Woman in the white dress

Editor Andrea Behling remembers her family's story
Woman in the white dress
Courtesy of Andrea Behling

I remember a family member once told me about a ghost encounter when I was younger. In an abandoned barn across the street from my childhood home in Belvidere, Illinois, a woman in a white dress was seen sitting on a decaying beam in the rafters. Her dress was tattered and dirty, but still beautiful. I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts, but I sometimes think about that story when I turn into my parents’ driveway, and a shiver runs down my spine.

That same kind of shiver returned as I read through the October cover story written by associate editor Joel Patenaude and digital content editor Maija Inveiss. They’ve found some downright creepy stories involving haunted Madison locations, an elusive creature in the depths of the Yahara watershed and several other mysteries of the city. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for a good scare, I think you’ll enjoy every hair-raising word.

The story even inspired me to look into the origin of my family’s haunted barn story. I could have sworn my dad was the one to have seen the woman in the white dress, so I called him. He told me he had never heard the story. Maybe it was my brother, I thought. I called him, but he had no memory of it either. I called my mom, then my grandmother and then my uncle. No one remembers ever hearing about the woman in the white dress.

I was ready to give up on my investigation until I started Googling ghosts from Belvidere. (Just for good measure, of course.) I came to find that there’s a well-documented story of the ghost of Nellie Dunton, who lived in a Belvidere home that has been ranked as one of the top haunted residences in Illinois. Nellie died in 1920 after wandering from her home and drowning in the nearby Kishwaukee River. The story goes that she was in love with a man who promised to marry her after he returned from the Civil War, but he never came home.

It’s said that the day Nellie slowly walked into the river, she was wearing a wedding gown.

I’m now grappling with the notion that the ghost encounter I remember so vividly — that no one else in my family seems to recall — might have been my own. And maybe the woman in the white dress wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

I invite you to read this month’s cover story and ask yourself, as I often ask myself — do you believe in ghosts?