Between 1890 and 1910, horror arrived in the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Black River Falls had been a pleasant, thriving, small Midwestern town. Then the mines and lumber industries shut down, leaving people unemployed, ultimately causing the banks to fail as well. The cold and bleak Midwest winters and the threat of starvation added to the blight, and talk of witchcraft and devil worship circulated among the residents. Diseases spread and many turned to alcohol for comfort. In this 20-year period, the seemingly doomed residents of Black River Falls succumbed to a downward spiral of suicide, murder, destruction, and darkness.
In 1973, Michael Lesy published Wisconsin Death Trip, which assembled photographs from Charles Van Schaick's 1890 to 1910 collection along with newspaper clippings from the time. Shaick was a local photographer who captured images of the town and its residents. The book painted a grim picture of life in Black River Falls, an extreme example of the hardships of life in the late 1800s.
The book was adapted into a documentary with the same title in 1999 and added re-created live action segments to tell the town's bizarre story. Black River Falls eventually recovered, but this strange small town will always be remembered for the many terrible events that took place in the span of just two decades.
The suspicion of botched funerary procedures led to an investigation at the Rosedale Cemetery. It was discovered there that Mrs. Sarah Smith had been accidentally buried alive while in some kind of "trance," or coma-like state. Her body was found partially on its side, and the hand was positioned toward the face.
Reportedly, Smith had bitten her fingers half off, and it's believed this occurred when she realized her fate.
John Anderson, 13, ran away from home with his 10-year-old brother. From there, Anderson shot the owner of a remote farm at close range. The boys took over the deceased farmer's property until the farmer's brother paid a visit. The younger of the boys confessed to the crime, but Anderson took off, leading sheriffs on a manhunt.
An officer was killed during the chase, but Anderson was eventually caught and sentenced to life in prison.
A 60-year-old woman found a "small sore" on her back. Believing that the unknown mass was cancer and would take her life, she attempted to remove it herself. To cure the supposed malignant ailment, the woman doused herself in kerosene.
She then went out in her backyard and set herself a blaze.
Mrs. John Larson, the wife of a farmer, suffered from mental illness and believed that "devils" were after her. She took her three children out to the beach and then drowned them, one by one, in Lake St. Croix.
John Larson searched for his family but only recovered the bodies of two of his children.