Thursday, July 15, 2021

Ep. 393 - Old Baraboo Inn

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Moment in Oddity - Chand Baori Stepwell (Suggested by: Jenny Lynn Raines)

Stepwells are a type of well or pond found in countries like Pakistan or India. They have served a utilitarian purpose for hundreds of years. The first rock-cut stepwells in India date back to 200 AD. Many of these stepwells are many storied and go down several feet into the ground. That's why they are called stepwells, because steps are used to get down to where the water is held. These became places for not only getting water during times of drought, but social gatherings and religious ceremonies were held at these wells also. Some wells had particular goddesses connected to them and gifts or prayers would be offered. The most amazing stepwell is called Chand Baori and it is found in the Indian state of Rajasthan. This is dated to the 8th or 9th century. There is a temple that is part of the complex, along with sculptures and carvings. This stepwell has 3500 very narrow steps that look quite dangerous, leading down thirteen stories. That makes this one of the largest and deepest stepwells in India. This is an amazing man-made structure, but having to take such a treacherous journey to get down to water, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Yul Brynner Born

In the month of July, on the 11th, in 1920, actor and director Yul Brynner was born. He was best known for his role as King Mongkut in the Rodgers and Hammerstein play "The King and I." The story follows the memoirs of Indian born British writer Anna Leonowens who was hired as the governess for the children of the King of Siam. This life-changing role for Brynner almost didn't happen because acting wasn't going well for him and he had decided to go into directing, but once he read the script for the play, he was fascinated by the King. He would go on to play that role 4,625 times on the stage. Those stages included London, touring productions and, of course, Broadway which had two revivals after the original production. He reprised the role in a film version in 1956 for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Brynner also won two Tony Awards for the role, making him only one of ten people to have won a Tony and Oscar for the same role. For the role, he shaved his head and since he was Russian born, it gave him an exotic look. Many men copied it, which was a thing at the time because bald heads weren't "in." They called it the "Yul Brynner look." The actor went on to play the role of Ramesses II in "The Ten Commandments" film and a Russian general in "Anastasia." Brynner was a philanderer who was married four times and had numerous affairs throughout his life, one long-term one with Marlene Dietrich. Yul Brynner died of lung cancer on October 10, 1985 at the age of 65. He had given his final performance of the King just a couple months before.

Old Baraboo Inn (Suggested by: Brad Brancel) 

The Old Baraboo Inn is located at 135 Walnut Street in Baraboo, Wisconsin. This location has housed a brothel, a brewery, a boarding house, a speakeasy, saloons, bars and restaurants over nearly 157 years of existence. The building has suffered fires on more than one occasion. There have been deaths here, some because of murder. The historic building has a wild history that has now led to even wilder stories of hauntings. There may be as many as thirty spirits calling this place home in the afterlife. Join us as we explore the history and haunts of the Old Baraboo Inn!

We've visited Baraboo in an episode before because this is one of the homes of the circus. Several circuses got their start here. This would also become the launching place of syndicated newspaper stories and such. Ansel H. Kellogg was editor of the Baraboo Republic and since he was working with minimal staff due to the Civil War, he ordered two pages of printed war news from a Madison newspaper every week and then he would print local Baraboo news on the blank sides in his shop. Pretty soon, other newspapers were running with the idea and now every newspaper in the nation subscribes to articles this way. The technical term for these sources is boilerplates. The Kickapoo and Ho-Chunk tribes were some of the first in the region and the Ho-Chunk still maintain a strong presence here. Evidence of an early group known as Effigy Mound Builders can still be seen in Baraboo. One of the many mounds they built still exists and is known as Man Mound. Because so many of these ceremonial mounds, and possibly burial mounds, have been disturbed and destroyed, it is thought that the area carries paranormal energy that might not be very positive.

Since this was near a river, settlers eventually made their way here. Abe Wood established the settlement in 1838. By 1866 it was an official village and grew big enough to become the county seat of Sauk County. In 1882, Baraboo was incorporated. The city had originally been called Adams, but changed to Baraboo since that was the name of the river. As to the origin of that name, it's hard to know. Some say it is a derivative of the French term for catfish while others maintain its a French surname. It would be here that George and Anna Bender would emigrate from Germany in 1848 and have nine children.

