Menomonie, Wisconsin History/dovakhaleesi
The Mabel Tainter Center of the Arts in Menomonie, Wisconsin is a local landmark for a both its beauty and it's ghost stories. It was built by Captain Andrew Tainter in 1889 in memorial of his late daughter, Mabel. It is ranked on CNN's 15 Most Spectacular Theaters in the World. The building is often used to for art and craft shows, tours, and local theater productions. However, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the death of the namesake of the theater and there have been several rumors spread by locals about some supernatural activity in the theater.
Mabel Tainter's Life
Captain Andrew Tainter and Family
Andrew Tainter was originally from New York, but eventually came to Wisconsin to take advantage of the booming lumber industry. He became a wealthy lumber baron and later earned the title “Captain Tainter.” Andrew Tainter had married an Ojibwa woman named Mary Poskin Goose. The couple stayed together in for nine years and had five children: Julia, William, Charlotte, Thomas, and Elizabeth. Later, in 1859, s. Bertha Lucas Lesure, a widow, moved to Menomonie, she and Andrew Tainter were married in 1861. That same year, his children from his previous marriage, Julia and William died. Later, Andrew and Bertha had five children: Louis, Ruth, Mabel, Irene and Fanny. Irene died as an infant, Ruth died at age 8, and Mabel at age 19.
Mabel's Mysterious Death and the Rumors Surrounding it
Mabel died June 10, 1886. Her official cause of death was cancer of the side. Back then, cancer of the side might have meant appendicitis; however, there are several more scandalous rumors stating that she had an affair with a logger that worked for her father. She became pregnant and she had intended to marry the logger, however, he disappeared; or, do to the difference in status between Mabel and the logger, they were not allowed to marry. There is a painting in the Mabel Tainter Center of the Arts that depicts Mabel wearing a wedding ring, but Mabel was never married. The excuse is that Fanny, Mabel’s sister, was the model for Mabel’s body, and Fanny was wearing her wedding ring. However, I think it’s a tribute to the logger she wanted to marry. In another variation of this rumor, Mabel was very into bad boys when she was alive and she had an affair with a man who had no intention of marrying her. In order to avoid shame, Mabel’s parents urged her to get an abortion, and she died of procedure complications. This may sound more like a soap opera than real life, however abortions were surprisingly common in the 1800’s, they were mostly used to avoid scandal. However, septic abortions were common and penicillin had not been discovered, so, bacterial infections were common as well. The cause of death may seem like a lot speculation, however, there is also a lot of mystery surrounding her death certificate. It took an unreasonable long time to get a death certificate and when they did get it, it was very vague and it was signed by an out of state doctor. I believe that the reasoning behind it is that Captain Tainter had a hard time find a doctor he could force into signing the death certificate. He would not have that hard of a time if her true cause of death was cancer of the side, or appendicitis. He wanted to cover up his daughter’s abortion to protect his and his family’s image.
The Construction of the Mabel Tainter Center of the Arts
Even if Captain Andrew Tainter cared about his image, he also cared about his family. He felt guilty about the loss of his daughter. It was one of his loggers that impregnated her, and it was one of his loggers that left her. He was also the one that pushed her to get an abortion. In attempt to escape the guilt that threatened to consume him, he erected the center of the arts in Mabel’s memory. While she was alive, Mabel loved music and art. Her beloved piano is currently kept in the center of the arts. She loved that piano so much, it is said she died while playing it. However, this rumor was probably started by Bertha, Mabel’s mother, who believed that music could heal anything. In order to complete the center of the arts as soon as possible, Captain Andrew Tainter promised jobs, money, and a better life to 200 immigrants and their families. The building was completed in 1890, it only took 16 months to complete, which is amazing even by today’s standards. The exterior of the building is constructed of sandstone from what is presently the village of Downsville. Harvey Ellis was chosen to be the architect. In his designs, Ellis included curved surfaces, combination of arches, and hand carved details framing the main entrance. Also, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a charter member of the League of Historic American Theatres, and is a designated Wisconsin Historical Marker Site.
The Haunting of the Mabel Tainter
There are several theories on who might be haunting the theater. It could be little Ruth, who died when she was eight and whose picture hangs in the main room of the theater. It could be the minister, Henry Doty Maxson, who used the center of the arts as an Unitarian Church and whose notes are still on the chalkboard in the theater’s upstairs office. Minister Maxson’s chalkboard contained notes from his last sermon, including a passage about fearing death. It could be an immigrant worker who was torn away from his family to work on the construction of the building. It could be Ms. Pinkepank, the librarian who turned down several offers, of marriage or something else, to continue working at the center of the arts. It could Fanny, the sister whose body was used as a double for Mabel’s in the paintings. It could be any of Mabel’s siblings, jealous that their sister got such a glorious monument and they did not. Or It could be Mabel. Mabel, irate with her lover for leaving herself and resentful of her parents for pushing into a procedure that was ultimately the cause of her demise.
Stories About the Hauntings
There have been several reports of seeing a woman through the window at night, after all the staff had gone home for the night. The lights randomly get turned on and off. There are also rumors that you can hear the piano at night. Mabel’s beloved piano that is still in the theater. Mabel loved music when she was alive, she probably still loves music in the afterlife. Also, Jana Reeg Steidinger said that when electrical equipment is set up for upcoming productions, the ghost tinkers with it. Settings are changed, wires are pulled, it is definitely a supernatural occurrence. The Mabel Tainter Center of the Arts is also listed on several online haunting related sites. These sites, such as ‘Unexplained Research,’ contain testimonies of people who have been to the Mabel Tainter. These testimonies often contain people talking about how they heard strange noises at the theater, including high pitched shrieks and the crying of infants. People have also said that they had felt a tugging on their sleeve and turned around to see that there is no one there. There are also a lot of people who said that they got ‘eerie feelings,’ most of these feelings happen in the basement of the theater. In 2008, a group called the ‘Sanity Check Paranormal Investigators,’ or SCPI, were allowed in the Mabel Tainter to investigate the strange occurrences. During their night at the Mabel Tainter, the SCPI recorded electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs. EVP recorders are highly sensitive digital recorders that enable the investigator to carry on a discussion while picking up phenomena. What the EVP recorder captured was a female voice eerily whispering, "Get out." Several of the EVPs that they had set up got the same message, some of them also got crying or shrieking. The SCPI came to the conclusion that the Mabel Tainter Center of the Arts is definitely haunted.
- Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts - Historic Menomonie, Wisconsin Theater. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2015, from: http://www.mabeltainter.org/
- Git ’Er Dug. Mabel S. Tainter (1866 - 1886) - Find A Grave Memorial. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2015, from: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=119661477
- Reeg Steidinger, Jana. Mable Tainter Tour, November 9, 2015
- About Historic Menomonie Theater - Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from http://www.mabeltainter.org/about_us.phtml
- Dunn County Haunts and Folklore: The Mabel Tainter Theater |. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2015, from: https://uwstoutandabout.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/dunn-county-haunts-and-folklore-the-mabel-tainter-theater/
- Unexplained Research - They Live Amongst Us: The Ghosts of Menomonie. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2015, from: http://www.unexplainedresearch.com/media/they_live_among_us.html