The History of House of Shadows

The “INFIRMARY” (GROVEVIEW) was began in December 1931, and completed in the spring of 1932. Erected at the beginning of the Depression, its provided work for a considerable number of men in the community. By 1932, the upper floor of the building also served as a girl’s dormitory. The building made it easier to isolate children who just arrived and those children who were ill. Minor surgeries and routine dental work was only done on an emergency basis. Center superintendents had long awaited a new infirmary to allow isolation to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and provide proper spaces for minor operations and dentistry. The main entry door leads into a vestibule separated from the waiting room by a wood door surrounded by side lights and a molded wood frame. The waiting room leads east to the central corridor and west to the dentist’s office. Three patient rooms adjacent to baths and an operating room occur along the corridor of the north wing. Four small wards are located along its north end. A solarium and ward occupied the south end of the wing.

An act of legislature in 1885, Chapter 377 made it the duty of the state board to erect State Schools for dependent or neglected children. In 1886, the Child Center became under the control of State Board of Supervisor of Wisconsin Charitable, Reformatory, and Penal Institutions. Four years after opening the school had 2,221 children who had come through its doors. Some stayed for a few weeks, months, or even years as indentured to work for families, other fostered out, the most fortunate were adopted by loving families. The school was only meant to be a holding place for children who had been neglected, abandoned, or were needy.

All children admitted to the Child Care Center became dependents of the Board of Supervisors. Their parents were no longer their legal guardians. After a child turned 18 years old (in some cases 21 years old) the foster parents brought them back to the Child Care Center and paid $50.00 for the use of the child. The State Control Board was to check on the well being of every child that was placed out, but often this didn’t always happen. The State Board remained the child’s legal guardian, just in case the child would need to be removed from a bad home. Many older children were “placed out” or indentured. This was because they were helpful for farm or house work.

Sparta was chosen for its attractive location, good water, and well drained soil as well as proximity to the railroad. Of the children that were in the Child Care Center at that same time 19 children had been abandoned by their parents, 11 children came from poor houses, 7 were orphans, 14 from immoral homes, and 2 had insane parents as well as 30 children had parents who were no longer able to care for them. Up to 60 children at one time were cared by one matron. Children slept huge rooms that were called dormitories. With such close quarters, it’s easy to see why diseases spread quickly throughout the school.
Reports were sent to the State Board of Control that the school was overcrowded. Part of the trouble was that many of the children who had been boarded out or placed out were being returned to the Center. Children could just be brought to the Center and left without enough about the child’s situation. Many of the children who were brought to the Child Care Center needed to spend many months in the hospital or infirmary, until they were well enough to be placed out. Most of the children had emotional, physical, or educational problems. The Annex housed 192 seriously mentally and physically impaired children. The buildings that were called the hospital were used more to isolate the children from the rest of the children for 2 weeks who had become sick, more than it was able to treat them.

From 1854 – 1929, 150,000 young children even some adults were part of a program called “placing out”. Placing out is a 19th century term for getting abandoned and homeless children off the streets. They were sometimes gathered by police. Some of the kids came voluntarily, but all were brought to local aid societies. Some trains were called “Baby trains: or “Mercy trains”. According to the Child Care Center Counselor Mrs. June Laxton “In the early days, it wasn’t unusual for a mother to die giving birth to a new child. Father found it very difficult to raise children alone. Over a period of time, 300 children died at the Child Care Center from diseases such as polio, small pox, and diphtheria”, stated Mrs. June Laxton.

According to Mr. Young, whom was a child at the Child Care Center states, “He ran away from the Child Care Center once. But, as it was getting dark, and he was getting hungry he decided that he should go back. His stepmother never saw him again. His stepsisters did come once. He didn’t see his brother and sister for twenty-one years. The bread was numbered so that the children always had fresh bread to eat. One time he cut the end on one of his fingers off in the slicing machine. He helped to feed, and milk the cows and somehow he cut his tongue just outside of Cottage C, Mr. Young had to be taken to the hospital to get stitches”, stated Mr. Young.

