Half a million visitors from around the world make the pilgrimage to Holy Hill every year, many of whom come for healing, and leave their crutches and eyeglasses behind to attest to the land’s strange power. It’s been a bastion of Catholic faith for over 300 years. But the legends of a murderous hermit, a haunted cemetery, and acres of mystic forest where restless spirits and bizarre creatures like Goatman and the Bearwolf roam the night speak to something darker at work.
Let’s explore the mysteries of Holy Hill.
Church of Miracles
Surrounded by hundreds of acres of natural forest, Holy Hill is a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church and National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians that towers more than 289 feet over the forest floor on one of the highest peaks in Southeastern Wisconsin. It got its name from early Irish settlers, but has since also come to be known as Miracle Hill, or the Church of Miracles. An earlier structure that once stood on the site was littered with crutches left behind by visitors who found healing on its mysterious summit.
A reclusive Catholic order from Bavaria called the Discalced Carmelites are the current stewards of the hill, and have been since 1906. But the first Catholics there were 17th century Jesuit missionaries from the north.
According to tradition, the hill was first discovered in 1673 by a French Canadian priest named Jacques Marquette, along with adventurer and fur trader Louis Jolliet. Local Potawatomie and Menominee folklore tell of a “black-robed chief” who wore a crucifix and rosary at his belt while he prayed on the “Big Hill.”
A 1920 Milwaukee Journal article reported:
“Father Marquette in his journeying from the town of Mequon in the search for Rock River, saw the Hill from 15 miles away. It made its mystic appeal to him and the man of religion hastened to the top to rear a cross!”
Hermit of Holy Hill
As a young man in France, Francois Soubrio had been studying for the priesthood when he met a girl and fell in love. When he publicly announced his engagement to her, he was banned from the church and brought disgrace upon his family. He decided to leave home for a while to let the controversy subside. He promised his love he would return for her, but after a year he arrived home to discover she had been unfaithful. Soubrio murdered the girl in a jealous rage, then fled to a monastery in Quebec where he lived in penance as a monk.
Legend says that it was in that monastery that Soubrio discovered the diary and map from Father Marquette’s travels, and decided to follow it to the sacred hill where Marquette had constructed a stone altar, erected a wooden cross, and dedicated the site to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There, he would pray for forgiveness for breaking his vow of chastity, and for murdering his lover.
Sometime around the mid-1800s, an area farmer noticed a figure moving about in the moonlight one night on Holy Hill. The figure seemed to be performing religious rites, kneeling before the silhouette of the cross for an extended period before rising and disappearing into the woods. That figure was Soubrio. He had been living alone on the hill in a crude dugout or hut for who knows how long. He soon became friends with neighboring farmers, and eventually shared his story with one trusted acquaintance.
On his travels to the hill, Soubrio had contracted a disease that left him almost entirely paralyzed. But when he finally reached the hill, he was so determined that he crawled to the summit, where he spent the first night in prayer. The following morning, Soubrio discovered that he had regained function of his entire body again. He had been miraculously healed at the top of the hill.
He decided to build a small chapel there, where he remained for seven years. Then, the recluse vanished as mysteriously as he had arrived.
Some stories say Soubrio joined the Union and fought in the Civil War, where he died in battle, while others claim he had been witnessed alive and well in Chicago some time after his disappearance.
According to some spooked visitors, he can still be found wandering the grounds of Holy Hill at dusk, his ghostly visage kneeling and praying at various crosses along his old path, or drifting through the cemetery in the forest below the church.
The Carmelite Cemetery is the burial ground for Holy Hill’s caretakers, and the place where visitors encounter a strange phenomenon. Photos taken in the cemetery would sometimes be obscured by a thick mist that hadn’t been visible to the eye. But sometimes the mist does become visible, and the experience is particularly unnerving.
Visitors to the cemetery at night have reported encounters with this peculiar mist. It is said to form quickly out of nowhere and soon engulf bystanders. The mist is said to form into the shape of a man, with clearly distinguishable features including the face, eyes, and a beard.
Then, just as quickly as it rolled in, the apparition dissolves into the night air and is gone.
Some speculate that this is the misty specter of the hermit, Francois Soubrio, who still lingers on the hill.
Shroud of Turin Replica
The basilica oratory at Holy Hill is home to a finely crafted replica of the famous Shroud of Turin. The 14-foot long cloth appears to be stained with the faint impressions of a dead man’s bloody body. Abrasions, whip marks, and nail wounds are visible on the head, hands, torso and feet that match those of the crucifixion of Jesus.
There is speculation among researchers about its true origins, but it has been revered for hundreds of years by the faithful as the actual burial shroud of Jesus Christ. The original can be found in Italy and is rarely put on display for the public, so an encounter with the replica at Holy Hill may be the closest you’ll ever get to the mysterious object.
