There’s a crisp wind blowing leaves down the street and the porches are lined with jack o’ lanterns and plastic ghosts. Yes, it’s getting close to Halloween, the perfect time for a good scare. In search of Milwaukee’s best ghost stories, I decided to consult with two of our local experts on the subject.
I spoke to Noah Leigh, who should be familiar to you if you’ve read any of my past posts. He is leader of the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, a group dedicated to searching haunted hot spots in Milwaukee and beyond to try to capture evidence of ghosts.
I also interviewed Allison Jornlin, an elementary school teacher that runs Milwaukee Ghosts- Tours and Investigations. Allison is also currently working on a thorough guidebook tentatively titled "Haunted Milwaukee: 101 Public Haunts You Can Visit."
After talking to Noah and Allison, I got the scoop on a few of Milwaukee’s most famous places to meet a ghost.
One. The Pabst Mansion, 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Both Noah and Allison mentioned the historic Pabst Mansion, built in 1892, as being in the top of their lists. Supposedly haunted by Captain Frederick Pabst (d. 1904), staff and visitors have reported supernatural activities throughout the years.
"One time the staff was setting up for an event and noticed the candles popping out of the candelabra and hitting the ground," Allison tells me. "So they picked them up and put them back, and it happened again. Then they realized it was Captain Pabst’s birthday."
Another time a curator noticed a chandelier swaying and ringing like a bell. Thinking it was someone moving something upstairs, the curator went to investigate. No one was there. Allison says a contractor was working on the building and reported a man peeking in on him and scrutinizing his work throughout the day. The contractor later recognized the man after he saw a portrait. It was Captain Pabst himself.
Two. Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave.
Also at the top of both of my expert’s list is the Pfister Hotel, a ghost legend among many professional baseball players, among others. The hotel was mum on ghost stories, but when ball players began telling their tales to outlets like Sports Illustrated and ESPN, the ghosts were out of the bag. Members of everyone from the Florida Marlins to the San Francisco Giants have experienced pounding on the walls and headboards, eerie voices, doors opening and closing and electronics turning off and on by themselves. People have spotted the ghost of hotel builder Charles Pfister (d. 1927) surveying his lobby and sometimes walking his ghost dog in the hallway. Actor Joey Lawrence (Blossom) has even reported an encounter. Whoa!
Three. Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 W. Wells St.
Both Allison and Noah have recently hosted paranormal related events at MPM, which is said to have something ghostly lurking on the third floor. Allison says she hears it one of the museum’s colorful curators, Doctor Stephan Francis de Borhegyi (d. 1969).
"He was kind of an Indiana Jones character, a globetrotting archaeologist," Allison says." He’s remembered for his contribution of immersive exhibits, like the Streets of Old Milwaukee. He’s just a character we seem to have forgotten. He was a baron from Hungary. When he came here he didn’t wear a winter coat and opted to wear a long, dark cape instead.He enjoyed fencing and was quite a charmer. I’m told he greeted women by kissing them on the hand."
Dr. Borhegyi’s portrait is on the third floor, and some say his ghost is, too. One museum worker was walking by the shrunken heads display when she felt a cold air pass through her.
"She said it wasn’t just a cold wind, but a very visceral experience that shook her to the bone," Allison explains. "When she told her co-worker, she was told it was a common thing. She was told, ‘that’s how he says hi, he walks through you."
Others have reported hearing Dr. Borhegyi’s robust laughter or smelling burning tobacco from his ghostly pipe.
Four. Skylight Music Theater (Broadway Theater Center) 158 N. Broadway
It’s a story with the passion of an opera. Skylight Opera founder Clair Richardson (d. 1980) works hard to establish his opera company and as his last wish, states that he wishes to be buried underneath the stage.
"The reason is that he wanted his successors to know their decisions were being made over his dead body." Allison says. "That’s his joke, not mine." When the company moved from Jefferson Street to Broadway in 1993, a New Orleans’ style funeral procession moved from the old location to the new. Clair’s assistant, Bo Black, carried his urn and it was placed underneath the new stage in the trap door area.
On every show’s checklist is to make sure a spotlight is functioning and focused on the urn downstairs. If it isn’t, a restless ghost is said to tamper with the lighting equipment. Theater superstition or paranormal?
These are just a few of the places Noah and Allison mentioned. Also on their lists were places like the Riverside Theater (I joined PIM in an investigation there for my first Milwaukee Ghost Stories post), The Rave/ Eagle’s Ballroom, the (now closed) Modjeska Theater, and the Hilton Garden Inn (downtown-- built on the site of the former Newhall House hotel. 71 people died in a fire there in 1883.)
Allison Jornlin invites you to share your ghost stories in the comments below or by contacting her direct. Your tips could lead to entries in her book! Her website milwaukeeghosts.com has information about her tours and her contact.
This season is also busy for the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee. They have several upcoming, free presentations at Milwaukee area libraries. Check out their calendar on their website, paranormalmilwaukee.com.