Wonewoc camp
An undated illustration of the Wonewoc Spiritualist Camp back in its heyday. (Photo courtesy of ​Western Wisconsin Camp Assoc. Inc. NSAC)

Spiritualism peaked in the mid-19th century, but the belief in communicating with the dead persisted much longer here.

While Spiritualism peaked in most of the United States in the mid-19th century, the belief in communicating with the dead persisted much longer here in Wisconsin. You can still have your aura read at a summer camp for mediums and take college level classes in telepathy here in Wisconsin. Here’s a look at some famous Wisconsin places and people in the history of Spiritualism.

Wonewoc Spiritualist Camp Continues to Thrive

In about 1874, a group of spiritualists from New York found their way to the scenic community of Wonewoc in Juneau County and established a camp on top of a pine-covered bluff above the town. The Wisconsin Spiritualist Association called it “a spot of ideal beauty and inspiration” where visitors can “enjoy the blessings of Mother Nature under guidance of spiritual studies and interesting séances.” The Wonewoc Spiritualist Camp still attracts spiritualists from around the country, who stay in the tiny cabins and give in-person readings by appointment. The summer camp has closed for the 2021 season, but will reopen in June 2022. During the off-season, the mediums give readings via Skype and Zoom.

Morris Pratt Institute Created to Advance the Study of the Spirit World

In 1888, a wealthy investor named Morris Pratt began building a mansion in Whitewater that contained two auditoriums, including one that could seat 400 people for regular public senaces. The building, known to locals as “Pratt’s Folly” or “Spook Temple,” was incorporated as the Morris Pratt Institute and dedicated to producing educated spiritualists, who would take classes in subjects ranging from oratory to theology and psychic culture. The institute fell on hard times during the Great Depression, and the Whitewater building became a rooming house for students at the Whitewater Teachers College. The Morris Pratt Institute moved to Milwaukee, where it continues to operate today, teaching students in clairvoyance, telepathy, mediumship, psychic surgery and other subjects.

Psychic Mary Hayes-Chynoweth Led Investors to Riches

And how exactly did Morris Pratt become one of the richest men in Wisconsin? He followed the advice given by spirits channeled by the famous Wisconsin psychic Mary Hayes Chynoweth. Chynoweth, who was based in Waterloo, spoke in tongues and claimed to see the future. She counseled famous Wisconsinites of the 19th century, including then U.S. Sen. William Vilas, and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice William Lyon and late Wisconsin Historical Society superintendent Lyman Draper. In 1883, she advised Morris Pratt and her two sons to invest in land along the Montreal River near present-day Hurley. They soon struck one of the richest lodes of iron ore in state history, and became fabulously wealthy overnight. While Pratt established the psychic school in Whitewater, Hayes-Chynoweth and her sons moved to San Jose, Calif., where she established a healing institute in her mansion. Her sons later owned the newspaper that became the San Jose Mercury News. One of them was elected to the U.S. Congress.

Psychic Louise Kingsley Parke Communed With Spirits in Madison

One famous Madison spiritualist of the 1895-1905 era was Louise Parke, a medium who said her contact in the spirit world was the famous Sac and Fox chief Black Hawk. Her father was a Madison physician who used clairvoyant powers and magnetic energy to cure patients. When she conducted her seances, Parke wore a white cotton robe and hood, which had an unfortunate resemblance to a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

Mount Horeb’s Psychic Boy Terrified His Grandparents

In 1909, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a long front page story on the exploits of an 11-year-old boy, who could make objects fly through the air. These ranged from kitchen utensils to a butcher knife that nearly impaled the local Lutheran pastor, who came to investigate at the behest of his terrified grandparents. News of Henry James Brophy’s powers drew more than 200 visitors to his grandparents’ home in Mount Horeb. But opinions on whether he truly had psychic powers were mixed. Local author Alex Bledsoe, who delved in the Henry James Brophy file at the local historical society, noted that the article was published on April 1, 1909 or April Fools Day.