Holy Hill Bigfoot…er…Bearwolf
In the early hours of November 9th, 2006 a Wisconsin DNR contractor named Steve Krueger was cleaning up roadkill from the backroads around Holy Hill when he had an encounter he would never forget. At about 1:30am Krueger had just loaded a deer carcass from the side of the road into the back of his truck, and climbed back in the cab to do some paperwork. Suddenly the truck began shaking, and when Krueger looked up into the rearview mirror, he saw a huge, hairy beast standing on its hind legs, reaching down into the bed of the truck to drag the carcass from the open tailgate.
“All I saw was the creature,” Krueger said of the moment. “One paw — or whatever was on it — reaching over to grab the deer. The head looked like a cross between a bear and a wolf.”
He described the creature as dark colored, with a snout like a bear but longer, and big pointy ears like a wolf.
“It scared the living heck out of me,” Krueger said. “I threw it into drive and off I went.”
Krueger later realized that the ATV ramp he used to ease roadkill into the truck had also come out with the deer carcass. When he returned to the scene to retrieve it, the creature, the carcass, and the ramp were nowhere to be found. He reported the encounter to authorities. Contrary to his description of the creature, though, local media reported it the following day as a Bigfoot sighting at Holy Hill.
Some locals laughed it off. Others refused to get the mail after dark.
But for some, Kruger’s encounter was all too familiar, and his experience encouraged them to come forward with similar accounts. A man named Rick Selchert said he saw the same creature two years earlier, in October of 2004, when it ran across the road in front of him. Local tracker Mike Lane reported finding exceptionally large prints from an animal that must have weighed several hundred pounds.
Since then there have been numerous similar encounters in the area, including a 4-foot tall hairless creature running on its hind legs that was nearly run over by a woman and her daughter in 2014.
Goatman of Hogsback Road
Hogsback Road near Holy Hill is a narrow, treacherous drive with sharp turns and steep drop offs on both sides. It is also home to the Goatman. According to local legend, the wicked half man, half goat beast darts out in front of cars, forcing drivers to swerve and plummet off the side of the road into the forest below.
And Goatman has been terrorizing Hogsback Road for a long time.
In his book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? researcher J. Nathan Couch details the earliest known story, which dates back to the 1870s when a young newlywed couple attempted to navigate the road by wagon. Likely little more than a snaking trail through the woods, Hogsback Road was still full of peril, as they would soon learn.
When one of their wagon wheels broke, the husband told the wife to remain with the wagon while he went back to town for help. But as the night wore on and he didn’t return, she began to worry.
Soon, to her relief, she heard movement outside the wagon.
But then there was a sniffing sound, like a large animal that had caught a scent on the breeze, followed by a horrific, goat-like bleating that filled the night air and chilled her to the bone. When she peeked out of the wagon, she caught a glimpse in the moonlight of a creature covered in coarse hair, with human legs and the horned head of a goat.
She screamed and cowered in the wagon until the sun rose.
When she finally emerged from the wagon, her husband was still nowhere to be found. She discovered huge, cloven hoof tracks on the ground that lead from the road into the forest.
She followed the tracks, and came upon a large oak near the tree line.
It was covered in blood, and her husband’s mutilated remains dangled from its gnarled limbs.
Tally Ho Haunted Pub
Minutes from Holy Hill in the town of Erin is Tally Ho Pub and Grill. This historic building was established in the 1800s and has served as a saloon, hotel, and general store. These days it’s a great place to grab some wings and a cold beer, and also have an encounter with a sometimes violent poltergeist.
Mr. and Mrs. Rattenbach owned the Tally Ho in the 1930s and are said to have operated a brothel there. Mr. Rattenbach was a violent drunk who put their daughter Emily to work “serving up more than just drinks,” according to the local guide to haunted places, Washington County Paranormal.
Emily was born in 1905, and died at just 31 years old. Legend says Emily was murdered in the Tally Ho and buried in the basement beneath a pile of rocks.
Today, most visitors are fortunate enough to just catch the scent of lavender and lemon balm as she passes by unseen. Others have seen her as an apparition in white. Doors open and close on their own, voices are heard whispering in the dark after bar close, and footsteps are heard walking in the basement.
But an unlucky few, usually men, have had more harrowing encounters with Emily.
In the kitchen, knives have a tendency to come flying off the magnetic strip above the sink. On two separate occasions, cooks have been attacked by them, and both required stitches.
A man who lived in the apartment above the bar often awoke in the middle of the night to find his coverings had been torn off of him while he slept, and his valuable possessions would frequently go missing, never to be found again. He believed he was being personally targeted by Emily, and eventually moved out to escape her torment.
There was a Rattenbach family in the area. Emily, daughter of Charles and Louise Rattenbach, was born in Richfield in 1905 and died 31 years later in 1936. But she was married to a man named Erwin Ruegg and has a grave in the Faith Church of Christ cemetery in Slinger.
So if it’s not Emily, who is the lady in white that that was buried in the basement of Tally Ho and attacks men with knives?
Is Holy Hill a sacred place where the faithful are healed by the Virgin Mary, or is there something more mysterious – and possibly darker – at work in this strange land?