When Anna Lardinois turned 40 last year, she promised herself she would learn one new thing every week of her life. Instead of going the easy route and maybe trying a new recipe or getting a Twitter account, Lardinois took on major endeavors.
One week, for example, she decided she was going to research, write and lead a Milwaukee ghost tour, which later became a one-woman business called Gothic Milwaukee.
"The inspiration is my love of Milwaukee and history," says Lardinois, who is a high school English teacher. "I think English and history are the same skill set."
Gothic Milwaukee offers two different historical walking tours, both led by Lardinois. "Spooktacular Milwaukee" runs through Sunday, Nov. 4 followed by "Christmas In the City" which runs from Sunday, Nov. 25 to Sunday, Dec. 30.
The Spooktacular Milwaukee tour focuses on history and the possible hauntings of numerous Downtown buildings. The Christmas In The City tour will highlight impressive light displays, holiday trivia and more Milwaukee history.
The Spooktacular Milwaukee tour is about 90 minutes long and it begins and ends in Cathedral Square. The group stops at seven buildings within a one-mile loop. All of the tours take place outdoors – tour-goers do not enter any of the buildings – and happen rain or shine. (Bring an umbrella, if necessary.)
The first tour stop is in front of the Cathedral of St. John, where Lardinois tells the story of a church ghost who was once a 10-year-old boy named Hans. Another stop is in front of George Watts, where Lardinois suggests there's a ghost inside who is a phantom duster.
"I hope someday this ghost follows me home," she quips.
The tour also stops at a couple of places on the Riverwalk, including at the Bronze Fonz statue. Lardinois suggests rubbing his thumbs brings good luck, and she also encourages people to shoot photos to update their Facebook page.
Whether or not one believes in ghosts doesn't really matter. Lardinois is a great storyteller and a seemingly down-to-earth person who weaves in enough documented Milwaukee history to appeal to the skeptics.
"I think spookiness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. While we might not all agree on how spooky something is, Milwaukee is an undeniably interesting city with a colorful history full of tales of hard-working, ambitious people. This city is ripe with stories," she says.
Lardinois says she's open to the possibility of ghosts existing and believes she saw the face of a female ghost years ago in Asheville, N.C. However, she is self-aware enough not to come off as a complete kook and recognizes that not everyone is going to believe her. She keeps it light and interesting and fun.
When walking by the Wells Building, for example, she said, "This building? Totally not haunted. But totally wish it was."
Overall, the tour is professional with a dash of rogue. Occasionally, Lardinois has to pause to let a bus pass or for a bar worker to dump a bucket of empty bottles into a dumpster, but this makes the tour feel very up close and personal with city life. And luckily, Lardinois wears a headset wired to a small speaker on her waist, so she's still easy to hear.
The cost of the tours is $10. Dates and times vary, but many are offered on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. Check the website for details.
"Gothic Milwaukee tours are a great alternative to going to a movie. The length of time and cost are comparable," says Lardinois.
The walking pace is casual and suitable for people of all fitness levels. Older children are welcome to attend, too.
While giving the tours, Lardinois wears a handmade costume. Sewing was another "new thing" she recently learned. Lardinois describes her spooktacular costume – a black dress and floppy white hat – as a "Victorian-inspired costume based on my sewing abilities." For her Christmas tour she plans to dress like an elf.
Lardinois got the idea for a ghost tour from similar offerings in other cities like Savannah and New Orleans.
Lardinois, who is a native Milwaukeean and avid collector of local folklore and legend, started giving tours in June. She says she spent months researching and compiling information, and then gave practice tours to friends before officially offering her historical walking tour to the public.
She has already pre-sold 1,600 tickets thanks, in part, to a Groupon that ran last month. She says she is having a great time and that the tours are more successful than she imagined, but that she has no plan to become a full-time ghost guide.
And the tour is intended to do more than spook the tour-goers. It's also a celebration of the city's history and Downtown neighborhood.
"Milwaukee is a beautiful city, and many of us in the metro area don't take the time to really enjoy it. The walking tour allows walkers to slow down, enjoy the scenery, and learn about this fascinating city," she says.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.