George Bender was a brewer and he brought his knowledge of German lagers with him. Lagers are light and malty and cold-brewed. He and Anna opened the first saloon in Baraboo in 1859 and called it Bender's Saloon. They moved to the South Bridge Street location a few years later, probably in 1864 since a sign on the Baraboo Inn says that it was established in 1864. The Benders built the Miller-Bender Brewery in 1868. George died in 1874 and his son Robert stepped up to help with the brewery operations. Anna decided to turn one of their properties into a boarding house. She opened this on the second level of the saloon in 1876 and called it the Bender Boarding House. Another brewer named Effinger helped with brewery operations and these thrived until the building burned down in 1884. The Benders would no longer brew lager, but they kept the boarding house going, which was thriving as a new train depot started bringing more people to Baraboo.

Anna died sometime around 1890. We searched for a death year, but couldn't find one. She did die at the Bender House and another son named Frank took over the operating of the boarding house and saloon. Frank died in 1904 and a man named August Reineke bought the saloon and renamed it for himself. Legends claim that a brothel was on the upper floor, but we couldn't find when this would be, so perhaps it was at this time. Baraboo was ahead of the curve when it came Prohibition and went completely dry in 1917, forcing Reineke out of business. He offered to sell back the saloon two of the Bender brothers and they reopened as a restaurant. This was a brewery family, so we can imagine that all that went on here was a restaurant. Certainly no speakeasy, no sir! A raid in 1929 would back up our suspicions as the police padlocked the doors afterwards. There is a portion of the place today called the Gangsters' Back Bar where Al Capone would reputedly hang out with his buddies, which lends credence to the speakeasy rumors as well. That raid would be it for the Bender family. They sold the property in the 1930s. 

In 1939, Pierce's Cafe was opened in the location and the history is murky after that with a series of restaurants and bars calling the space home. It was the Strikeout Club when John and Rose Dombroski bought the building in 1962 and they ran it as a bar and store. They changed the name to Old Baraboo Inn in 1964. John died in the front bar area in 1979 when a bowling ball came flying through a front window and scared him so bad, he had a heart attack. So two owners of the property have died on the premises, George Bender and John Dombroski. John and Rose's son, Jack, bought the business at that point and opened Bombo's Pub. Things were good for several years, but eventually a fire burned the building fairly badly and Jack had to help his patrons escape. The last person out of the building would become the eventual new owner, BC Farr. The bar and restaurant sat vacant for 14 years before reopening in 2002 under the ownership of B.C Farr. Farr bought the property in 1998 and spent years and thousands of dollars renovating it. He is still the owner today and he embraces the ghosts at his establishment. 

There are four parts of the bar that are haunted. There are the upstairs apartments, the front bar, the back bar and the basement. It's important to note that much of what is known about the spirits here and even the history, comes from psychics and mediums. As is the case with many haunted locations, the first unexplained happenings started as renovations began. Workers claimed to see shadows moving in rooms out of the corner of their eyes. Music started to be heard and there was nothing that could play it other than radios and this was not radio music. It sounded live. As did the clinking of glasses. There was disembodied laughing and talking too. The crew would turn all the lights off at night before leaving and when they returned in the morning, they would find the lights on.

The new owner Farr witnessed many things. A Wisconsin State Journal article by Doug Erickson from July 2005 featured many of his experiences. He said, "I don't really care what people think, I know what I've seen." He claims to have seen a broom float across the kitchen, seen dishes fly off racks by themselves and his tools would go missing or get moved around while he was renovating. When it comes to the walk-in refrigerator he says, "If (the ghost) doesn't like you, it will shut the door on you and turn the light off."Many times he would hear someone call out his name and when he would answer, there would be no response. If he went to investigate who had called his name, he would find no one else in the building. At first, he was really annoyed thinking someone was playing tricks on him. He would tape the windows and doors shut to see if someone was sneaking inside. He never found anyone and finally had to admit that the place was haunted. Farr feared that patrons wouldn't come to his bar if it was haunted, so he kept quiet about the unexplained things that were happening.

