Every corner of America has their own personal urban legends of spooks and haunted places. Northeast Wisconsin is no different and among the most infamous paranormal spots lies on the outskirts of the small town of St. Nazianz. In it’s prime it was known as JFK Prep Academy and the Salvation Seminary. The sprawling 38-acre property features a Catholic school building, a church, a library, a printing building, two different dormitories, a gym, several garages and a system of underground tunnels which connect several of the buildings. In the back of the property there is a cemetery filled with priests that is over looked by a chapel and a crypt.
The tomb holds the remains of Father Ambrose Oschwald, who in 1854 guided over 100 German people across the Atlantic in an effort to seek religious freedom. They as a group established St. Nazianz and became a fully functioning community. Oschwald died in February of 1873 but his followers kept up his dream until a group of Roman Catholic Salvation priests took over the religious cause in 1896. They proceeded to build a church and run a seminary. A school was built and utilized until funding ran dry in the 60’s. It was reopened as JFK Prep Academy in the 70’s but once again shut down in the early 80’s due to lack of funds. The property has laid dormant ever since.
The legends of paranormal happenings include:
“The Curse of Oschwald”: Twenty years after Father Oschwald died, the state took a huge amount of land away from his colony (possibly upwards of 3800 acres) and this was suppose to have provoked his spirit to curse the town. This culminated in a massive tornado that severely damaged St. Nazianz in the year 2000 causing over 100 million dollars in damage to it and the neighboring town of Chilton.
While Oschwald lay dying, the town was besieged by pounding and knocking on many houses walls and doors. Oschwald was said to have prayed and blessed people who were not actually in the room with him, then signal the unseen figures to leave with a wave of his hands. Some saw this as Oschwald seeing spirits, but he could have easily been delirious from pain and sickness. Once he died he was apparently placed in an exposed coffin and was kept visible to the public in his crypt until at least the 50’s. I can’t find evidence of this but I have spoken to one former church goer who confirmed this. Oschwald’s corpse also apparently remained in very good condition long after death, which in Catholicism indicates sanctity.
Author’s Edit: Upon researching this issue further in May of 2016, I can say with little doubt that Father Oschwald was only seen in 1926 when his casket was opened when they prepared to move him to a new crypt. Since his first coffin was air tight, he was well preserved and so he was placed on display for a brief period before being entombed in the concrete that he still resides in today. Here are pictures of him at his death and then his 1926 exposure:
“The Ghost of a Headless Priest”: The church grounds are surrounded by woods and a lake and the legends state that a headless priest can be seen riding around the woods at night. This was started due to a prank when a priest put a hood on and rode through the woods in an effort to scare a group of kids. It apparently worked and word spread and morphed from there as the years passed.
“The Satan Room”: On the fourth floor of the dorms there is a room where the mythos states that Father Oschwald encountered Satan. After the incident the room was boarded up to protect the students and faculty. The truth is much more mundane as the school wasn’t around until many decades after Oschwald died. There is no signs of the room being boarded up and when a team of local ghost hunters explored the room for EVPs and such they received no activity.
“The Suitcase Room”: Near the “The Satan Room” is a room with two old suitcases. The suitcases hang open and when you try to close them and walk away they will open back up by themselves. This doesn’t truly indicate something paranormal, but it has been documented several times.
“Bleeding Statues”: The east side of the grounds has a series of erratically placed stone pillars that once housed statues of the Stations of the Cross. All but one of the statues are now gone. The unconfirmed rumor is that it was due to the statues bleeding. Skeptics say that iron in the structure’s bases could have leaked rust through and that may have given off a reddish hue that was mistaken for blood.
Other legends include stories of the graveyard stones shifting up and down over time (it doesn’t happen). There are also tales of nuns having given birth to babies and then drowning the children in a nearby lake (zero confirmation it ever happened). You also hear of the nuns and teachers beating students. Given how lenient schools were on teacher’s discipline up until a few decades ago, that one is probably true to a degree.
