Octagon House

More From Wisconsin

This property has a history of many uses, strong emotions,
adventures and probably a few deaths.

Spirits found here basically behave themselves, with a few mischievous habits.

 

DESCRIPTION

The Octagon House is described as being “An Extremely Unique Property; an Architectural Masterpiece!”  The house’s mid-1800s’ American style layout may be a bit odd by modern standards, but the space is well-designed for a family in 1856 as well as families who lived here throughout the eras.

This 1856 octagon-shaped house has one and a half stories, grout walls covered with stucko, four dormers and a central chimney. It is something that the observer doesn’t see every day! It is one of two octagon homes in the city of Fond du lac. It has a conical roof from which the later developments of Gabel-roofed dormers were added to update the style a bit, when dormers were popular.

Also added to the basic 1856 structure was a wrap around porch that at some point was enclosed, perhaps to create more living space. On either side of the porch the first floor was enlarged a bit to support the porch.

Inside this unique historical structure there are twelve rooms, and two full bathrooms; seven rooms on the ground floor, and four rooms upstairs. It has five bedrooms to go along with the two baths. Also, a kitchen, a basement, an attic, probably common rooms like a living and dining area; all have their place in the house’s 2,420 sq feet on a double corner lot. It is suggested that it would also be a perfect home for Air B and B.

Updates have been made, including “electrical, mechanicals, central air and a new roof.” There are “gorgeous hardwood floors” throughout the house. It is in great condition. A lot of TLC was showered on this historic home by the current owner, Helen Hanson for forty plus years.

On this two-lot property belonging to the Octagon House, there is a large woodshed and also a Carriage House, which has been turned into a single rental property. The current owner suggests that the Carriage House could also be a place for one or both aging parents to live; or becoming a suite for relatives or company. The generous outside space also has a hexagonal garden.

It is reasonably priced at $149,996 for such a huge lot with two homes!! Tom and I would love to buy it if we had the money to do so.

 

HISTORY

In 1856, Native Americans in the area were not in a good frame of mind toward settlers and traders like Isaac Brown. Isaac was a self-made artisan who built houses for others and also traded with the local tribes. He also was the Mayor of his community.

To protect his family and his livelihood, Brown hired designer, Orson Fowler and built his home in 1856, on the grounds near an Indian village, and an 1814 trading post, fort, and a settlement house. The finished home was an eight-sided structure, that had nine secret passageways and spaces.

There was a small storage space under the front porch that could be used as a hiding spot for family or anyone else needing to hide. The living room has “a false fireplace with a small wooden stairway behind it and there is also a secret room adjacent to a second story bedroom.” There was also an underground tunnel between the main house and the large wood shed, that started behind the fireplace in the parlor. This passageway led down to the basement tunnel, which led to the nearby river.

Mayor Issac was also very anti-slavery, and decided to live his beliefs by using this new structure for the good of humanity. Indeed, Isaac Brown had a secret purpose for the home’s special features. Besides being the emergency escape route from a possible attack from hostile Native Americans, Isaac Brown joined Fond de lac’s Underground Railroad by using this house as an Underground Railroad stop in this massive effort to move ex-slaves to Canada. He participated until the slaves were free by President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation.

Isaac Brown had given the main house to his son Edmund, as a belated wedding present just before Isaac died. During the Civil War, Edmund Brown had enlisted with the Union Army, leaving his wife and three children to hold the fort so to speak. Unfortunately, Edmund was killed in the Civil War Battle of Antietam. Undaunted, Ruth opened the house, making room for Women’s Relief Corps, “who acted as angels of mercy during the American Civil War. These dedicated women marched into the battlefields nearby to bring fallen soldiers medical attention, water and food.”

Ruth and Edmond’s three children didn’t survive their childhood and died probably from a wide-spread disease that swept through town. Ruth continued to live in the family home. Something must of changed for Ruth in 1872; perhaps she died, or was remarried or had to sell the property. In 1872, Dairyman Richard Morris lived there until 1887; only five years.

In 1900, the property became strictly a rental unit for tenants. The Clancy Family moved into this house; the first of many renters. For sixty-seventy years, many families lived here and called it home. Unfortunately, not much money was spent in maintaining this structure, and it became a slum-quality rental.

By the 1970s, this historic property was too much of a fixer upper opportunity; too dilapidated to rent, even to the poorest residents of Fond du lac. The building was condemned by the state. The owners didn’t have the funds to fix it. However, the 1970s owner did manage to get this Octagon House listed on the National Register of Historic Places, on November 3rd, 1972, before the state took ownership of this “as is” fixer-upper opportunity, and put it on the market at a reduced price.

This condemned home became endangered when plans for a new school were presented, and the authorities were eyeing this property with plans to tear it down if no one would buy it, despite being listed on the NRHP. It was in sad shape, needing boatloads of money to fix it. Apparently, the school authorities and the state of Wisconsin weren’t concerned about a historic home that needed so much restoring. This attitude was prevalent throughout the United States. There must of been something in the water. It was easier to condemn it and repurpose the land for a better use.

