Camp Napowan Gypsy Curse, Part 2

Join me for Part 2 of our retelling of the story of Camp Napowan’s Boot Hill. Owned and operated by the Northwest Suburban Council of the Boy Scouts of America in central Wisconsin, Camp Napowan is home to an interesting legend passed down one summer to the next. To my knowledge, this is the only retelling of the tale available on the Internet. It is an edited transcription of an audio recording made available in the early-to-mid 1990s. Click here to read Part 1.

Your humble writer/transcriber’s campsite at Camp Napowan – c. 1990?

A week later, Joe Miller was awoken from his sleep. He heard a loud scream coming from the gypsy camp. He ran outside and saw a large fire on top of the hill. Listening closely, Joe heard the gypsies singing. They were chanting in Hungarian, their native tongue. Joe couldn’t understand them, but what they were doing seemed odd to him anyway. He figured they were just getting ready to leave and were throwing a celebration for themselves.

The next morning, when it was time for Joe to feed his animals, he discovered the hens were missing. They were in a secure cage and couldn’t have gotten out unless someone opened it. Joe figured it had to have been the gypsies, but he couldn’t flat out accuse them without proof, and he didn’t want to upset them. Still, the hens represented roughly a dozen eggs a week. He tried to remain calm and find out what he could. He went to the gypsy camp and approached the Chieftain. Joe said to him, “When I went to feed my animals this morning, the strangest thing happened. You wouldn’t believe this, but my hens are missing. You didn’t happen to see anything out of the ordinary last night?”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” the Chieftain asked. “How dare you accuse my people of stealing from you, after everything we’ve been through. Now get out of here and leave us alone.”
Joe turned around, his head bent low, and walked back to his house. He was ashamed of himself for what he had done. As he walked home, he realized they were just hens after all, and the gypsies wouldn’t admit to stealing them even if they had.

A week later, the Millers were awoken from their sleep by another shrill scream. The family looked towards the gypsy camp from a window, and they saw a massive fire stretching 20 feet into the air. Again the gypsies were chanting as they held hands and danced around the fire. Joe had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he prayed that everything would be okay the next day. It came as no surprise when we went to feed his animals and the pig was missing. Joe was infuriated, but he didn’t know what to do other than tell the gypsies to leave. This seemed fair to him anyhow, since it was time for them to leave according to their agreement.

Continue reading “Camp Napowan Gypsy Curse, Part 2”

Camp Napowan Gypsy Curse, Part 1

Napowan Scout Camp is located in the pine forests of central Wisconsin, next to Hills Lake and Lake Napowan, off 24th Avenue. Each year, thousands of Boy Scouts from around the country enjoy camping, fishing, boating, nature hikes, archery, and much more at one of the most exemplary summer camps in the Midwest. It is owned and operated by the Northwest Suburban Council of the Boy Scouts of America, of which I was a part.

Your humble writer/transcriber as a Cub Scout at Camp Napowan

In the early 1990s, when I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 22 based at St. Mary’s School in Des Plaines (now defunct), I went to Camp Napowan for two, week-long excursions. On one occasion, my dad and I were sharing a tent when we were hit by a torrential downpour. We didn’t realize what a poor choice our campsite was until water started building up several inches deep! We ended up sleeping in the car that night, and I don’t think my dad has gone camping since.

One of the most interesting things about Camp Napowan was the legend they used to tell about its founding. The Boy Scouts of America established the camp in 1946, right after the end of World War 2. Prior to that, the legend goes, it was local farmland. During the Great Depression, the farmer that owned that land got into an altercation with a tribe of gypsies he allowed to temporarily settle on his property. Local townspeople killed the gypsies on a place called “Boot Hill,” but before the last of them died, they put a curse on the land. To this day, every time a black cat with a single white paw appears at Camp Napowan, trouble follows.

Our camping trips culminated with a retelling of this story over a bonfire, and at one point an audio version was even available on CD. I searched for years to find it, until I finally tracked someone down who owned a copy. The following three part series is as close an approximation of the tale as I’m able to record. I hope there are others out there who read this story and recall fond childhood memories.

