The two researchers didn’t hear anything unusual when they visited Port Washington’s Union Cemetery on a recent sunny afternoon, but when they played the digital recorder at home, both heard what they believe are voices.
“My spine tingles when I think about it,” said Susan Scot Fry, owner of Caper Company Tours of Milwaukee, as she walked between moss-covered tombstones and grave markers dating as far back as the mid-1800s.
She hesitated when asked to pose for photos near the old Toledo anchor, which serves as a memorial to the 42 people who died when the ship sank in 1856 off Port Washington. Fry said she felt clammy and uncomfortable near the anchor and was relieved to leave the spot where a few days earlier she had recorded a loud voice.
She believes the voice was saying, “Take hold.”
“There is a theory that in tragic events, souls will sometimes attach themselves to an object, and this is the original anchor,” Fry said. “The
recordings sound like someone or something in the cemetery is attempting to communicate.”
Such recordings are called electronic voice phenomena (EVP) in paranormal circles.
“It’s a noise or sound that can’t be heard by the human ear, but might be captured on a digital audio recorder,” Fry said.
Her visit to the cemetery was research for the ghost tours she, her husband Ron and two researchers will conduct in Port Washington on Halloween weekend.
She met or talked on the phone with local people who had, or knew someone who had, a ghostly encounter.
“At first, it was difficult to get anyone to say anything,” Fry said. “But once they learned someone else said something, they wanted to tell their version. Once they broke the silence, they couldn’t stop talking.”
Mark Hubing, a baristo at Java Dock coffeehouse in Port Washington, said he’s seen a figure several times in the historic building that once was a theater.
“Sometimes, I’ll catch a figure out of the corner of my eye by the register and I’ll think it’s a customer. But when I turn around, there is no one there,” Hubing said. “We have found cooler doors open that were securely shut.”
Fry heard stories about Captain Oliver Smith and his sister Evelyn Smith haunting the former Smith Bros. restaurant. Several former employees said they encountered both Smiths and often heard pots and pans banging in the kitchen.
After all the customers had left, employees said, they often saw a woman wearing a long, white dress come down the open staircase, then disappear.
“I was told they sometimes found a wine glass with red lipstick on it in the upstairs banquet room and heard dance music,” Fry said.
For a 2005 Ozaukee Press story on Port hauntings, Lloyd Smith, who managed the restaurant when his family owned it, said a long, white, flowing dress wasn’t Evelyn Smith’s style, but the banging of pots and pans could have been her.
Linda Nenn, co-director of the Port Washington Light Station, which was built in 1860 and served as a lighthouse and home for lightkeepers, said a tenant who used to live in an apartment above the museum awakened her in the early morning hours to ask if someone was working in the museum.
“He said he could hear furniture being moved. I said, ‘It’s an old, creaky building and you’re probably hearing the plumbing or furnace kicking in,’” she said.
“He was certain that wasn’t it so I told him to check for himself. For the next couple years, he and his friends were quite convinced there were spirits, but they were friendly spirits.”
Nenn said subsequent tenants have not mentioned strange happenings. She said she chooses not to believe in things that go bump in the night, but loves to hear the stories.
Fry said she may have encountered the spirit when she used the Light Station’s restroom while Rick Smith, co-director of the museum, waited for her outside the building.
“I came out of the restroom and a rocking chair covered with a white sheet moved. I stared at it and it moved again,” she said. “I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was a loose board I stepped on, but it moved.”
Smith said two lighthouse keepers and one of their wives died in the light station, so their spirits could still be there, but he hasn’t seen or heard them.
Fry said she is not a ghost hunter or paranormal researcher, although she has gone on trips with them.
“I’m not gathering evidence. I’m not out to prove or disprove anything, but I have a good imagination and I love a good story,” she said.
“In the two years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had some weird experiences, but I still consider myself a skeptic. I’m more likely to say it’s a loose board or squeaky hinge.”
Caper Company Tours’ main business is selling self-guided, audio road tours to haunted places throughout the state. The tours direct people to publicly accessible places, where ghost stories are recounted.
The ghost business grew out of a road trip Fry planned for a friend’s 50th birthday three years ago. She wrote a fictional haunting story and her friend had to go on a quest following clues at each site to find the prize.
“We had so much fun. We were telling friends about it and someone said, ‘Susan, you could sell that,’” Fry said. “I love ghost stories and I love road trips, so I combined the two passions.”
The idea couldn’t have come at a better time.
She and her husband had recently paid off their debts and quit their jobs to try new ventures. She was the public relations director for the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha for 10 years. Her husband was the fair’s artistic director for 25 years.
Fry researches, writes and narrates the ghost tours. Her husband records the tours and adds sound effects in their home studio.
Conducting a ghost walk will be even more fun, she said.
“A lot of people will be local and they will probably know a lot more than we do about the places,” Fry said. “I hope they’re good sports about this.”
Susan Scot Fry walked with her digital recorder in Port Washington’s Union Cemetery Photo by Sam Arendt
The Port Washington Halloween Ghost Tours will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29, 30 and 31.
Two adult walks— a two-hour, 1-1/2- mile walk that requires climbing two flights of stairs and a 90-minute, 1-1/4-mile walk that is less strenuous — are offered all three days for participants ages 13 and older.
On Saturday and Sunday, children ages 5 to 12 and their families, preferably in costumes, can participate in a self-guided Junior Ghost Walk, following signs and clues to solve a mystery puzzle.
The children’s walks, which take about 30 minutes, are offered from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $5 per child or $3 per child if two or more siblings share an activity sheet. All children will receive treat bags.
The two-hour adult tour will begin at 6 and 7 p.m. all three nights. The cost is $19 in advance or $22 at the event.
The 90-minute tours begin at 7, 8 and 9 p.m. all three nights. The cost is $13 in advance or $16 the day of the event.
For more information or to make reservations, visit www.capercompany.com and click on Port Washington Ghost Walk or e-mail