COOK - There might be more to that ‘bump in the night’ you heard in the woods last summer. You may have had a chance encounter with Big Foot, or even the legendary Wendigo of the Great Lakes, or …
COOK - There might be more to that ‘bump in the night’ you heard in the woods last summer. You may have had a chance encounter with Big Foot, or even the legendary Wendigo of the Great Lakes, or it could have been just the wind playing tricks on your senses. Chad Lewis wants to help you figure out what the answer is.
For the past several weeks, Lewis, a Wisconsin-based paranormal researcher, has been traveling to every branch of the Arrowhead Library system doing just that, educating people on the paranormal legends of Lake Superior and the surrounding area.
“Somedays I have a theory, somedays I get set back to square one,” Lewis said. “I think these things are happening to people. Most people are logical, rational people. They’ve just seen something weird happen.”
The author of more than a dozen books, Lewis became interested in the paranormal while growing up in Eau Claire. He said the nearby small town of Elmwood has long been considered one of the UFO capitals of the world, and he wanted to know more.
His childhood interest would grow into a passion, with Lewis attending college and graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
“I studied psychology to find out why people see and believe weird stuff,” Lewis said. “People in the audiences at research symposiums would come to me and ask for help.”
Upon graduation, with a book already under his belt, Lewis struck out to find stories around the world from people who have seen or experienced strange things, but he wouldn’t describe himself as a ghost hunter. He saves that title for pop culture icons on television.
“I see myself more as a folklorist, or paranormal adventurer,” he said. “When someone tells me they saw a ghost, it’s hard to prove or disprove it.”
A large part of his work revolves around uncovering the histories behind certain legends and how they came to be part of the regional culture.
“As humans we want to know answers,” he said. “A lot of young people are into these things. They use them as dares to prove a rite of passage. Others want a sense of uniqueness. In a lot of cities everything can look the same. But a lot of towns want to celebrate their strange legends because it’s something unique whether it is true or not.”
In northeastern Minnesota, one of the most popular folklore tales is taken from Native American legend in the form of the Wendigo.
“It has worked its way over hundreds of years into northern Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Lewis said. “It’s a creature that infects people, who then turn into cannibals. There are stories of tribe members who killed others when they thought they were infected. Early settlers tried natives for murder because they didn’t understand the culture.”
Lewis said he’s interviewed people who were warned to run home if they heard “The Wendigo Woman” banging on her boiling pot in the woods.
For some of the elderly folks, he said, the stories of their childhood still resonate even in old age.
“For years when I was collecting these stories, people didn’t want it known because they thought others would think they are crazy,” Lewis said. “Now people come forward and they are surprised to know how many others have had the same experience.”
While he didn’t have any specific stories, Lewis said the abandoned mines of the Range could have plenty of their own stories to tell.
“Abandoned structures tend to have stories associated,” he said. “Some speculate that minerals or rocks can act as a booster for these phenomenon.”
At the end of the day, however, Lewis said it’s not always about whether the stories are true or not, but about how they have impacted local cultures.
The core of his mission, he said, is not to debunk or prove whether something is real, but to create a record for future researchers who want a glimpse into what a legend may have looked like in the past.
“I have no idea if I am going to solve these questions,” he said. “What I am hoping is that when I’m gone, somebody can grab my book or research and see the stories that *have been going on. I am under no belief that I am going to solve these things.”
While Lewis’ tour of the local library system is over as of press time, all of his research is available for purchase at his website, https://www.chadlewisresearch.com/.