Vilas Co.'s Haunted Summerwind Mansion

Oct 31, 2018

It's no secret that Wisconsin is full of famously haunted houses.

This week on a Northwoods Moment in History, Gary Entz tells us about Summerwind Mansion in Vilas County.

Summerwind mansion in Vilas County regularly shows up on lists of the most haunted places in Wisconsin.  The ghost stories surrounding Summerwind are only legend and hearsay, and none can be corroborated with independent evidence.  The mansion was real and interesting in its own right, but the tales of disembodied spirits and eerie organ music only add to the fascination of the place.

The building known as Summerwind was first constructed in the early twentieth century as a fishing lodge along the shore of West Bay Lake.  In 1916, Robert Patterson Lamont, an executive with the American Steel Foundries Corporation and future Secretary of Commerce under Herbert Hoover, purchased the building.  The Lamont family renovated and enlarged the mansion to transform it into a family summer vacation home.  The first tale of a haunting comes from the Lamonts, and according to the legend servants working for the family complained of hearing voices.  Then, one night, a ghostly apparition allegedly appeared in the kitchen area, prompting Lamont to fire two shots into the basement door.  Supposedly the Lamont family fled the house after this, never to return.  But none of it is corroborated in Lamont’s own writings.

The mansion stood unused through much of the 1930s and was sold to a family named Keefer in 1941.  The Keefers used it as a vacation home but were never full-time residents.  Mrs. Keefer, according to the stories, was afraid to enter the house and assiduously tried to avoid it.  Multiple attempts were made to sell the mansion, and none succeeded until the 1960s.  No paranormal activities were reported from the 1960s, but the 1970s the ghosts really got active.  Arnold and Ginger Hinshaw, and later Ginger’s father lived in the mansion during this time, and it is from them that most of the alleged strange tales emerge.  The stories of disembodied voices, corpses found hidden behind the walls, cold gusts of wind, and the legend of eighteenth century English explorer Jonathon Carver and his otherworldly land claims over the Northwoods all come from this source.  None can be corroborated.

By the 1980s Summerwind mansion was abandoned, and in 1988 it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  But even then the controversy did not end as some allege that the mansion was deliberately set of fire to stop vandals and kids from entering what was still private property.  Lightning is the official and best explanation.  After all, what ghost wouldn’t want a little brimstone from the heavens to add another layer of mystery to an already famous Northwoods haunted house?

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear. Some sound effects and music for this commentary came from Freesound.

A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.