B.C. Farr has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars turning a 141-year-old saloon into a restaurant, so he's understandably reluctant to jeopardize his investment by sounding like a crackpot.
That's why he says he kept quiet for years about the odd things he's seen -- dishware flying off a rack, a broom floating across the kitchen, doors opening and closing by themselves. Then there's the basement walk-in cooler.
"If (the ghost) doesn't like you, it will shut the door on you and turn the light off," he said.
Eventually, so many customers witnessed similar events that Farr, owner of the Old Baraboo Inn, went public with his experiences.
"I don't really care what people think," said Farr, 42, who's convinced his establishment is haunted. "I know what I've seen."
If Farr is perpetuating a hoax, it is an elaborate one. More than a dozen people say they've witnessed ghost-like behavior at the restaurant and bar, which reopened in 2002 after sitting vacant for 14 years.
Now the historic tavern and former brothel is putting the boo in Baraboo, although not everyone is amused. Johnny Flores, 21, who rents one of the two upstairs apartments, is trying to get out of his six-month lease early, partly because he needs a cheaper place but also because he's spooked.
Flores said he stopped sleeping in his bedroom three weeks ago, freaked out by a woman's voice that kept calling his name. Lately he's been sleeping at a friend's place or on his couch with the lights on.
"I sound like a sissy, but, whatever," he said.
Flores said he once joked, "C'mon, Casper, come and get me," only to endure an eerie tapping on his front door.
"I don't do that anymore," he said of his ghost mockery. "Things like that can backfire on you."
\ Something about Mary
Farr bought the building in 1998 and began renovating the upstairs apartments first. He'd arrive in the morning to find his tools moved around, even after he taped the doors and windows.
The first tenants to occupy an apartment moved out after complaining of often hearing a honky-tonk piano playing and people laughing and singing at a time when the downstairs bar and restaurant weren't yet open, Farr said.
The couple also said they repeatedly saw a female ghost dressed like a saloon dancer. Others claim to have seen this same apparition, which people have taken to calling "Mary" after a prostitute who bled to death in the building around the early 1900s, Farr said.
Several other people died in the building over the years, including at least two other prostitutes and two former owners, said Farr, who said he researched the history of the 1864 building through press clippings at the State Historical Society.
Customer Char Lotte, 62, said she's seen Mary cut a rug on the bar's dance floor. The ghost is especially partial to the jukebox recording of "The House is Rockin" by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lotte said.
Scott Mulock, 41, said he witnessed the same flying dishware incident as Farr. Fry pans and Tupperware containers flew off the rack like Frisbees, as if an invisible force was throwing them.
"I'm not a big ghost believer, but I saw what I saw," he said.
Waitress Peggy Tobias, 47, said she's seen Mary behind the bar, and Brooke Schonenberger, 23, the tenant in the other upstairs apartment, has been pestered by a dribble of water from an area of her kitchen cabinet where nothing is stored.
Sandy Radke, Farr's fiancee, calls herself a big skeptic and once joked that maybe Farr was hitting the bottle. (He says he doesn't drink.) Now she doesn't know what to think. She's seen a picture fly off the wall and a 200-pound griddle move on its own accord.
\ On the fence
The volume of eyewitness reports constitutes the most compelling evidence of a haunting, said Jennifer Lauer, founder of the Janesville-based Southern Wisconsin Paranormal Research Group.
Group members visited the inn twice in the last month to collect data using cameras and instruments that detect subtle fluctuations in electromagnetic fields, ions, static electricity and temperature.
The group's members, who have other jobs, do investigations for free.
Lauer termed the preliminary findings inconclusive. Some of the readings show unusual spikes and anomalies that could signal paranormal activity. However, natural phenomena, such as vibrations from nearby railroad tracks or stray voltage from an electrical substation, also could explain them, she said.
"Right now, we're on the fence."
The group wants to return for at a time when it can shut off the building's electricity and eliminate other manmade interference.
\ A friendly ghost
Asked if the whole thing is a publicity ploy, Farr said it would be a dumb one since he's already lost several renters and employees due to their fears of the place. It's become increasingly hard to find employees willing to go in the basement, he said.
After the Baraboo News Republic first wrote about the topic a couple of years ago, business has remained about the same, he said.
Farr said he has no plans to cut and run. He doesn't mind the ghosts -- they seem to like him.
Sometimes when he goes into the cooler, the door actually opens by itself to let him out.