OLD MORTON HOUSE
Location: The Old Morton House is situated on what was once a small dairy farm northeast of Appleton, Wisconsin, thirty miles southeast of Green Bay on the Fox River and 100 miles north of Milwaukee. Located off Summerland Road (Rural Route 13), the Morton House is now county property.
Description Of Place: Built in 1893, the Old Morton House is an old neglected two story farmhouse with an attic and full basement. Part of the basement was re-built in the Fifties to include a bomb shelter. To this day, the location has been registered as condemned and is still littered and crowded with personal possessions, debris and kitchen supplies. The windows are boarded and the property which was once landscaped with a walkway and garden, is now choked with weeds and decaying vegetable matter. However, the grounds are fenced off to deter trespassers, and trespassing is not permitted.
Ghostly Manifestations: No one quite knows just where the rumors about the Morton House being haunted originated. Locally, it is considered one of the most haunted locations in Outagamie County. The Ghost-Facers website lists it as one of their top ten most haunted locations along with Waverly Hills Hospital, the Van Ness House and Vannacutt Sanitarium, but as far as witness accounts, there are few stories about the house, and the Ghost-Facers' reports of what they experienced there are incoherent and unprofessional.
One of the most unique rumors about the house is that activity has only occurred in the house once every four years on February 29 since 1968, when Freeman Daggett, the last owner of the house, took his life in the house. Co-workers who noticed him missing from Gamble Community Hospital notified police to check on him and found his remains seated at his kitchen table, a cheap partially-eaten store-brought birthday cake in front of him. Lonely, depressed and despondent, his spirit is said to walk the grounds of the house with flares of activity around his birthday.
"I'm a bit surprised anyone knows about the old Morton House much less Freeman." Walt Hollinger is now retired, but he was once in charge of the cleaning staff at the hospital. "You want to know about his ghost, don't you? That legend was kind of popular around here in the Seventies. The way I hear it, during the first four-year anniversary of his suicide in 1972, a couple of bored teenagers... you know how they are... decided they had nothing better to do than dabble in a little burglary, trespassing and vandalism to try and stir up his ghost in the house and got a bit more than they expected. Now, everyone tells the story of what they think they saw a bit differently, but they all end the same way... four idjit kids tearing loose into the night and getting stopped for speeding about five miles up the road."
For rumored stories about the house, Hollinger sent Steve Barnette of the CGS to meet up with Clay Trace, a local carpenter who was hired by the county to look after the place as a caretaker until Daggett's next of kin could be found to take custody of the house. Now in his Seventies, the old timer lives with his daughter down in Point Place, Wisconsin and still does light repairs when he's not carving and creating figures and critters out of wood.
"My grandmother was an old Creole chef for a family in New Orleans..." Old Man Trace starts with a light grin and lilt of his head turning the white tufts of hair on his African American brow toward the sun. "She raised me with stories of the Voodoo and the hounguns, and often warned me not to play around the levees of the city for fear the evil spirits would drag me down to the depths so I was raised believing that spirits exist. I believe that we're surrounded by them at all times... good spirits and bad spirits... spirits with a purpose and those wandering aimlessly confused around us, and in the days after Mr. Daggett took his life, I could feel his spirit in that house, walking the floors, peeking from the windows and even wandering the property as if he was looking for something.
