It was Mike Huberty's destiny to co-own American Ghost Walks, a walking tour company that shares paranormal stories to groups of people. After all, he grew up in Mukwonago.
His family home was down the road from The Rainbow Springs Resort, a 760-room hotel that was built, but never opened. It remained vacant for 30 years and then suspiciously was destroyed by a fire in 2002. Many believe to this day that it was haunted.
The 1980s and 90s, during which Huberty grew up, basked in the afterglow of television's Golden Age. Cable television and premium stations were available, but people still watched primarily network television and local news. And stories about the paranormal were hot. "Unsolved Mysteries" hit the small screen in 1987 and local news – at least in Huberty's parts – started covering stories that suggested paranormal activity was happening for real such as werewolf sightings in Elkhorn.
"Now it's folklore, but I remember seeing a story on Channel 12 about 'The Beast of Bray' – that people were reporting werewolf sightings all over the area," says Huberty.
It was all just enough to make Huberty believe – or at least wonder – if such supernatural happenings could be true.
Speed up a decade or so later and Huberty is back from tour with his band, the Madison-based Sunspot.
"I was broke. I had no way to pay my rent. My sister (Allison Jornlin) was running a ghost tour business in Milwaukee and suggested I start one in Madison. And so I did. It was September, so the timing was right (for Halloween) and by the end of the month, I could pay my rent," says Huberty.
For the past 15 years, the brother-sister team have built American Ghost Walks to offer paranormal walking tours in eight states and 25 cities from California to Maine to Puerto Rico.
In Milwaukee, two tours are currently available: "Third Ward Ghost Walk" and "Shadow Of City Hall." There's also a Brady Street tour that is sometimes offered. During the tours, guides lead groups of 20 or fewer on evening strolls through city neighborhoods and share chilling tales and haunted history.
The tours run from May until mid-November and then sometimes return for Haunted Christmas Tours in December. They run 90 to 120 minutes and ticket prices vary. Click here for more details.
"We give tours only when it's fun to be outside," says Huberty.
During the interview, we asked Huberty some very specific questions about haunted Milwaukee as well as his personal belief in the paranormal.
OnMilwaukee: Do you think Milwaukee or Madison is more haunted?
Huberty: By the virtue of more people living in Milwaukee, there are more ghosts per capita. It's hard to say, though. Madison sneaks in with some Civil War ghosts and there's great stuff around the university. I would still say there are more haunted square miles in Milwaukee, but we're working on it in Madison.
What is Milwaukee's most haunted building?
A lot of people think it's the Pfister Hotel. Because of the baseball players going public with paranormal experiences they've claimed to have there, the Pfister is famously haunted. But I believe the Riverside Theater is the unsung hero of the city's psychic scene. And it makes sense: there are performers giving it their blood, sweat and tears on the stage night after night. It makes sense they would 'leave behind' some psychic energy.
What are the most common haunted experiences people have?
Everyone has had the feeling of being watched. You can't figure out what that feeling is exactly, but it's a sense we all have. Even people who don't believe in psychics have felt it. This is the most basic experience.
Weird noises is another sign of a haunting for some people. You can usually explain these: creaks from old wood or sounds of air traveling through pipes. But sometimes people experience doors opening on their own or unlocking on their own when the person is certain it wasn't done by a living person.
Then there's2 the next level. Visual manifestations. Sometimes it's seen from the corner of the eye or in a photograph or a security camera. The final level is when your dead grandma walks into the room and asks how you’re doing.
What or who do you think ghosts are?
If I could tell you that I’d be rich.
OK, so do you believe in ghosts?
I’m really interested in the things we cannot explain. Folklore is cool, mythology is interesting, ghost stories are fun, but what really trips the trigger for me is when different people across the decades with no connection to one another experience the same paranormal event and in the same place. It's "uncanny connections" that make it exciting and interesting for me. It makes me wonder what is activating that? Connect that with some history and you have a package of something for people to do other than a movie on a Friday night. That's also exciting for me.
I will also say, that even though I've lived and worked in Madison for a long time, I never felt as connected to the place as when I was walking people around Capitol Square and telling stories. It made me feel connected to my city in a whole different way, and I think that's usually what happens when people go on a haunted tour.
It's like believing in OUIJA boards. These board games aren't actual conduits to hell or we wouldn't have them around anymore. Like lawn Jarts. Instead, they can help us discover things about ourselves.
Why do you think so many people want to go on a haunted tour?
People have an innate need for spirituality. I'm not saying our ghost tours are an excuse for spirituality, but people have an innate interest in something more than the physical and they enjoy being open to it. Some have had experiences that left them not knowing what to believe, so they're searching for some answers. Or they just wanna be around people that are open to the possibility of something paranormal happening. These probably aren't conversations you're gonna have at work. And yet other people really believe the paranormal is real and they want to be around other people who won't make fun of them. Our tours are a safe space for all the weirdos.
Have you seen things you can't explain?
I have. I never had a dead relative talk to me or anything like that. But I've seen things with other people at the same time that I can’t explain. Maybe something is out there, maybe not. But having shared experiences like this throughout my life leads me to say, "OK. What else is out there?"
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.