A date with the wrecking ball was set, despite the efforts of the group, Save the Octagon House Committee. Local dressmaker and antiques dealer, Marlene Hanson bought the property with days to spare, without even seeing the inside of it. Whew! That was close!

Sometimes citizens will step up to the plate and buy an endangered historic building and then be reimbursed by the preservation group that was working to try to save it. When Marlene bought the Octagon House property, she thought she was buying it for the preservation group; Save the Octagon House Committee, “but that proved not to be the case.”

Undaunted, Marlene Hanson went forward in restoring this historic gem through the loans from National Register of Historic Places; which also means that Marlene Hanson had to abide with the NRHP rules  as well. One of the requirements of the NRHP loan was to offer public viewing of the Octagon House; twelve hours a year.

Marlene decided to keep living in her current house, and turned the main Octagon House into a museum; offering tours of some of the rooms. There was plenty to see here; featuring a lot of antiques and items from the early days of the Brown family and their descendants. She was an antique dealer after all.

In 1989, on January first, the state of Wisconsin finally caught on that the Octagon House was an historic restored treasure, now that they didn’t have to put any money into the restoration. It was listed on the Wisconsin State Register as well.

Marlene Hanson also held events, dinners and other planned programs here, putting this old house to work; bringing in needed funds to keep maintaining it and making improvements as well. While she had dinners with events for Mother’s Day, Christmas and other major and minor holidays, the most popular events held here happened in October; offering candle lit tours of the tunnels and passages. On Halloween itself, she offered a dinner with candle-lit ghost stories. Participants were never disappointed. The spirits here like to have company, and make noises, make appearances and even touch people with cold hands.

She also opened up the house to several paranormal groups, like Southwest Wisconsin Paranormal Group. All the investigation groups were very happy with their results as well.

She rented out the Carriage House that had been converted into an apartment with some effort. this also brought in a steady income to continue in the maintenance of this historic house.

However, after forty years, it got to be too much so Helen Hanson closed her museum. She started to rent this property to tenants, while trying to sell The Historic 1856 Octagon House as of June 2007. It is still for sale as of 2020.  Her tenants had to live around the antiques until Marleen could make the transformation of the Octagon House from museum to a private living space.

“It will take me a long, long time to move my things out, so they will have to live around me,” Hansen said. “I am 76 years old and have spent 40 years taking care of the house and I decided that I have done enough.”

She has gotten some help in finding new homes for her huge collections. In 2011, the T.V. Series, American Pickers filmed here and bought some of her items, relieving her of some treasures.

One of the potential roadblocks in selling this historic American style architectural treasure besides its layout and style, is the fact that spirit people are still residing there as well. While the spirit people  don’t seem to mind sharing with living people, as they have done so for over 100 years, co-existing with spectral housemates is an acquired taste, and not welcomed by potential buyers of this property so far.

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

People who experience the struggles as well as the joys of life in their forever home in this world, sometimes like to stay there in their afterlife to be able to enjoy in peace their fond memories as well as peace from their struggles.

Captain Lord’s Mansion Inn, ME (As a widow, Phoebe Lord raised the couple’s nine children by herself. That must of been very challenging indeed; even with the Captain’s money to help her).

Hartford Twain House, CT (The Twain family had to sell their forever home because of financial difficulties. Two of their three children also died there).

The Breakers, RI (The Matriarch of the Family is enjoying her home in peace).

Octagon House, WI (Ruth Brown suffered not only the death of Edmund, but three of her children, and the eventual loss of her house. She may have died too soon, remarried, or she had to sell it in 1872).

Children who die from accident or disease, sometimes choose to stay in a structure in this world where they felt love and support.

Waverley Plantation House, MS (Two young girls died here; one from falling down the stairs, and the other one died from a disease outbreak).

Dutton House, VT (A young girl died here from either an accident or an illness).

Collingwood Art Center: Gerber House, OH (Three children died here from Cholera).

Octagon House, WI (Three of the Edmund Brown children died probably from disease. Spirit of another young boy from another family also died by accident or illness).

The spirits of parents may stay in this world to take care of their spirit child or children who has chosen to stay there.

St James Hotel, NM (Spirit of Mary Lambert is still trying to keep up with her active toddler who is still a handful).

Whaley House, CA (Spirits of Mr. and Mrs. Whaley are still comforting their distressed daughter; (suicide) and taking care of their toddler;(fever).

Shanley Hotel, NY (Spirit of the hotel barber still looks after his daughter here. She fell into a well and died).

Octagon House, WI (Spirit of Ruth Brown is still looking after three of her children who died here).

If a spirit has had a structure to itself for a time, and saw how the living have neglected it in the past, he or she may take some time getting used to having to share and may express other feelings as well.