"Back in those days," Trace continues. "If a man died in a house, you lowered your head, and you said your prayers, and if it later turned out that he took his life, you never mentioned it in public. We respected the rights of others back then, not like now where everyone is up in everyone's business, but it was Judge (Franklin) Hosty who hired me to look after the place and keep it up, clean it and look after it, but I had a hard time being inside the place. It felt like Daggett was always watching me... You know that feeling where someone is violating your space and is bending looking down over your shoulder... I had been through the house a few times and experiencing it every time. I was also getting annoyed by a piece of trim on the doorway to the kitchen hanging loose... I guess Daggett was behind on his repairs out on the house, and to fix it, I had to re-secure part of the original wall. Anyway, I was down on my knees, the old wall was partially loose, and I was fixing it, and while I'm plastering it back in place to replace the trim, I get this... feeling... this sensation... that someone was observing my work and making sure I was doing right. Meanwhile, I'm doing what I'm doing, trying as hard as I can not to look up for fear that I'm going to see Mr. Daggett standing there over me, and I reattached the frame, cemented it back in place with two carpentry nails and instead of turning around, I went through the door as casually as possible, out the back door and took my cigarettes out of my truck through the window and took a smoke to calm my nerves. Now, I was trying to be calm, but underneath, I was shaking like a turkey in the jaws of a fox trapped a gust of wind."
Trace goes on to describe footsteps in the house. He often heard the sounds of another person upstairs, but after several attempts to try and find someone, he eventually stopped looking. On rare occasions, he would hear voices talking from some where around him. He described them as whispering, as if a number of people were having a conversation. In his own words, Trace says he managed to ignore them, but on one occasion, they were abruptly silenced by a shrill scream through the house.
"I had been in and out of the house a dozen times over a few months." Trace responds with alarm as he recalls the scream. "The majority of the time, nothing happened. Things occurred far and few between, but this winter, the pipes had frozen, and I was replacing one in the kitchen when I heard voices as if there were people in the house. By this time, I had learned to tune them out, much with everything else, but then this shrill scream ripped through the air... like a man staring into the face of his own death, and I dropped my wrench out of fright and shaking and trembling crawled out the back door and hid on the ground on the other side of my truck. Now, I don't know how long I was like that, but I couldn't bring myself to go back in... not after that. I left with my tools still inside, and the back door still hanging open, and didn't return until that Sunday... telling the preacher my truck wouldn't start and that I had to come by the place to pick up my tools. My wrench was exactly where I had left it, but the back door, I don't recall locking it."
Over the next year, Trace had an assistant with him. A high school kid named Dylan Wahlberg who was a mechanics prodigy with a light criminal record was placed in his custody to work off damages to a local water tower. The young man did mowing jobs, garden work and other things for Trace and continued working with Trace even after his community hours were finished. Trace brought him with him to the Morton House as often as possible for company.
"One Halloween..." Trace recalls. "Some kids had broken in through the window and tried having a sťance at the same table where Daggett's body was found. The police had arrested them for the damages, but I had to replace and clean up the broken glass. Dylan was with me, poking through the cupboards and asking me what I knew about the suicide, but something must have distracted him because he left me for a few minutes and came back saying, "There's a lady sitting on the bed upstairs." Well, I was finishing my work, and... I didn't really want to go up there, so I just said, "Oh, she sleeps here from time to time." and we left. Now, I know Daggett wasn't married... and I don't know of anyone else who died here, so just who she was... I don't know... and I'm not curious enough to find out."
Although most local legends agree that Freeman Daggett haunts the house, the identity of this female presence and at least two other beings reported here remain a mystery. Trace has testified to hearing a gunshot inside the house, but since Daggett overdosed on horse tranquilizers instead of a self-inflicted gunshot, no one knows who this is. There are no records of any Mortons having died or lost their lives in the house. However, Trace is not the only person to have heard screams in the house. On February 29, 1986, several teenagers from J. B. Hawks High School (another purportedly haunted location in the area) came to the house trying to find the ghosts and were scared away by what they claimed to be a screaming woman in the upstairs window. The story was so popular it actually hit the newspapers and spurred a short spate of trespassers trying to experience the ghost of Freeman Daggett for themselves.
"Eventually, I was asked to board up the windows which I was glad to do..." Trace reports. "I was toward the end of my contract with Judge Hosty to take care of the house, and I was getting tired of being afraid of something watching me from the windows. To tell the truth, I never did see any faces, but I did see the curtains falling back into place once in a while as if something had watched me pull in, but no one was ever in the house... not that I ever searched it that closely."
