Collage of images and news clippings.

Photo by Elizabeth Hybertson

The town of Madison, South Dakota is known for many things including its rich history. One of the lesser-known things is how dark this history is. As written on, The History of Madison, in 1870 the town of Madison was established upon the arrival of Charles Walker and William Lee, who decided both the lake and the town should be named after Madison, Wisconsin. The town of Madison was embroiled in controversy from the very beginning.

In 1880 when the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad was extended, it passed by Charles B. Kennedy’s homestead that was five miles north of the original town. In response to the closeness, Kennedy invited the residents of the town for them to move to his homestead, this resulted in the creation of the “new” Madison, where the town is currently located. The only building left in the “old” Madison was the building containing the safe that held all the important documents. The first train arrived in Madison in 1881, a full year after the move.

Soon after that, in 1881, Dakota State University was built. A detailed history of the school can be found on the DSU website. However, shortly after that In September 1886, Beadle Hall was opened, as well as the school’s classroom building, just three short months after the building was established, it burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. Nobody knows if anyone died in the fire, but reconstruction soon began.

            The school also housed a building that was known as West Hall. West hall was left abandoned for some time before anything was done with it. Nobody knows why it was left, but according to the DSU website, it was torn down in 1909 and Tunheim now stands in its place.

            Besides its fair share of fires and construction, the town of Madison has been flooded many times. has many recounts of people who have survived many floods. One man stated that it flooded so badly in 1962 that they “floated houses”.  The residents that were interviewed talked about the floods in 1993 and even a more recent flood in 2019. The article contains much information on the 2019 flood and a rather eerie piece of warning issued by a woman named Lindsey who stated “Do not walk into the water. You don’t know if the ground underneath it has been washed away…” implying that if you were to walk into the water, you too could be washed away. The reason why I bring the floods to your attention is that there is not an exact death count for the people who have drowned over the years.

            With all the unknowns for a small town like ours, it causes us to beg the question of how many people have actually died, and of all the people that have passed away or have been washed away, how many bodies have been found? And even when part of the school’s campus turned to ash, is it a guarantee that there was no one left inside as it burned? Just how many ghosts are walking around that we all remain unaware of?