Chad Lewis is Wisconsin's bard of beasts, our state's typist of terror. So how come he's so popular?
Not long ago a group of guys got ahold of Lewis to say they rented a bus for a bachelor party that would take them around to several of the haunted places Lewis had chronicled in his nearly two decades of paranormal research in Wisconsin and beyond.
Did Lewis want to go along?
"I couldn't make it," Lewis said recently, though he caught up with the leader of the group a few days later.
"Did any weird things happen?" Lewis asked.
"Oh, yeah," the man said. "Of course, none of them were paranormal."
Which is another way of saying you can have fun in Loch Ness, even if you never see the monster.
Lewis, 38, of Eau Claire, will land in the Madison area Thursday, just in time to serve as a kind of warm-up act for Saturday's Freakfest on State Street.
He will speak on "Mysterious Creatures of Wisconsin" at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Middleton Public Library on Hubbard Avenue.
It will not be an atypical evening for Lewis. Being in Dane County, he may give more time than usual to Bozho, the notorious Lake Mendota sea serpent. But Lewis has done hundreds of presentations on all manner of unexplained phenomenon. It's what he does. That, and write books. A decade or so ago, he gave up a fledgling career writing grant proposals for nonprofits to chase ghosts full time.
I first heard Lewis' name in 2007, when someone sent me a copy of a new book, "Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin: Strange, Unusual and Bizarre Newspaper Stories 1860-1910," that Lewis had compiled.
It came in handy a few years later, when a religious radio host stirred up global publicity by suggesting the world was going to end one day in May 2011.
I was able to note that in spring 1906, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a series of articles about a woman who allegedly predicted the San Francisco earthquake and was now saying Madison would suffer a doomsday calamity on June 17.
A front page State Journal headline read: MADISON IS DOOMED: LATEST DOPE BY WOMAN."
Doomsday predictions have a way of not coming true.
But then, the veracity of Wisconsin paranormal sightings — from the famed Beast of Bray Road in Walworth County to the lesser known Vampire of Mineral Point — is open to question.
Lewis, who has spoken to many "eyewitnesses," had this to say: "Contrary to what you might think, most of the witnesses were rational. They weren't just trying to get on TV. Often it was like, `I don't believe in this weird stuff, but this is what I saw.'"
Asked if he believes in the paranormal himself, Lewis said, "I don't know if it is real. But it is to the people who experience it. After 20 years, I still have more questions than answers."
Lewis grew up in the Eau Claire area and attended UW-Stout, where he received a master's degree in psychology.
By then he had been researching the paranormal for several years. While in high school, Lewis traveled the 35 miles from Eau Claire to the village of Elmwood, site of a flurry of UFO sightings in the 1970s.
"One of three towns in Wisconsin claiming to be the UFO capital of the world," Lewis said.
Other areas stake claims to other legends. "Thanks to my friend Linda Godfrey," Lewis said, "we're now the werewolf capital of the world."
I knew about Godfrey. I interviewed her in 2003. She got famous while reporting for a Walworth County weekly about an alleged werewolf in the Elkhorn area. It brought the author book contracts and talk of movie deals. It also brought the National Examiner, which paid Godfrey and a photographer to sit all night on Bray Road with a supermarket chicken nearby as bait. Nothing happened, which Godfrey duly noted in her story. The Examiner wouldn't hear it. They altered Godfrey's piece, including a last line insisting that come morning, "THE CHICKEN WAS GONE!"
Lewis will talk about the beast of Bray Road Thursday in Middleton, and the Lake Mendota sea serpent as well. Both are featured in his newest book, "The Wisconsin Road Guide to Mysterious Creatures." Crack the cover at your own risk.
Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or email@example.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.