By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jan 31, 2005 at 5:34 AM

{image1}When Jessica Poor and Scott Walter started house hunting a couple of years ago, they hoped to buy a church and convert it to their living space. Instead, they bought a funeral home.

Built in 1895, the Bay View Victorian on Howell Avenue is 3,000 square feet with a super-sized history to boot.

"It stopped functioning as a funeral home in the '20s," says Poor. "And a neighbor told us that at some point it was also a brothel."

Today, there are few visible signs that the house was once an oasis between life and death. Poor speculates the room that's now a kitchen was where the morticians worked on the bodies, and says when she went to sand the wood floors she found scores of black wheels that were most likely from coffin casters.

"That was creepy," she says.

There is also a very old church pew at the end of the staircase -- perhaps used as a priest's area -- but otherwise, the house isn't particularly spooky. It's painted a lively shade of purple and features ornate details like plaster scrollwork, intricate inlaid floors, 16-foot ceilings and a dumbwaiter.

Best of all, according to Poor, it has a warm and friendly vibe. "Everybody loves this house and say they find it warm and inciting," she says. "It's not a haunted house, and I never hear noises or see strange things. After all, the people were already dead when they got here."

Ellie and Ron Haines have lived in a 6,000-square-foot structure that was once the Schramka Funeral Home for 11 years, but only once did they experience anything peculiar.

"My daughter-in-law told me she saw somebody by the linen closet, somebody tall, and he was walking down the hall," says Ellie. "She asked me how tall my father was (sensing that perhaps it was him)."

{image2}The Haines moved to the Riverwest building on Burleigh Street when it was still a functioning funeral home. A friend had tipped them off that the Schramkas, who had lived in the house since 1928, were looking for a couple to live upstairs and "fluff the place up" between funerals.

Ellie says living under the same roof with dead people didn't bother her. She always said a little prayer for the deceased and was thrilled with the arrangement.

"Before we moved to Schramka's, we were paying $450 a month to live on Humboldt," she says. "We didn't pay a dime (for rent) when we first lived here. Even our newspaper was paid for, and they paid me $50 a month."

During the five or six years the Haines lived rent free, they remodeled most of their second-story living space. When they purchased the building in the late '90s, they remodeled the lower level as well.

"This house is fabulous. You could get lost in it," says Ellie.

The ground floor is an "entertainment area" with six recliners, a piano, large screen television and more. In the basement, Ron has three workshops with, according to Ellie, just about every tool imaginable. They are yet to convert the mammoth attic.

Today, Paul Schramka, the son of the original owner of the house, lives in Germantown. He is a semi-retired mortician who still consults, and has two sons who are funeral directors.

Schramka grew up living above the funeral home, and says he enjoyed growing up in the neighborhood and learned early on that the funeral business was very taxing and demanding.

"My parents never took a vacation together," he says. "Someone had to always stay at home, just in case."

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.