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The Phantom Hand of 5th Ave

With the 2019 Downtown West Bend Ghost Walk season kicking off on September 7th, my mind has been wandering back to seasons past. Guiding these walks is a lot of fun for a lot of reasons. It allows me to tell stories, it allows me to meet open minded people, but it also sometimes allows a large group to experience paranormal activity.

Before I get into exactly what I mean, please understand no guarantee can be made that anyone will experience unexplainable phenomena on a walk. In fact, most walks happen without anyone reporting anything peculiar. I especially never experience it, because my back is always to the alleged haunt—though I’ve had a few occasions where people shriek and take pictures over my shoulder.

However, usually a couple of times a year, one or more tour patrons are fortunate enough—or unfortunate depending on your point of view—to see, hear, or even feel something. I’ve been waiting to share a particular event for a while, as it occurred between stops on the walk, thus it is rarely told.

It was a few years back, on an early October Saturday night. It was a very small walking group, thanks to some terrible, unseasonably cold drizzle. Only three patrons had proven sturdy enough to endure the unpredictable Wisconsin weather. As the tour neared its conclusion, the weather began to clear. We left the exterior of the Old West Bend Theater and we marched back towards our meeting place in front of History Center of Washington County on 5th and Chestnut. We were silently walking past the corner of 5th and Walnut when one of the young women cried out. I turned around to see if someone had fell, and she was looking at the other two women who were following a good eight or nine feet behind her, talking amongst themselves.

“Did you just touch me!?” she asked urgently.

I had turned quickly and knew there was no way they could have been within arm’s length of her, nor had they been paying the slightest attention to anyone but each other. The two young women looked at each other in confusion, and said they hadn’t.

According to the alarmed patron, as we got a few feet beyond the crosswalk, she’d felt a large, heavy human hand rest itself on the middle of her back, and move to the right, as if brushing something from her clothing.

The woman was very disturbed by the encounter. She’d not expected to have physical contact with paranormal phenomena, especially when we weren’t even in front of a (known) haunted location. After having explained what had happen, she regained her composure and we walked on and finished the tour. As I told the final story of the night, she remained on guard, as did the others, who were now nearly as frightened as she was.

I suppose it just goes to show you, when you go out seeking the paranormal, sometimes it seeks you. One woman found that out first hand, when she became to first person to experience the phantom hand of 5th Ave.

-J. Nathan Couch

Washington County Paranormal

All Things Come to an End

All beginnings have an end, but this knowledge does nothing to ease me in writing this message.

In 2011 I was in the process of finishing my first book, Washington County Paranormal, and I was in dire need of money to get the book published. I got a crazy idea and took a chance—I’d start a Ghost Walk in Downtown West Bend as a fundraiser. After a couple of initial hiccups, my tours started in late April of that year and it’s been a tremendous time. Needless to say, the tours were successful that year, and for each year thereafter.

Washington County Paranormal

Each and every tour was enriching to me as not only a Fortean author, but also as a paranormal enthusiast. I don’t think a single night went by when someone didn’t share fascinating, and often times, extremely personal, unexplainable encounters. That’s what makes this so difficult. But I might as well say it.

The Downtown West Bend Ghost Walk will not be returning in 2017. It isn’t because of lack of interest, oh no. I’ve been getting inquiries about tours all spring. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, Washington Countians are avid about their haunted history. No, the reason the tour is being discontinued, is what makes this message bittersweet, as opposed to simply sad.

Both my wife and I have been given some wonderful opportunities to enrich and challenge ourselves in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin (our new address will be roughly two a half hours from our current address in West Bend). Her career is moving ahead, and hopefully, I’ll actually be motivated to finish one of the numerous manuscripts that I’ve been neglecting for going on two years now. The only draw back is, it won’t be economically feasible to continue the tours.

But despite my lack of written output in recent years, I wouldn’t be calling myself an author were it not for the communities of Washington County. Everyone from Kewaskum on down to Germantown opened up and shared with me with paranormal experiences, and the urban folklore they’d grown up with. To everyone who supported my books and my tours, thank you.

I’d like to thank the Washington County Writer’s Club for their help in showing me what works in a manuscript, and what doesn’t. Despite the fact I haven’t attended a meeting in years, I’d of never been able to write readable manuscript without them.

I’d like to thank the History Center of Washington County for giving me the tools I needed to research my various projects. I can guarantee there wouldn’t have been a book nor a tour without the tools and support they gave me. It really, really stinks that Washington County politicians want to take their money away and send them out into the cold (as well as severely cut the budgets of all quality of life services in the county–parks, libraries, senior services, et al. I suppose a community’s history doesn’t matter if someone can save a taxpayer $20 a year on property taxes. If you appreciate your community’s history, please contact your county representative and tell them. Explain to them you WANT a museum and a historical society. Click here, before you lose your history.

This is starting to sound like a retirement speech, but it isn’t. This is not the end for me, far from it. Though I’ll be far away from the community that got me started down the path to Fortean writing, I feel rejuvenated, and excited about the future.

More books are coming. It made me smile to write that.

Farewell for now Washington County, may all your Eves be Hallowed.

Old Courthouse Museum Ghost

Back on September 20th, the hosts of Real Ghost Stories Online took the Downtown West Bend Ghost Walk two weeks ago and saw an actual apparition in the tower of the Old Courthouse Museum prior to the start of the tour. They even took a photo of the alleged ghost, which you can see HERE. Is it the apparition of deceased janitor Waldemar Bernhagen? What’s your opinion. Watch the video to hear the eyewitnesses’ talk about their sighting!

Looking Ahead

As I write this, the 2013 Downtown West Bend Ghost Walk season has just drawn to a close. I entered the season with more than a little trepidation. The first season (2012) had been wonderful, but I worried that during that first year I might had already depleted the fan-base. I soon realized that that concern was unfounded. Each week the walks maintained the average number of patrons and this October we set attendance records twice! One week we had 59 patrons, (the previous record from 2012 was 40, then the very next week we smashed that with 64 patrons! I want to thank every single one of you that have been supporting these tours. Much of this year’s income will go to publishing my next book, which hopefully will be published by Halloween 2014 (but more about that in the coming weeks).

Now that the walks are over it’s time to get back to my first love, writing. I’m working on various projects including both fiction and of course, non-fiction paranormal. I also plan to do several library and in-store appearances this winter and spring, so if your organization or business is interested please contact me.

Also, as the weather continues to deteriorate I plan on doing some work to expand the Ghost Walk business for the 2014 season! I’ve several ideas, all of which are still too raw to discuss publicly, but I hope to add a new tour for 2014. Also, I’m in talks with a local organization to bring back the Washington County Legend Trip bus tours, which were so popular in 2012. Keep your eyes on this site, my facebook pagetwitter page, or sign up for my e-mail list to find out news on all this exciting stuff as it breaks!