After opening, many of the employees claimed to have paranormal experiences and the cat was out of the bag as they say. Waitress Peggy Tobias claimed to see a full-bodied apparition behind the bar. This is a spirit that everyone thinks is Mary. The story is that Mary once worked in the brothel upstairs and bled to death in the building in the early 1900s. A customer named Char Lotte has seen Mary's ghost on the dance floor. She seems to really like a certain song that plays on the jukebox by Stevie Ray Vaughan called "The House is Rockin'." It is thought that two other women who worked in the brothel also died here. So we have at least three former brothel workers and two owners who have died here. But there could be as many as thirty ghosts as Farr claims.

There are two apartments upstairs. The first tenants in one of the apartments complained to Farr about hearing the loud sound of a piano playing honky tonk music and loud laughter. This was before the bar had opened. A man named Johnny Flores had rented one of the upstairs apartments and he told Erickson that he fled the apartment because he couldn't take this ghostly female voice calling his name in the middle of the night anymore. A female tenant named Brooke Schonenberger claims to have been pestered by a dribble of water that comes down from a kitchen cabinet where nothing is stored. One resident was really startled when a light fixture came crashing down onto a bed from the ceiling.

Food Network, clearly not known for their specialization in hauntings, has declared this location one of the top ten haunted places in America. Other spirits that have been seen here include a cowboy named Jed, an elderly woman, an elderly man, a saloon dancer and a ghost cat. And Al Capone has been seen and caught on EVP, according to some investigators. And then there is Cybil, the Lady in White, that has been seen here. Scents like roses, cigars and old lady perfume have been detected through the years. The bar stools seem to have minds of their own. They spin around and sometimes tip to the side as if asking patrons to hop aboard. Do they charge for rides here? There is a spirit who has been nicknamed "The Whistler." He whistles, of course, and it is usually a happy tune. Of course, the female restroom here is haunted. Former owner Rose Dombroski has been detected by mediums who investigate the restroom. Women who visit the restroom claim to smell her old-fashioned rose perfume. The cowboy Jed is sometimes seen in the restroom too. Mediums claim he died from a fall on the stairs.

And probably the strangest spirits here belong to a boy and a dog. One would not expect to find children spirits in a bar. Apparently, some patrons bring their children along who play in the back bar area. Occasionally they claim to have been playing with other children, even though nobody else has brought children with them. It's assumed they were playing with children ghosts. A little boy ghost and a dog have been captured in pictures. Kelly knows this sensation well from her experiences at the McPike Mansion, patrons claim to feel as though children are climbing up on their laps at the bar.

The Travel Channel Series "Hometown Horrors" featured Baraboo, Wisconsin in one of their episodes and the Old Baraboo Inn was included on that episode. Brenda Block is a resident who appeared on the show and she claimed to have felt something she couldn't see, touch her hair one day as she sat at the bar. When she turned to look behind her, she saw no one. BC Farr appeared on this show and explained that many people were killed in the basement and that there was even an execution pole down there. He also claimed that early gunfights at the saloon took some lives and bullet holes in a couple of walls seem to indicate that this is true. The basement is said to be full of dark energy. In 2016, Dennis Catencamp went down to investigate the basement and got the scare of his life. His flashlight stopped working and he felt like something was crushing his entire body. He ran terrified from the basement. During the episode, a group that included BC, BC's sister, Dennis, Brenda and a psychic went down to explore and, of course, they all felt weird and such, but there was no evidence collected. 

BC Farr also made an appearance on Fright Club with Jack Osbourne and The Ghost Brothers. They were interviewing him about a video that was made there during an investigation. The video featured SLS footage that looked like a couple of spirits get amorous in the former brothel area. While Farr was talking about this, a distinctive shadow is seen behind him. Jack immediately got excited and everybody asked Farr to flip the camera around so that they could see who was in the bar with Farr. There was no one there and on top of that, there was no light source or a window to the outside where the shadow of a human could be made and projected. Then a couple minutes later, a weird shimmering light anomaly appeared over the top of Farr that again, could not be explained. Everybody was real excited and Farr was befuddled as to what happened because he, of course, couldn't see any of this. He just heard the guys all going crazy.  

