; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hotel Phantoms Enjoy Touching Guests, Making Noise and Watching C-Span on TV

onmilwaukee - I’d just finished with my 4 month business incubator and had a brand spanking new biz plan in my lap. It was heavy, so I did what I always do when facing a life transition. Road trip. I packed an overnight bag, just in case, and headed north.

My first stop was a labyrinth in West Bend. I’m a fan and had been looking for a new one to check out so it seemed as good a place as any. If you like your labyrinth overlaid with English country cottage charm next to a busy street, then this one will do it for you. Me, not so much. But hey, at least I made it there and walked it. It’s all part of the road trip experience. The endless possibilities of ‘where next’ lay before me. Which meant one thing. Lunch. A grilled ham and cheese sandwich later and I’m looking toward the road again.

The wonders of traveling with a GPS means that you’re never without a nearby antique mall. One mall leads to another, kind of like M&M’s or BBQ potato chips, and I’m far enough northwest to wonder, “Do I turn around and head home or commit to an overnight somewhere? Hey, I’ve never been to Fond du Lac. That’s on Lake Winnebago. I’ve always wanted to see Lake Winnebago.”

That’s how I ended up in Fond du Lac’s haunted hotel. It’s just the sort of place I’d pick, too. Not because it’s haunted, but because it’s a very old building in the old downtown, and it’s reasonably priced to boot. It’s got a bar and a restaurant on site. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. I’ve struck gold!

Now it’s a Ramada, but it used to be called the Hotel Retlaw. When I checked in, alarm bells went off in my head. Where had I heard about this place before? Why is this so familiar? Why does the place feel peculiar? Well, duh Susan! It’s on just about every haunted places index I’ve ever read. It wasn’t until I was in my room that it dawned on me. A cell call to my husband, who did a quick search on the interwebs, confirmed my suspicions. I’d checked into a haunted hotel.

I might have wondered about ghosts even if I’d not had my suspicions googled. The hallways were creepy and a bit disorienting. In my room, it felt like something was at either door — the one from the hall and the one from the bathroom. I did a lot of whistling a happy tune, which is what I do when I’m para-nervous. “Oh, la, la, la, it’s all my imagination, la, la.” At about 12:30 that night, I forced myself to turn off the light and try to get some sleep. Try being the operative word.

Fond du Lac and environs has some stellar hauntings, so I’m sure there will eventually be a Haunt Spots tour of the area. I’ll save the full story of the Retlaw Hotel for then.

So, the question remains. Would you stay at a hotel simply because you knew it was haunted? I might, if I weren’t alone and if I had the nerve to explore more.


Formerly the Hotel Retlaw, former owner Walter Schroeder still haunts the hotel property. Activity includes lights and faucets that turn themselves on, screams, banging noises and apparitions.

The Fon Du Lac Retlaw Hotel (Ramada Plaza), is one of several that Walter had built in Wisconsin. ("Retlaw" is Walter spelled backward, you see...) Although it seems that Walter was never murdered here, let alone even died in the building, staff was quick to tell stories of the strange encounters that they all blamed on Walt.

In life, Walt was a generous gentleman and a charitable philanthropist who donated money to libraries and other nonprofit organizations. Rumor is that Walt was murdered in the hotel and his specter resides there.

The paranormal incidents are centered in and around room 717. In 2001, guests and staff members heard screams emanating from the room. When they tried to unlock the door, the key didn’t work. The sounds continued, and the door was moving as if someone was forcefully kicking it from the inside.

When the key finally worked and the door opened, they discovered the room was vacant and there were no marks on the door. People have felt tingles on their backs and their hair being pulled. Lights and faucets are turned on and off. Witnesses reported hearing banging on walls. Although the incidents are not characteristic of the man, many believe the haunter is Walt.

Among other odd occurrences, which often center around teenage girls, are "tingles up your back", "hair pulling", one instance of a flash of light like a camera's flash from an empty balcony, and the relatively frequent switching of the TV channel - often to C Span.

There are reports of people hearing a strange humming and sighting a glow in one of the smaller banquet rooms. Spectral figures roam the halls. Disembodied male voices are heard around the clock. Phantom footsteps follow guests and staff. Unseen bodies bump into people. There’s a ghost of a man who walks into the hotel’s walls.

A beautiful redheaded woman wearing a white bathrobe appears to be startled when seen and immediately disappears into one of the halls. The chandelier in the ballroom inexplicably sways and trembles. An employee who heard a noise in the room, investigated and saw a couple dancing, then vanish. This happened to another staff member who fled down the hall and heard lockers in the locker-room shaking.

The hotel unofficially keeps a log of the ghostly activity.