According to Mr. Frank Tubbs who lives in Eau Clair now states, “He was 8 years old when he came to Sparta in 1928. When he was 13 years old a couple adopted him. He says they wanted a slave not a son. “I worked on the farm for 5 dollars a month in the summer and my room and board, during the winter. . . . I had to buy my own clothes and anything else I needed out of that,” he said. The state sent a social worker to check living conditions. But they called ahead and the couple sent him to a room. Thankfully an older brother rescued him when he was 16 years old, stated Mr. Tubbs”.
According to Mr. Robert Schwartzlow, “Him and his brother John were brought here in 1938. Robert was a year and 6 months old and John was 4 months. His brother and him were playing baseball, when Robert had to go to the main cottage. They told him he was going somewhere. He explains that he was not adopted, but shipped out as a farm hand to Deerfield in 1949. He worked on the farm, until he was 16 years old. Later he said, “I was their slave. They were pretty mean to me. They wouldn’t let me keep any mail, or anything that came from Sparta, they tore it up”. Even though the memories are unclear, although he knows the “welfare” took him and his brother away from his parents. He doesn’t remember much about life at the Child Care Center. “It was a just a place the welfare had to put us. We didn’t go there by choice. I didn’t have any run-ins with anybody for the most part we were treated alright and fair. Although there was a fence around it, which always kind of reminded me of prison”. “Twice in the years, I drove by there (in Sparta) and it gave me goose bumps,” stated Mr. Schwartzlow.
After World War II, the school changed its name to the Wisconsin Child Center. After 89 years of operation, the Wisconsin Child Center closed its doors. The center, complete with buildings, was sold back to the City of Sparta for $650,000. The residents were placed in foster homes. On December 1, 1974, there was a debate in the government to keep or shut down the Wisconsin Child Center and according to one of the center’s 98 employees, who asked not to be named, said “The Child Center “should be completely overhauled, including a one-third reduction in the staff”, stated the employee. On March 3, 1975, According to Senator Thomas Harnish of Neillsville, whom was a committee member, stated at Sparta, “This institution has been without a superintendent since June or last year, which is indicative of the kind of support given the child center by that department”, stated Senator Harnisch. On April 28, 1975, According to Senator Harnisch states, “To me this is no more than a witch hunt. The cost differential between the Wisconsin Child Center and private institutions is not there”.

Deadly Childhood Diseases included:
Mumps is a contagious disease, which causes painful swelling in front and below the ears as well as headache, fever, muscle ache, and sometimes vomiting.
Measles is an extremely contagious disease, which causes a pink rash all over the body and mostly kills children.
Cholera is an intestine disorder, which is caused by unclean water or food.
Diphtheria is a contagious disease, which effects the upper respiratory area or skin as well as sore throat, fever, coughing, sneezing, and swelling in the neck.
Small Pox is caused by a virus, which can kill, blind, and scare innocent people, because it spreads through the air.
Tuberculosis effects the lungs or other organs by eating food or drinking milk with bacteria in it as well as coughing up blood, phlegm, chest pain, fever, and sweating at night, fatigue as well as loss of appetite.
Scarlet Fever made your skin a bright red as well as infections in your throat and on your skin.
Influenza give you chills, fever, headache, aches, weakness, and infections, bacteria, as well as pneumonia.
Pneumonia is a respiratory disease virus inhaled.
Polio is a viral disease, which causes paralysis. Polio is spread by not washing your hands, after using the restroom.
Whooping Cough is very contagious and it spread through the air. This disease is very dangerous for babies and small children.

