Milwaukee writer to share the city's spookiest stories at Boswell Books
Anna Lardinois loves ghost stories. And it's not just because she enjoys being terrified by words – although she does – but also because ghost stories provide shadowy portals into the history of a place, among other offerings.
"I love the visceral reaction we get from hearing a ghost story. We instinctively come closer together – we gather – to hear these stories," says Lardinois. "Plus, they're universal."
Last month, Haunted America – a division of History Press – published Lardinois' first book, "Milwaukee Ghosts and Legends." On Wednesday, Sept. 5, the humorous and likable Lardinois will share stories from the 124-page book at Boswell Book Co., 2559 N. Downer Ave. The event, which starts at 7 p.m., is free.
Lardinois is the current Pfister Narrator and a professional walking tour guide who operates the Downtown-based business, Gothic Milwaukee. She holds two master's degrees and worked as an English teacher until she turned 40, at which time she decided to take a new life path.
The majority of the stories in "Milwaukee Ghosts and Legends" are not the same as the tales she tells on her walking tours. "I wanted to keep it fresh and exciting," she says.
The book is divided into sections containing multiple short and compelling excerpts about alleged ghosts, hauntings and tragedies in Milwaukee locations from cemeteries to public spaces to colleges. (Wow, Marquette, you're mysterious!)
Highlights include the story of hidden Haunchyville, a supposed secret community in Muskego that was once inhabited by angry dwarfs; the drowning of a teenager in the coveted pool beneath the Eagles Club that resulted in years of reported unexplainable happenings; and repeated reporting of visions of a lovely little girl at the Villa Terrace.
"Milwaukee Ghosts and Legends" is a breeze – a spine-tingling breeze – to read. It's extremely well crafted, organized into deliciously digestible segments and laden with descriptive yet straight-forward language. Lardinois stocks the stories with so many peculiar historical tidbits that the text is simultaneously scary, fascinating and educational. (Did you know the ashes of the founder of The Skylight Theater are still beneath the stage?)
Lardinois says she first fell in love with ghost stories as a kid, living in what was then rural Pewaukee. She, her sister and two neighbor girls would meet at the end of their dead-end block without street lights and share their creepiest yarns.
"We would be genuinely scared, even though we knew the stories were made up," she says.
Lardinois wrote "Milwaukee Ghosts and Legends" after years of conducting intensive research at the Milwaukee Historical Society and the Central Library where she poured over microfilm for hours and hours.
"Unfortunately I wrote this book when Google had suspended access to the news archives, so microfilm it was!" she says.
Although cities like Savannah, Ga. and New Orleans, La. are the most famous haunted cities, Milwaukee has no shortage of freaky lore.
"Anecdotally, I think this might be because of our long winters," she says. "There's something so wonderful about being confined in your house, curled up in front of a fire and reading a good ghost story."
As for her personal belief in ghosts, Lardinois is open to the possibility.
"I believe that there's more out there than we know. Do I believe every ghost story I've ever heard is true? No. But do I believe there's any harm in believing them? No," she says. "Ghosts are a great way to share the history of a place and a moment in time in a way that's really engaging."
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