Poor delivery drivers and salesmen for different products have experienced some weird things. Many of whom have changed their routes to avoid the inn. The Budweiser guy witnessed the apparition of an elderly woman in the front bar and some people think that this is Anna Bender. The man said she was standing in the doorway and glaring at him. He said she was wearing a dress straight out of "Little House on the Prairie." He never returned. Delivery people from Sysco have also been spooked by unexpected encounters. These took place in the kitchen and front bar area and on one instance the kitchen doors were witnessed swinging open and closed on their own.

Many paranormal investigation groups have visited and collected evidence. There have been videos of shadows and orbs and many EVP have been recorded. Creepshow Paranormal has investigated here a couple of times. Rocks have been thrown at them and they've seen shadow figures. Paranormal MD, Mary Marshall said, "I've been investigating in the paranormal field for 18 years. I consider my paranormal experiences at the Old Baraboo Inn some of the most profound and exceptional ever. This property is definitely in my top two favorite haunted locations to visit. In addition, the staff is another top reason for continuing to return to Old Baraboo Inn!"

Melinda Hollis had participated in a ghost hunt here and she told author Amelia Cotter in her book "Where the Party Never Ended: Ghosts of the Old Baraboo Inn, "I visited the Old Baraboo Inn and participated in a ghost hunt. Within the first 30 minutes, I captured what I think was a ghost or spirit on video. Within minutes of capturing the ghost, I suddenly felt hot, my face felt flush and turned red, even my ears felt hot! I became dizzy and had to sit down. I was brought a glass of water and it soon passed. I was told I was possibly hugged by a ghost. The experience was amazing!" Farr also shared many stories with Cotter and one of particular interest seems to be connected to the circus. He told her, "I looked over and there was a guy standing there, a full-body apparition with a blank, death-stare face. He was wearing what looked like a circus shirt. It had blousy sleeves and orange stripes with ruffles. I remember just looking at this guy, and he just looked back at me. Then he slowly disappeared. I pictures him as a juggler or riding a unicycle. He was a fairly stocky guy. Maybe he was attracted to the smell of the prime rib I was preparing. I could tell he liked it."

Cotter also describes a terrifying incident that Farr had with a group of ghost hunters up in the old brothel, "We were hearing babies crying and I was walking down the hall. We had one flashlight on. I had a weird feeling all of a sudden and when I turned around, I looked up and there was a freaking orb - closed to basketball size - just hovering near the ceiling. It started coming at me, and then it stopped. I said, 'I see you. I'm not afraid of you. What's going on? Come talk and try to communicate with us, come on. I know you hear me, come on.' It started growing immensely, like a great big white mist, and then it turned into a black-bodied form, kind of like a bear. I said, 'I'm not afraid of you, come on. Come on.' And it stopped like ten feet away from me, and all these people were just completely freaked out. I stood there looking at it for what felt like a couple of minutes and then it just slowly faded backwards, straight back into the wall. My heart was pounding and the people in the group were like 'Let's get the hell out of here now.' And it felt like something wanted us gone, but like it was just kind of shooing us away. It was just huge and so dark, darker than the darkness around it, and had a kind of a glow, like a shadow figure, but it was a real monster - just huge and black. And you could see through it. We weren't sure if it was Ma Bender up there with us or not. It could have been her though, and could have been Rosie Dombroski, too."

Many photos you can find online feature people posing in front of a sign that reads, "I got ghost bombed at the Old Baraboo Inn." This references a drink one can order at the bar and also the fact that many people entering have some sort of weird experience whether it is a strange feeling or an actual interaction with a ghost. This location sounds like a fun place to get ghost bombed. Is the Old Baraboo Inn Haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:

Amelia Cotter's book "Where the Party Never Ended: Ghosts of the Old Baraboo Inn"

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