Over the years, rumors about the Morton House being haunted became exaggerated and distorted. Almost everyone had some story about hearing sounds of a ghoulish party going on in the empty old house off Summerland Road, but eventually someone noticed that activity was most prevalent in late February or specifically every February 29. However, as the stories declined from popularity, the house more of an urban legend. That doesn't stop paranormal groups like Milwaukee Paranormal from booking the house every February 29 or amateur celebrity-seeking groups like the Ghost-Facers from sneaking into the premises.
"I haven't been back to the Old Daggett House since, I don't know... maybe the Late 90s..." Trace adds. "After all the years, I guess my stories about the place kind of spread and got exaggerated... I mean, I never heard of anyone vanishing in the house, but I did feel bad when I heard about that young man recently dying in the place. Anyway, I was here in the area with my daughter visiting friends, and we got to talking and the discussions turned to the Daggett Place, and I wondered what kind of condition it was in now. After some talking, I finally got someone to drive me out there to check it out, and despite the trees growing up around it, the weeds and the fence around it, it looked exactly as I was picturing it. Now, I couldn't get inside because of the fence, but I could walk the perimeter, and after going around it once, which had taken an hour more or less with all the talking and reminiscing, we had kind of noticed that dusk was settling. It was the middle of September and quickly getting dark so we headed back to the car and decided to go. However, as we were talking about that it was a shame we weren't leaving without a good story, Caleb, my the friend who was with me, was backing the car to turn around and stopped. He asked me to look back at the house, and as we looked, we started seeing what looked like a bright light in the house from through the cracks on the boards over the windows. It seemed to be in the window over the foyer first and then came down through the parlor to the kitchen. I started wondering who could be in the house, but Caleb hit the gas and tore down the drive as if the gates of hell were upon him, and that's all I have to say about that place."
History: The Mortons were a prominent local family who presided in Appleton between the 1890s to 1948. Built in 1893, the family sold the property to the Daggett Family in the Forties with one of the last known owners was Freeman Daggett, a janitor at Gamble Community Hospital, who took his life in the house in 1968. Since 1986, the location has been fenced off as the property lies in the path of a highway expansion project and was set to be demolished in 2009.
Identity of Ghosts: A number of spirits have been identified by investigators to the site, some of which have been conducted by trespassers without permission of the county. Most prominent among the ghosts here is that of Freeman Daggett, who is said to return here every year on February 29, his birthday. Psychic medium May Calder during a visit to the location with Milwaukee Paranormal identified a few others namely Horace Straub, a local warehouse manager who after drinking heavily one day in 1968 wandered to the local train yard as was hit by a train. Another spirit was that of Daniel Leary, an investigative reporter, who was shot execution-style behind the local Appleton Theater while investigating reported mob ties to a local shipping company. Constance Kripke, the third figure haunting the house, was a housewife who died in 1968 of lung cancer after years of smoking, but Calder doesn't consider these spirits as surviving consciousnesses. Instead, she considers them as place memories (or "death echoes" according to modern fiction) transplanted to the location after Daggett stole their bodies from the local morgue to keep himself company at the isolated farmhouse. Their bodies were found in the basement bomb shelter by pickers scouring the house for antiques and collectibles in 2008.
Calder also felt sensations of intense sadness and regret in the house. She felt that Daggett was bound to the house due the the intense loneliness he had felt in the house and his frustrations with being forced from accepted socially by his peers due to his size and height. However, concerning Daggett's ghost itself, she felt that he had been forced into into an inactive state by unknown physical influences in the house.
Source/Comments: Supernatural (Episode: "Ghost-Facers") - Activity loosely based on the Heilbron Mansion in Middleton, Pennsylvania, the Smoot House in Clarksville, Tennessee and the Haw Branch Plantation in Amelia, Virginia.