The story of Boot Hill begins on October 28, 1929, a day known as Black Monday. On that day, the economy crashed, sending this country into the largest economic depression we’ve ever seen. For most people, making ends meet was a difficult task. Jobs were hard to find because there were so many people in need of them, but not enough of them to go around. In central Wisconsin, the Depression was as bad as it was anywhere.

Continue reading “Camp Napowan Gypsy Curse, Part 1”

Goatman: A Refreshing Look at a Strange Legend

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? by J. Nathan Couch
Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? by J. Nathan Couch

What do we make of the hundreds of legends and sightings of alleged half-man, half-goat creatures across America? This is the question J. Nathan Couch attempts to answer in his new book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? Published by the author in 2014, Goatman is 152 pages and is available in both print and digital formats. Its cover, a dark, haunting image of a cloven hoofed creature with thick horns and an eerily human face, was illustrated by Amber Michelle Russell.

Before reading this book, I was only peripherally aware of the goatman legend. I vaguely recalled that I had heard something about a goatman once, but never took the idea seriously. One of the many redeeming qualities of Goatman is the author’s awareness that yes, most people find the notion of a half-man, half-goat to be absurd. Yet he demonstrates that this creature has been a persistent (albeit obscure) part of American folklore since at least the 1960s. Always straddling the line between skepticism and belief, Couch examines every possibility, from the mundane to the magical.

Couch begins his exploration in his own backyard, Washington County in southeastern Wisconsin. Washington County is home to several locations believed to be visited by a creature known as “Goatman.” Fascinated by the tale, Couch soon discovered other goatman legends in Missouri, Maryland, Texas, California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana. The tales varied. In some, the goatman stalked lover’s lanes in search of amorous teenagers to kill. In others, the goatman was the result of a cruel genetic experiment gone wrong. In still others, he was a wild recluse or an escapee from a carnival freak show.

Continue reading “Goatman: A Refreshing Look at a Strange Legend”

WTVO Reports on Rockford Mayor’s ‘Pay to Play’ Scandal

WTVO and WQRF-TV are slowly bringing journalism back to Rockford after the purge at the Rock River Times left local news bereft of inquisitive journalists. What about the daily newspaper? Let’s face it, the Register Star hasn’t been a real newspaper in years. After I was alerted to a series of donations made by Gorman and Company to Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey prior to their entering a deal over the city-owned Amerock /Ziock building, I leaked this information to the local press. WTVO/WQRF were the only station to pick up the story. Read the article below. Watch the video at this link.

What I find most incredible about this story, is that Alderman Tom McNamara (D-3rd Ward), basically admitted on live television that Rockford’s politicians are bought and paid for by companies that do business with the city. He says it so casually, he either did not realize or did not care what he was saying. This admission further confirms suspicions of community activists that “pay to play” is standard operating procedure in the City of Rockford.

From the housing projects at South New Towne Drive, to the future hotel in the old Amerock building downtown, Wisconsin-based developer Gorman & Company is tied to both City of Rockford projects. The company is also tied to Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, having donated thousands of dollars to his campaign, much of it after his last election.

The Illinois State Board of Elections shows that Gorman donated three times to Citizens for Morrissey. On 3/11/13, Gorman donated $2,500. On 9/3/13, the company ponied up another $1,000. The last donation came on 3/27/14 to the tune of $1,000. The total rings up to $4,500. Click here to see the list of contributions made to Morrissey’s campaigns.

Former mayoral candidate Michael Kleen issued the following statement regarding the donations:

“Gorman & Co.’s donation to Citizens for Morrissey, prior to making a business deal with the City, reeks of pay to play. It gives the appearance of a conflict of interest and raises questions about how the City of Rockford does business. City contracts should be awarded through a transparent, open bidding process, not backroom deals. Awarding political donors with favored status is not how an open, transparent government operates.”

“On the surface, it appears very bad,” said Terry Siebert, Director of Together Rockford. He spent weeks collecting thousands of signatures against the public housing proposal Gorman was set to develop in his neighborhood, and he says he’s well aware of the Wisconsin company’s contributions to the mayor.

Here’s a screenshot of the donations. Note that Mayor Morrissey is the only Illinois politician Gorman has contributed to.