wisconsin,” by Linda Godfrey mentioned Ripon’s Campus Theater on page 127. The Campus Theatre, located at 103 Watson St., started out in 1935 as the first movie theater of what became Marcus Corp. which now has more than 700 movie theaters.
“Strange Wisconsin” interviewed a theatre employee who stated, “I was there alone one night. When I had to go into the basement for something, I was down there when I heard someone stomping across the floor upstairs, back and forth. I ran up and no one was there, and the doors were all locked.”
The Campus Theatre began as A.W. Pettibone’s dry goods store in 1872 and became a department store at the turn of the century.
The Ripon Historical Society claims its own unusual happenings over the last few years.
In the fall of 2019, an exhibit was put up to honor the 150th-anniversary of the Ripon Area Fire District (RAFD). Strange things started happening after a memorial was put up to honor the first and only fireman killed in the line of duty, William “Willie” Harris (1865-1930.)
Harris died two days after sustaining burns from an explosion while fighting a fire on May 24, 1930 at the Wadhams Bulk Plant on Fenton Street.
A volunteer firefighter for 34 years, Harris had long been forgotten by his modern counterparts. A few days after the memorial went on exhibit, someone became stuck in the historical society’s elevator and the RAFD had to come to the rescue with an elevator key to free them. Then, the society fire alarms started activating at all hours in various places around the museum building. Added to this was the continual beeping of a door alarm and a few other odd occurrences. The activity quieted once the fire department personnel and their families attended the museum to view the exhibit.
Over the past summer, three Ripon College interns spent hours working in the society’s170-plus-year-old Pedrick-Lawson House, using only daylight from the windows.
Intern Bailey Zanck, now a senior studying art history and museum studies, spoke about her experience there.
“We spent a lot of time displaying artifacts in dimly lit rooms,” she said. “The house is old and lacks overhead lighting, so sometimes some of us felt unsettled and nervous. I thought I heard footsteps coming from one of the rooms when no one was there.”
The interns are not the only volunteers that feel a bit odd while in the building.
Recently, a historical society volunteer, Sarah, put a historic gown from the late 1890s on display in the society’s museum. A few days later, a woman also named Sarah, who is a great-niece of the Victorian gown’s original owner, randomly showed up with three photographs showing her modeling the same dress when she was in middle school.
It’s up to the reader to decide if this was a coincidence or some type of cosmic energy.
The Ripon Historical Society is the oldest continually operating historical society in Wisconsin. It is open Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information follow us at Facebook/riponhistory or www.riponhistory.org.