If You Dare
by Mark Crawford
Bayfield is so small it doesn’t even have a stoplight—but it’s full of ghosts.
The town is well known as the gateway to Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands, and as a vacation destination in its own right. But not many people know its colorful history. Virginia Hirsch, a storyteller and amateur historian, is out to change all that.
Hirsch’s popular Bayfield Ghost and History Walks start at twilight on the steps of the Bayfield Carnegie Library, and last about 80 minutes. Each group follows her along Bayfield’s shadowy streets, holding candle-lit lanterns and listening to her spooky tales.
Dressed in period costume, Hirsch portrays the unfortunate Mrs. Emmons, a true-life resident of Bayfield who destroyed her own restaurant with an ax and left town, never to be heard from again. “Mrs. Emmons” recounts the stories of Big Harry, a local sasquatch-type beast spotted around Chequamegon Bay, and the Wendigo, a fearsome ice monster from Native American lore that lures people by calling their names in a friendly voice before attacking them. “If you hear your name, you are destined to die,” she warns.
One popular stop is the home of Theodore Ernst. In the unlit window of a prominent tower, people often see some sort of apparition—to some it’s a lady in white, to others an indistinct light. Hirsch herself has seen a cloudiness or murkiness in the window that seems to drift. Added to this mystery is the fact that the tower is not accessible from the inside of the home.
Then there’s the story of William Knight, a respectable, wealthy lumberman and banker. “He’s a friendly ghost who still appears in the house he built,” says Hirsch. “Many have reported seeing him wearing old-fashioned clothing. Sometimes he’s transparent. Other visitors just get a strong feeling that he is with them in the room.”
Toward the end of the tour Mrs. Emmons points out a home on a hill at the end of the block. “The owner, an old woman, died in the home,” she reports. “The house was sold to a younger couple with children. The spirit of the woman hated how the couple was redecorating her house. She didn’t like the artwork on the walls and pulled out the nails. She stomped around at night and even rearranged the decor so that it was different in the morning.”
Other stories include the floods of 1942, which washed out coffins, spilling out bodies and bones; the doomed crew of the schooner Lucerne; and Old Man Wilson and his hoard of lost gold.
Hirsch got the idea for her ghost walks in 2002, when she and her family took a historic “ghost tour” in Plymouth, Mass. “We had a great time and I thought it would be a fun thing to do in Bayfield,” she says.
More than 50 structures in this tiny town are on the National Historic Register. Hirsch gleaned stories from old newspapers about supernatural events and interviewed many older citizens. “Bayfield has a real treasure trove of ghost stories and supernatural events,” she says.
Her ghost walks have become such a hit that they won a GEMmy Award from the Midwest Travel Writers Association in 2005. And no wonder: Her background in theater makes for a tour even five-year-olds can enjoy.
Headed to Bayfield? Check out our 48-hour bucket list itinerary!