Haunted houses have always held an appeal for us, but my wife and I never had the opportunity – or the courage – to spend the night in one. Instead, we thought we’d start slowly, perhaps with a haunted room in one of Milwaukee’s grand homes.
The Brumder Mansion, 3046 W. Wisconsin Ave., may be one of the city’s most romantic bed and breakfasts, but it also boasts several ghosts and at least one allegedly “spirited” suite. When we checked into the famous Gold Suite on a recent Saturday, we knew we might well be in for a night of adventure or inconvenience, depending on if and how the spirits chose to manifest.
The mansion was designed in 1902 and built in 1910 by George Brumder Sr., who made a fortune as a German language publisher, as a gift for his son George Brumder Jr. The Arts & Crafts-style home, with both Victorian and Gothic flourishes, is comprised of three stories and a basement dance hall and theater, all connected by a central grand staircase.
The floor plan defied local conventions of its day, which dictated that ballrooms were usually located on the third floor of stately homes. Purchased in 2008 by Tom and Julie Carr, the mansion has been redesigned to include six suites, including three luxury suites with hot tubs, all decorated with period flare.
The Carrs, who maintain dual residences in Milwaukee and Torrance, Calif., use the basement theater to host theatrical productions and create videos for their Internet video service.
Milwaukee paranormal experts say several playful spirits may haunt the Brumder Mansion, including that of a child who seems to like reprogramming the doorbell to play “Happy Birthday.” The most persistent and perennial ghost, however, might be that of the Gold Suite’s former resident, a Brumder family relative nicknamed “Aunt Pussy.”
Legend has it that Aunt Pussy had an extreme dislike for dogs, something she expressed while she was alive and apparently continues to demonstrate during her afterlife. Phantom voices, objects that move, cold spots, feelings of not being alone and the occasional apparition are Aunt Pussy’s favorite ghostly calling cards. But sometimes the spirit has taken a more malevolent turn.
Former owner Carol Hirschi purchased the mansion in 1997 from the Lutheran Church, which was using it as an office suite, and converted it into a B&B. She claimed to have had two unpleasant brushes with the ghost. In one case, Hirschi entered the Gold Suite after it had been unoccupied for days only to discover several drops of fresh blood on the old-fashioned bathtub. Another time she awoke in the suite to the presence of what she described as an angry woman and a strong feeling that she should immediately remove her dog.
Nevertheless, since the Gold Suite was the only one unoccupied, we decided to face our fears and take it.
We knew one of the mansion’s frequent theatrical performances was scheduled for the evening of our check-in. In addition to owning the mansion, its neighboring 1920s-era bungalow and an Internet video business, the Carrs also created the Milwaukee Entertainment Group, which produces mostly audience-interactive whodunnits performed at the mansion throughout the year.
When we returned to the Brumder after a nice dinner, we waited for a few minutes in the entryway for a break in the action of “Sherlock Holmes and A Most Irregular Tea Party,” which was occupying the mansion’s main floor at the time. Then we stole away to our second-floor “haunted” suite.
The Gold Suite, like the rest of the mansion, has been nicely restored with period furnishings, an electric fireplace and, in concession to the 21st century, a flat-screen TV and DVD player. We occupied our late evening hours in front of the “fire,” sipping complimentary wine and anticipating the visitation to come. Fortunately, we both were tired and drifted off somewhat effortlessly. However, a peaceful sleep eluded us.
Granted, we had no hard evidence that Aunt Pussy had come calling, but we had a fitful night, each in our own way. Maybe it was the wine or the unfamiliar queen-sized bed, but we each lay awake at different times throughout the night.
I got up several times. There were no cold spots, no ghostly voices, no woman’s face looking down from the ornate electrical plate surrounding the ceiling fixture, as Carol Hirschi experienced in a dream. I looked into the mirrors, behind the shower curtain, out the widow, but saw and heard nothing in the unusual stillness. Aunt Pussy, apparently, had taken the night off.
The next morning we thoroughly enjoyed innkeeper and co-owner Tonja Thomas’ stuffed French toast with turkey bacon and orange juice in a sun-splashed breakfast nook while we learned more about the house.
The Brumder Mansion hosts between 1,500-1,800 guests each year, Thomas said, and entertains about 1,400 through its various theatrical productions. The Carrs operate their business both from California and the house next door to the mansion, where they have filmed 120 Internet videos. They also host several websites, including www.hauntedhouses.com.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, thanked Thomas for her hospitality and went back upstairs to gather our things to leave. There was still no sign of Aunt Pussy. You think the ghost could at least have packed for us.
The Brumder Mansion’s next theatrical production, a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems, runs for six performances Oct. 19-31. For more information on the mansion and its performances, visit www.milwaukeebedbreakfast.com.