The Weird, Strange, Haunted, Supernatural, Odd Wisconsin field is both crowded and popular. New books appear every year and websites are in abundance. We are often held up as being the shining light of UFO sightings, odd happenings and strange behavior. Folkorist and Wisconsinite Robert Gard went so far as to claim that Wisconsin may have more ghosts per square mile than any other state in America. I'm not too sure about that. One story that runs through many of these sites and books is the late Harry Anderson's childhood memory of a long ago summer night in Barron County...
Summer, 1919. One night, as he walked down an isolated country road near Barron, Wisconsin, 13-year-old Harry Anderson saw something distinctly odd. Twenty little men, trooped in single file and heading in his direction, were visible in the bright moonlight. Even as they passed him, they paid him no attention. Young Anderson noticed they were dressed in leather knee pants held up by suspenders. They wore no shirts, they were bald, and their skin was pale white. Though all were making "mumbling" sounds, they did not appear to be communicating with each other. Terrified, Anderson continued on his way and did not look back. The bizarre encounter remained vivid in his memory for the rest of his life.
Here's a more elaborate version of Harry's story as it appeared in Fate Magazine....
On a late summer's night in 1919, thirteen- year-old Harry Anderson, his family and some friends went for a drive in the family's new Ford Model T automobile.
At about 10 p.m., as they were headed back to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the car's engine began running a little rough. Papa Anderson eased it to a halt on the southbound lane of Highway 25.
"We're running low on oil," he said, handing the oil can to his son. "Head on up the road, Harry, and see if you can get some old farmer to lend you some."
And so, with the empty oil can swinging from his hand, Harry hiked down the darkened road. A roadside sign told him he was just outside Barron, Wis., about five miles west of Rice Lake. Seeing the roof of a farmhouse on the horizon, he took a shortcut across a cornfield.
The farmer filled Harry's oil can for him, and, "as he was walking back, he saw twenty little men walking towards him in single file. They had bald heads and white skins, and wore leather 'knee-pants' held up by braces over their shoulders.
Startled, Harry ducked behind a red maple tree, staying out of sight as the dwarfish platoon marched by. His ears caught fragments of their conversation, mostly mutterings and a quirky little song.
"We won't stop fighting
Till the end of the war
Sound off--one, two
Sound off--three, four
Detail, one, two, three, four
The column marched on into the forest, leaving Harry, in his own words, "heart pumping and terrified."
Now, I do know exactly what a row of little men singing a song looks like...
That there are already two variants to the tale showcases my favorite human trait - creativity and the sheer joy of embellishing or "punching up" stories. Very much like the four gospels in the Bible where the plain, straightforward first tale of Mark is followed by three insanely melodramatic, overly romantic and political embellishments that are Mathew, Luke and John. But lets get back to Harry before I go on a diatribe about religion. By paranormal standards, Harry's tale is unusual. Little People sitings are hard to come by. I've heard or read tales of little people (or hidden folk called huldre creatures)who have followed Norwegian families as they moved from the old country to Wisconsin, and Barron County does have a history of both Norwegians and unusual happenings. But what are these Germanic looking little men doing in what for so long was Indian land? Barron County also has some Czechs,more Irish (who,it goes without saying,are world famous for their little people)and the usual large number of Germans. To add a new wrinkle to the tale, the Winnebago Tribe of Barron County has reported recent sightings of their own little people: "In past years Indian fairy folk have been seen by Chippewa near a waterfall in Rice Lake and Indian hunters have heard the noise made by their stone hammers when parties of these little folks were engaged in quarrying the stone for pipe and ornament making." I'll be following Harry Anderson's tale as it evolves and spreads across the internet. In the meantime, I can't wait to take a summer drive to Barron County.