Third Ward tour traces Milwaukee's ghost stories
Allison Jornlin isn't sure she believes in ghosts. In reference to the topic, she calls herself a Fortean, a term named for the American writer and researcher Charles Fort who cataloged curiosities and confounded scientists with anomalies they couldn't explain.
Essentially, she's neither a strict believer nor non-believer. Rather, she's open to the possibility of paranormal activity, which makes her a perfect candidate to operate Milwaukee Ghosts, a series of local haunted history tours and investigations.
"Have I seen a ghost face to face? No, but not for lack of trying," she says. "But there are too many little things that could be something real. There's a lot of evidence that seems to be compelling."
And she's not referring to random glowing orbs, like the ones "Ghost Hunters" chase after on the SciFi channel (Those are just dust, she claims). Her ghosts stories deal more with local legends, historical tragedies and news-of-the-weird type stuff that is just creepy enough to conjure up a chill.
The best of her strange tales surface during her Third Ward walking tours, which run Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., May through November. For $10, she guides a small group through one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, which was once known as the "Bloody Third."
"Because it's the oldest part of the city, there are a lot of tragedies and history there that people aren't aware of," she says, referring to a time when Milwaukee's now art and fashion district was once a bloody stomping ground for Irish and Italian gangs.
The hour-and-a-half-long tours depart from Water and St. Paul at 7 p.m. or by appointment and stops include historic Commission Row (where gangsters conspired), the RiverWalk (where passengers of the Lady Elgin began their tragic last voyage), and Broadway Theatre Center (where the ghost of Skylight Opera founder still watches over performances).
Starting in July, Milwaukee Ghosts will also offer a Lincoln Village ghost tour on Sunday afternoons, which will feature folklore and ghost stories from the Polish, Latino and Ojibwe residents of the area surrounding St. Josaphat's Basilica. The cost is $20 per person.
When Jornlin isn't spooking her audience with ghost stories of Skylight Opera's Clair Richardson or The Pfister Hotel's Charles Pfister, she's a fourth grade teacher.
"As a teacher, I realized the power of putting in little folklore and mysteries in the stories you're telling. I think we're missing the boat when we strip it down to the bare bones. Folklore is a big part of the richness of history and that's what Milwaukee Ghosts is all about."
Jornlin says she celebrates local folklore because it's part of what gives a city a distinctive ambience that keeps visitors coming back. While New Orleans has its voodoo and vampires and Chicago's has its mobsters and "Resurrection Mary," Milwaukee, too, has its own legends, mysteries and colorful characters adding to the city's charm.
Sounds cool, but please don't rag on "Ghost Hunters" on Sci-Fi. They are the only ghost show on the idiot box that goes out of there way to debunk ghost claims. I'm pretty sure they state that orbs can be explained as dust in the one of their first episodes.
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