Some additional hauntings include spirits of those who died in a fire that occurred in 1871. EVPs have been recorded that sound like a person saying “burning”. You can also supposedly hear students laughing in the school hallways, which is credited to residual energy from all the kids who had passed through. The ghost hunters who explored the grounds a few years ago did confirm that a student committed suicide in the dorms and they were even shown the suicide note as confirmation.
While recording for possible EVPs, the ghost hunters asked, “What should we do with this place?” They got a response that sounded like “Nothing.” Hear it for yourself: “Nothing” EVP Clip
The ghost hunters experienced another creepy moment while going thorough the church. One of the crew was singing church hymns to try and evoke a reaction from whatever may be hovering about. When they ran out of hymns a switch was made to Christmas music. Nothing came from this until a while later when a separate member of the crew came into the dorms attached to the church and his cell phone randomly started playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in midi format. The song was not programmed on the phone. You can hear it here: Merry Christmas
The buildings are all badly damaged from years of neglect and vandalism. Here you can see the church interior, with the pews covered up to prevent water damage as the roof has been in bad shape for many years. The left hand corner also reveals a big hole from plaster and other building materials giving away. Water damage is evident on the walls as well.
Nearly every window in the dorms and school have been knocked out by vandals and the aforementioned tornado. It’s actually a sad sight.
My personal history with the property is that my father attended JFK Prep in the 50’s and he drove me to it sporadically when I was a child in the 80’s. It is for that reason that it holds a bit of magic for me. I went to the grounds twice illegally under the cover of darkness when I was in my early twenties. Neither time saw my friends and I achieve any success in our ghost hunt.
The first time we went we parked our car in a wooded lane nearby and snuck through a field to try and approach the property. We got as far as the front gates when a car drove by – we all dove into the bushes. The car drove by again. Then we got worried. It drove by again. We made a run for it and hid in the field. We watched the car drive by several more times, before it pulled down a side road and parked right behind our car! We freaked out and figured we were busted but the car idled for a bit, then drove away. We booked it to our car and drove home.
We were determined to make a go of this and returned a few months later. This time we made it on the property. Before we could enter any buildings we encountered the eerie silence of the desolate countryside that enveloped us. Then we heard dogs barking. The goosebumps rose from our skin. We walked a ways in the grassy yard and hit a cold spot we couldn’t explain. Paranoia took over soon after and we ran for our vehicle.
My last two trips have been done for pure nostalgia and curiosity – and have been completely legal under the light of day with members of the church around. The chapel which is in the back corner of the property is creepy due to it’s solitude. The door to get in screeches as you open it and that caused my senses to tingle. Inside the walls are full of religious artwork that is unintentionally menacing. The pained expressions on the faces of Jesus and the Saints burn into your psyche and things are made all the creepier due to the painting’s aged paper and sporadic water damage.
The church is damaged to the tune of needing at least $200,000 to restore it but visitors are still welcome. The glass windows remain largely unbroken in it – proof that even vandals may have a sense of karma and decency. This was the place where I had a strange incident as I was standing still just listening to the sounds of silence inside this holy gathering place. My peaceful lull was interrupted by my ears picking up a brief rustling sound in one of the empty pews. It was probably just the old building settling, but when your in a place full of supposed spooks one never knows.
The gym has been converted into a thrift store. When I entered I was expecting to see some old ladies running the place with Godly intentions, instead a heavy set man with a wild haircut was behind the front counter. Hip hop music blared from a nearby radio. I tried to ask him some questions but his answers were all disinterested mono-symbolic responses, so I gave up. He proceeded to go into the back room for a minute and came back with a gun. I did a double take and then watched him start to polish it. I was unnerved and left as quick as possible.
Conclusion: I believe in the existence of ghosts, so I have no problems believing a place with the kind of background JFK Prep/Salvation Seminary has would be brimming with them. The current owners are part of the United Ministries Incorporated and they do not believe in any hauntings – at least not publicly. They told me the only ghosts there were “The Holy Ghost”. They are attempting to downplay the spooky past in order to hopefully find more takers for their religious camp they are establishing. A renovation of the grounds is projected to cost over 20 million dollars and funding is actively being sought. Father Oschwald has yet to let us know what he thinks of these new plans…