Legends and Ghost Stories

Wisconsin Ghost Investigators were asked to come to Sparta, Wisconsin to research the Boys and Girls Club Haunted House (aka “House of Shadows). The building was built in the 1800’s as part of the Child Care Center. It is a large red brick building, which 320 children died while they were in the Child Care Center. Later, this building was used for the care of the elderly. A building to the south of the Haunted House was used as a sanitarium and to isolate children with tuberculosis. Through the years, many people died in the 2 houses mentioned. Between the 2 houses there was tunnels for the steam pipes to run. It was the workers in these tunnels, who first witnessed the supernatural events. It is said that they could hear voices of people who were not there, lights would mysteriously go on and off, tools that they were using would disappear, and they even claimed to have seen ghosts.

The Wisconsin Ghost Investigators interviewed a man named Sean, who has worked at the Haunted House for at least 3 years. Sean told them that he was working in a hall when he heard a child say “Help me Mommy!” He is certain of what he heard, even though he was listening to the radio at the time. Sean said that he knew the song that was playing, and there is nothing in the lyrics that would sound anything like what he had heard. At the sound of the voice the hairs on the back of Sean’s neck stood up. He only managed to work an hour, after hearing the voice. Although, Sean had never seen a ghost, he informed the Wisconsin Ghost Investigators that several of the other workers had indeed witnessed figures moving from one area to another in the house. He also said, that on several occasions when workers would leave for the night, they would double check to make sure that all of the lights had been turned off, only to return in the morning and find all of them back on.
The Wisconsin Ghost Investigators wanted to see for themselves, if the house was really haunted so they went there to spend some time themselves this is what happened to them. They reported that on entering the house, they did sense a presence, that they couldn’t explain. As they began to walk around they noticed an odor, that they couldn’t identify, that lasted only a few seconds. Suddenly, they felt a cold breeze, there is no air conditioning and no windows were open. Later, another Investigator experience a strong odor. At this time, they could figure out what it reminded them of, they said that the smell was of urine mixed with cleaning supplies. “It was the kind of smell that reminded me of being in a nursing home that wasn’t well maintained”, said one of the Investigators. The Investigators also experienced the rush of the cold breeze in another room, as was stated there is no air conditioning or windows opened. It was after midnight, when the Investigators were using their camcorder when it suddenly lost all power. They turned the switch to the off position, and then turned it back on, the camcorder began to work as though nothing had happened. They also had trouble with their walkie-talkies. One of the walkie-talkie wouldn’t work at all when the batteries were in place, but when they were removed to see if they needed to be replaced the walkie-talkie began to have sounds come through.
The following two paragraphs are summarized from the book called, The Haunting of Sparta Mysteries in a Small Town by Joe Cook. The investigators tried an experiment in the pantry area of the building, by placing toys and candy on the floor and marked the positions. They discovered that a doll that had been placed face up on the floor was overturned and found face down. They don’t know if this was a discrepancy of remembering, which doll was placed or if something paranormal was playing with the doll. They were going back to check the film footage that was being taken. Another interesting story is that there is a radio in the building that turns itself on a 6:30 to an oldies station according to a worker at the Haunted House. She said, “The music was like from the 1940’s or JazzEra”. Many people wonder, if the previous residents are coming back to listen to their favorite music.
Another tale that has been related is that when some workers were finished working on the Haunted House in the evening, a gentleman looked at the upstairs window of the building and saw a ghostly appearance, which apparently was an elderly woman. He was really shocked and his friends admitted to seeing the same thing. They were trying to figure out, if it was true or part of their imagination. They were serious that they did see a ghostly female figure. You can make your own conclusions.
The conclusion of the Wisconsin Ghost Investigators was that even though they experienced only a few paranormal activities something is definitely occurring in the house. Photos that were taken that evening, did show the presence of orbs and appeared to show movement. They also had many interviews with people, who had witnessed unusual sightings, they felt that the witnesses were credible in their accounts of what they had experienced. In the end, they felt that there was the potential for something to be haunting the building. The lead Investigator said, “I get the impression that the site has a character all it’s own”.

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