Dutton House, VT (A male spirit has a hard time with the amount of visitors that invade his home during museum hours).

Monmouth Plantation, MS (The Spirit of General John Whitman found ways to show his anger and restlessness at the new owners who soon won him over).

The Hermitage, TN (The spirit of Andrew Jackson made it crystal clear to sleeping people in the living room to get up and start working on his house, NOW!).

The Octagon House, WI (The spirit of Rose at first didn’t like having to share the house with the new owner, plus not trusting this owner to make repairs. This spirit did change her mind).

 

MANIFESTATIONS

This house and its land has long had a history of many uses, strong emotions, adventures and probably a few deaths. Through all of its history, entities have glommed onto this house for probably variety of reasons, and have basically behaving themselves, going about their business, with a few mischievous habits. Paranormal and strange occurrences have been witnessed by the living. This historic home has signs of unseen presences, visual and auditory activity, and actual visual sightings spirits who still love this place.

Signs of Mischief

Items are moved and sometimes go missing.

An owner reports that a spinning wheel on display was found completely taken apart in just a moment. Complete and normal one moment; completely taken apart moment later.

Something unseen gets some chuckles teasing pets within the 12 rooms in this house.

Both Marlene and her mother were pushed down the staircase on two separate occasions. Neither one of them were hurt.

VISUAL AND AUDITORY ACTIVITY

Doors open and shut by themselves, without help from the living or the wind.

Footfalls are heard on the steps when no one alive is there.

When it is dark, the living see lights, and hear sounds.

Spirits of Edmond and Ruth Brown’s Children

Sounds of children laughing and playing have been reported by docents and others.

People in the museum have been touched by cold, little hands.

Visual Sightings of Unknown Spirits

Shadows are seen in rooms all over the house and property causing the moving cold spots as well as stationary ones.

Owner Marlene Hanson has seen glowing eyes of spirits where the underground tunnel connects to the house.

Spirit of a Young Boy

He is connected to this structure or property and has chosen to spend his after-life here.

Witnesses have seen the spirit of the young boy going about his business in different parts of the house.

Spirit of Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown was the wife of Edmund Brown.

Both Marlene and her mother were pushed down the staircase on two separate occasions. Ruth may be the culprit.

My theory is that the spirit of Rose was angry at first because the living turned out to be dolts, neglecting her house. Now they expected her to share her house? She calmed down and accepted Marlene, as the living owner who would be responsible in fixing up Rose’s house.

The spirit of Ruth made her presence known to the owner Marlene throughout the house, and perhaps to the docents as well.

She freely appeared in front of Marlene Hanson, feeling very comfortable with this woman who was taking care of her forever home.

One such occurrence happened when Marlene was applying wallpaper in a room. The see-through spirit of Ruth appeared in the door way and watched Marlene for awhile with approval.

The spirit of Ruth probably is keeping an eye on the tenants who now rent the house while Marlene is trying to sell it.

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

The owner, docents, and the public have all had personal experiences.

A boatload of hard evidence has been caught by various paranormal investigation groups.

Southwest Wisconsin Paranormal Group has caught substantial hard evidence, and have proclaimed that the Octagon House is very haunted indeed.

Unexplained Research LLC – The haunted Octagon House was written about in Chad Lewis & Terry Fisk’s BOOK, THE WISCONSIN ROAD GUIDE TO HAUNTED LOCATIONS, who are paranormal investigators for Unexplained Research LLC.

Paranormal psychic researchers as well have talked to the multiple spirits who reside there.

STILL HAUNTED?

Yes Indeed!!

Not only are there eye-witness accounts, but paranormal investigators and psychic researchers have reported that the evidence they have gathered through equipment and actual contact with the house residents proves that spirit people still love their house.

The  spirits of the Brown children are still playing here and having fun; with each other, teasing the dog, touching people and cooperating with investigators. Perhaps one of them took the spinning wheel apart.

A spirit of a young boy still plays here as well, from one of the many families who lived here for roughly 168 years.

LOCATION

276 Linden Street
Fond du Lac, WI 54935
(920) 979-6221

The Historic 1856 Octagon House can be found in the city of Fond du Lac, near the corner of South Street and Linden Street. South Macy Street turns into Linden Street, which runs south through to 12th Street, parallel to South Main Street.

SOURCES INCLUDE

    • The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations
      by Chad Lewis & Terry Fisk
      pages 101-102
      2004
      Research Publishing Co.
    • HauntedWisconsin.com
    • marlenesheirlooms.com
    • heritageparkway.org
    • qconline.com
    • fdlreporter.com
    • hauntedwisconsin.com
    • zillow.com
    • npgallery.nps.gov
    • wisconsinhistory.org

  • THE WISCONSIN ROAD GUIDE TO HAUNTED LOCATIONS, by Chad Lewis & Terry Fisk

 
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Wisconsin