In October 1881, it rained cobwebs in Milwaukee.
For pure ickyness, that has to rank high, but Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin have seen plenty of other spooky phenomena. What better time than Halloween to share alleged area encounters with werewolves, Bigfoot, lake monsters, UFOs and the like?
Strange things have been known to rain from the skies for centuries, often in association with nearby tornadoes or waterspouts, which can sweep up objects and carry them for miles. Those objects include frogs, fish and, in eastern Wisconsin in 1881, cobwebs. They fell on Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Green Bay, and were so thick “as to annoy the eye,” according to Scientific American magazine at the time. Strangely, no spiders were found among the webs. A similar cobweb shower occurred in Montreal in 1962.
The sky has held mysteries since ancient times, and it’s only since 1947 that some have been termed “flying saucers.” On the night of April 11, 1897, Milwaukee police officer Harry Moore and several others spotted what was then called a “mystery airship.” This was well before the first practical airplanes, dirigibles or blimps were in operation.
It was “about as big as four ordinary stars,” Moore told The Milwaukee Sentinel. It gave off red, green and white light, “and besides this, it bobbed up and down” before departing southward, he said. Whatever it was, it was seen in Appleton the next evening.
The city’s most recent UFO sighting was around 8:40 p.m. on June 16 of this year. According to the National UFO Reporting Center, a strange diamond-shaped object with fiery exhaust was allegedly seen. “As the flame went from a full flame to just a red glow, I noticed that the object was slowly losing altitude and drifting slowly southeast, toward Lake Michigan,” reported the witness, who claimed to have taped the encounter. With its blunted corners, “it looked almost like a giant church bell with a flame at the bottom.”
Mysteries also are found in the water. As the 19th century turned to the 20th, “a ferocious looking beast” was sighted in the Milwaukee River. Viewed from the Michigan Street Bridge, it was described as a grayish-green serpent, heading downstream. It was also spotted by commercial fishermen in the city’s bay. Decades earlier, in 1867, a similar creature was spotted by boat crews on Lake Michigan, just off Evanston.
Wisconsin also has stories of strange two-legged visitors. There are many reports of Bigfoot, for example. Native Americans have several legends about what they called Wisconsin’s “Windigo.” One of the best modern sightings came in July 1964, when Dennis Fewless saw “a big hairy thing” near Delavan.
He was driving late at night when he spotted the creature, which he estimated was 7 or 8 feet tall and weighed 400–500 pounds. It ran across the road on two legs and jumped a barbed wire fence.
“I was awful scared that night,” Fewless later said. “That was no man. It was all hairy from feet to head.” He returned the next day to look for footprints, but didn’t find any. He did, however, see where the creature had passed into a cornfield.
“You know what deer look like, or skunk or bear,” he said. “This didn’t look anything like that at all. As far as I’m concerned it was real, and no one can tell me it wasn’t.”
Others in Walworth County have allegedly seen what they describe as a werewolf. The man-like canine is nicknamed “The Beast of Bray Road” – referring to its most common haunt. Author and journalist Linda Godfrey has collected many reports about the creature.
Robert Bushman and his wife saw it on Nov. 30, 1991, while driving between Elkhorn and Delavan. It was a sunny day, and at first they thought they’d seen a deer. Then they thought it must be a wolf, but it was much too large for that. It “had a terribly unkempt look to its fur — wild not normal,” they later said. “It was black, scraggly looking, (and) like no animal.”
Cherilynn Smage also claimed to have seen the beast that autumn, near Bray Road. She was driving in the tractor lane of a cornfield, taking dinner to her husband. “It was staring at me, on all fours,” she said. Its back was higher than the hood of her Ford Escort, and it fled to the woods.
Sometimes, however, the Beast of Bray Road is aggressive. It reportedly chased two Elkhorn women, Lori Endrizzi and Doris Gipson, who were driving on Bray Road in early 1992. They said the creature jumped onto their car’s trunk and left “deep claw marks.”
Another jumping creature, less frightening but just as puzzling, haunted Waukesha, Pewaukee and Menomonee Falls in the spring of 1978. The area experienced a wave of kangaroo sightings.
The kangaroo was seen at least seven times. Jill and Peter Haeselich saw it from their Pewaukee dining room at 6:15 p.m. on April 12. “It was going pretty quick,” Jill later told a reporter. “It was hopping. We knew it had to be a kangaroo.” A similar wave of kangaroo sightings bedeviled the Dodgeville area, in southwestern Wisconsin, in 2005.
All such stories, and those of more classical ghouls and ghosts, are fun to share at this time of year, if only as modern folklore. Still, if you’re the sort that needs absolute proof, visit the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison.
That Dodgeville kangaroo? It was finally captured. You can see it at the zoo anytime.
Jay Rath is the author of “The W-Files: True Reports of Wisconsin’s Unexplained Phenomena,” which is out of print. He’s working on an updated e-book edition.