By: Kathy Barnett
The Dodge County Historical Society began offering annual fall tours into the Old Beaver Dam City Cemetery in 2010. In each tour we have visited eight of Beaver Dam’s earliest settlers, who have been commendably brought to life to tell some aspect of their story by amazingly talented current residents. The goal has never been to frighten, but rather to enlighten the visitors and to educate them while entertaining. The ultimate goal of this endeavor for me has been to raise awareness of what a phenomenal treasure-trove of history this one little patch of ground is. My hope is that we all will care, and care for, this sacred ground.
During our Haunted History Tour II, we met Thomas Mackie, Beaver Dam’s first settler. This is what he had to share with us:
“Now, don’t you folks be fussin’ over me just ’cause I was here first. My sweet daughter Hannah and her husband Joe Goetchius had decided to go to the Wisconsin territories to make a better life for themselves than could be made back in New York, the primary crop there bein’ rocks. When me and my wife Ann heard they was plannin’ on leavin’ and takin’ my sweet grandbaby John, too, well it just was a real easy choice to go along!
Joe and me found real rich land, well watered by a sweet spring, and laid our claim in the spring of 1841. We cleared the land (near where Beaver Gunite is now), used the lumber from those trees to build our homes, and brought the rest of the family from Fox Lake. Hannah was scared to death of Indian attacks, and would lock up the cabin tight and hide in a corner any time she was left alone on the homestead, but we never were attacked. What she shoulda been afeared of was sickness, there bein’ no doctors. My sweet grandbaby John only survived one year here, and was this cemetery’s first burial in 1842 at the tender age of 2. His daddy Joe joined him here in 1846.
You know, when I came here I had nothin’ but family, and when I died here in 1884, an old man of 89, I again had nothin’ but family. I guess I always had all that I really needed.”
During our very first tour, we met a flustered Mrs. Burr, who had quite a tale to tell:
“Now where is my stone? Oh dear, oh dear! It was right here! It seems to have gone missing. Oh well, just stop now.
How could I have helped being late for my own funeral? I was already dead, after all, and that was on May 17 of 1849, when the dam broke. There was poor Joseph Bowes, who was bringing me to this spot for my funeral, and there was no way to cross the river! First the rush of water from the break in the dam took out the Beaver Street bridge. Then the water and wreckage swept away the Center Street bridge too, putting about half the town on the wrong side of the river. All the buildings on the north side of the river and on each side of the bridge were surrounded by water. Some of them even had ropes tied around them to keep them from being swept away!
A boat was put to work above the dam, ferrying people back and forth, and Mr. Bowes was finally able to get my coffin across. When he arrived home, he found that his wife had given birth to a baby boy while he’d been gone!
The first Sunday after the disaster only a short service was held at the Presbyterian church, and it was only attended by women and children, as all the men of the community were working on repairing the dam. After the service the Rev. Montgomery also went to help. He was a huge man, weighing more that 300 pounds, and was extremely strong. He single-handedly lifted and hurled into the water a boulder that two men and a boy had had difficulty just rolling. Ooh, what a fine figure of a man he was!”
Available on loan at the Dodge County Historical Museum is a compilation of all the Haunted History scripts. It has been put together for the benefit of any who would care to read the scripts, with special consideration for those people who are unable for whatever reason to join in the fun at the cemetery. I hope you enjoy them, but please remember that these scripts are a work of fiction, meant to entertain. All historical errors are my own. The words I’ve written here have been viewed through the glass of my imaginings. Only the characters are real.
Haunted History VI will be held in October. The tours take place at the Old City Cemetery located at the corner of North University Avenue and Burnett Street. Tour guides lead small groups of our visitors through the cemetery, and a tour lasts approximately 30 minutes. Tickets are $5 each, and children 6 and under are free. For more information, call the museum at 887-1266.
The Dodge County Historical Society is located at 105 Park Avenue in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. It is open to the public from 1-4, Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is free.