Devil’s Lake: A haunting historical landmark

Devils+Lake+is+a+popular+destination+among+many+Marquette+students

Photo by Connor Baldwin

Devil’s Lake is a popular destination among many Marquette students

In Sauk County, in the western part of Wisconsin, lies a lake with history and tales. Located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake is a State Park that welcomes about three million people every year. Taking up 27,000 acres of land, Devil’s Lake State Park contains a variety of trails ranging in difficulty.

The lake came into formation about 100,000 years ago. At this time, the last ice age period was ongoing – known as the Wisconsin Glaciation. This resulted in the Laurentide Ice Sheet covering all of North America. It would take over 50,000 years for the sheet to retreat towards northern Wisconsin.

While the glacier moved and melted, it ripped up land and created mounds in the earth, which are called terminal moraines. Devil’s Lake is one of the terminal moraines that was filled with glacier melt, but nowadays it’s filled by rainwater and local springs and streams.

Devil’s Lake was first discovered and mostly visited by local Native Ho-Chunk Tribes. Ho-Chunk tribes refer to the lake as Tewakącąk which translates to Sacred/Spirit Lake. While Nakota Sioux call the lake something close to Mystery/Bad Spirit Lake. When white settlers arrived and learned about the area, many names were created but the one that stuck was Devil’s Lake.

Keli Borem, a sophomore in the college of Engineering and a Wisconsin native visits the lake frequently with friends and family.

“It’s a great place to go during all parts of the year. Over the summer I go there at least once a week. It’s so pretty and there is so much to do,” Borem said.

The park holds natural attractions such as rock formations in Balanced Rock and Cleopatra’s Needle. Most of these rock formations are made out of a specific crystal called Baraboo Quartzite which has been around for more than a billion years.

The rocks rest on bluffs which outlooks the lake and the surrounding park. There are trails that cover many distances and camping grounds for outdoor activity. Recreational actives for every season are offered.

“We do the hiking trails, we bring our hammocks, we read books, eat lunch. It’s really nice. And in the summer you can rent out kayaks to bring out on the lake,” Borem said.

How has it earned the name Devil’s Lake? Rattlesnakes have been spotted on the trails and for four weeks, swarms of midge flies occupy the lake. In 1901, The Milwaukee Journal wrote a story of how one man swore he saw an alligator.

Besides real animals, the lake has tales of cryptid encounters.

Sightings of Thunderbird — a large spiritual bird big enough to pick up killer whales — have also claimed to have been seen flying overhead. In Native mythology, Thunderbirds are powerful beings responsible for thunder and lightning but also great wisdom.

According to the legend of the Sioux Natives, the Thunderbird is a noble spirit that protects humans from reptilian monsters known as Unktehila — also known as Horned Serpent.  There are many legends of the fights between the two.

The story goes that Unktehila fought against the Thunderbird and was pushed into Devil’s Lake, where it now lives. There have been sightings of the fish-like creature that closely resembles the Loch Ness Monster. Native Sioux were said to have seen the creature during a bad drought.

As for the supernatural, ghost stories do not resonate with the lake. But heading into the city of Baraboo, there have been plenty of ghostly sightings.

Sara Van Gheem, a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, is a native of Baraboo and heard many haunting stories. Buildings such as the The Old Baraboo Inn, The Baraboo Asylum, Al Ringling Theater and The Circus World Museum are all claimed to be haunted said Van Gheem.

“While in the buildings people will always tell you to not look at a window too long or you will see a ghost,” Van Gheem said. “While at Circus World people have reported to hear elephant stomps.”

Stories from Fate Magazine and the Chicago Tribune have also reported on these ele-phantoms how it got so bad they rattled houses and even knocked down a barn.

There are also stories of a phantom hitchhiker in Baraboo known as the “Highway Man.” Highway Man has been seen walking along Highway 12 at night dressed in camo with a backpack. However, if a driver pulls over to the side of the road and offers him a ride, he will vanish.

Van Gheem said, in a place like Baraboo, it is hard to escape the spooky happenings, but she enjoys every second of it.

“I’ve loved growing up in Baraboo, although it is a small town there is something so interesting about it. There are so many things to do and interesting stories,” Van Gheem said.

Whether it is to look at views of the lake and foliage from the bluffs of Devil’s Lake or if it is to look for supernatural creatures, there is sure to be something in Sauk County that will attract travelers.

This story was written by Connor Baldwin. He can be reached at connor.baldwin@marquette.edu