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Friday, January 28, 2022

Witches of Whitewater: Fact or Fiction?

For a quaint college town, Whitewater has a spooky past.

Its urban legends, chock-full of witches, spirits and mysterious happenings, may stem from stories surrounding the Morris Pratt Institute.

Founded more than a century ago, the spiritualist college held séances in the upper story of the building. Although they focused primarily on the study of spiritualism, the school also taught traditional subjects.

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The townspeople, who referred to Pratt's facility as the ""spook temple"" did not appreciate the Institute's presence in downtown Whitewater, according to Weird Wisconsin, a travel guide focusing on local lore.

Even before the Institute, however, stories of witchcraft and a sacrificial altar, which allegedly lies near UW-Whitewater dorm Wells Hall, earned the town the nickname of the ""second salem.""

UW-Whitewater's supposed connection to the urban legends extends beyond  spooks in the backyard.  Rumor has it the university's library holds a magical book dating back to the Pratt Institute.

However, UW-Whitewater archives assistant Deronica Goldsmith, said the rumors   are unfounded.

""The book that is in the legend does not exist, but we do have a book that is lockable,"" she said. ""It's an old Catholic songs and hymns book, and usually when people come to the archives and ask for the locked book that's usually what we show them.""

Although the legends extend to the 19th century, cult activity has been witnessed as recently as 1992.

According to The Royal Purple, UW-Whiewater's student newspaper, three students renting a house by Whitewater Lake witnessed a late-night ritual on the beach where they were staying.  The students said they watched the ritual until it appeared that an object was coming out of the lake, at which point they ""ran like hell"" back to the house.

Although many stories have surfaced over the years, Wayne Hackler, founder of the Madison Institute Into the Paranormal, said there is no verifiable evidence of paranormal activity in the town.

""The stories sound good,"" he said. ""They definitely have a certain creepiness factor and there may actually be some phenomena that people actually do experience and attribute to paranormal forces.""

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