Scary Wisconsin | Ghostly lore part of local heritage

Mike Muckian, Contributing writer


The 138-acre Lake Park on Milwaukee’s East Side is home to several haunted locations. The North Point Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters, opened in 1855 and once the tallest lighthouse on the Great Lakes, has reportedly been home to the ghosts of several children. There also have been reports of unfriendly laughter, cold spots and the feeling of not being welcome. 

The same manifestations have been reported at the nearby Lion Bridges,which span several gorges adjacent to the lighthouse. The children have been reported seen standing as sentinels near the lion sculptures that front the bridges. Nothing in the archives of either location indicates who the ghostly kids might have been or why they haunt these areas.

Grant Park, in South Milwaukee, has its own spirits. The covered bridge that serves as gateway to the Seven Bridges Trail has been the scene of a number of suicides. Shimmering sparkles in the air, colorful lights in the adjacent woods, phantom voices and footsteps, screams from deep in the forest, and occasional sightings of something vaguely humanoid that resembles a praying mantis have come to characterize what the bridge inscription describes somewhat ominously as “the haunts of nature.”

The Rave/Eagles Ballroom, 2401 W. Wisconsin Ave., wasn’t always part of Milwaukee’s music scene. It started life in 1926 as a social and athletic club with a pool in its basement. The pool was the scene of at least one confirmed drowning in 1927. The pool was drained long ago and today is hidden behind a locked door. Employees have reported the sound of girls’ voices and a strong smell of chlorine coming from the area, as well as objects moving without provocation and other examples of a paranormal presence.

The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., is home to one of the city’s most popular hauntings, with many guests reporting ghostly knocks on the wall and electrical appliances that seem to turn off for no reason. The ghost of founder Charles Pfister has been reported walking the halls and watching the lobby from the balcony, as if making sure his guests are being well taken care of.

Wauwatosa’s Technology Innovation Center, 10470 Innovation Drive, has a history that reads like a horror movie script. The former home of the Muirdale Sanitarium for tuberculosis patients and later a nursing home for the mentally ill, the center sits atop an ancient Indian burial mound. It was a meeting place for local Satanists during the years it stood empty. Ghostly apparitions and voices that cry for help are not uncommon, especially on the third floor.

Marquette University

For maximum paranormal presences, nothing tops Marquette University, founded in 1881 and considered one of Milwaukee’s most haunted locations. Johnston Hall, Marquette’s first building, was erected on a Mascouten tribe burial site, and the ghost of an angry Native American haunts the hall’s lower levels. Several decades ago two Jesuit students committed suicide by leaping from one of the hall’s fifth-floor balconies; today they are said to manifest as cold spots, footsteps, voices and two pale faces hovering outside fifth-floor windows.

Straz Tower, formerly the downtown YMCA, is home to “Whispering Willie,” the spirit of a young boy who drowned in the Y’s pool. His ghost appears to lone swimmers doing laps. He also plays such child-like tricks as unrolling toilet paper and turning lights on and off.

Cobeen Hall is home to a ghost of an artistic bent who enjoys stripping posters off dorm room walls. Its recent targets have been posters for the film “Twilight,” indicating that this poltergeist has some level of taste.

Humphrey Hall, formerly Milwaukee Children’s Hospital, has some of the campus’ most active ghosts, all of them children who presumably died at the former facility. An angry girl in a hospital gown has been spotted riding the elevators late at night. Ghostly laughter and crying of children can be heard throughout the building, and electronic devices turn themselves on and off. Desk receptionists have heard and seen children on security cameras playing near the rear entrance, where there was once a play area. But investigators responding to calls have never found any living children in the area.


When it was first built in 1883, the Grand Opera House, 100 High Ave., was an opulent setting that hosted vaudeville entertainers from Enrico Caruso to the Marx Brothers. Over time it fell into disrepair and became an X-rated movie theater. But then it was remodeled and reborn as the elegant live entertainment venue it is today. Throughout those years, the ghost of Percy Keene, who managed the theater from 1895 to his death in 1967, is said to have watched over the property, often smiling down from the balcony and appearing in other unusual places. The spirit is rumored to have saved the life of at least one theater student working there, indicating that not all spirits are malicious.

The Paine Art Center and Gardens, 1410 Algoma Blvd., is housed in a former Tudor-style mansion built by lumber baron Nathan Paine for his wife Jessie Kimberley Paine. It was their second home, but construction ground to a halt when the Great Depression severely affected business for the Paine Lumber Co. The couple never moved in, instead deeding the property to the city in 1946 for use as a museum. Nathan died in 1947, Jessie in 1973. A male ghost – presumably Nathan or an earlier relative – is said to haunt the museum’s second floor, while a female ghost thought to be Jessie is sometimes seen in the property’s ornamental gardens.


The Kemper Center, 6501 Third Ave., today is a nonprofit historical and arts center listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also home to Kemper Hall, which at one time housed an Episcopal girls school. Several students and faculty died during the school’s 105 years of operation, including Sister Margaret Clare, who ruled the school with an iron fist. Female ghosts, including several dressed in nuns’ habits, have been seen floating around the grounds. Present day Kemper Center officials have learned to capitalize on their history and offer ghost tours through the month of October. Visit

Boo barometer

Halloween mask sales have served as a barometer in past elections. Bill Clinton outsold Bob Dole 71 percent to 29 percent. George W. Bush outsold both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. And Barack Obama outsold John McCain 60-40 percent in 2008.

As of Oct. 9, two major Halloween retailers were reporting that Obama masks were far more popular than Mitt Romney masks. Mask retailer said Obama was up 30 percentage points over Romney. Another retailer, Spirit Halloween, said Obama was in the lead, with 69 percent of the sales.

In Wisconsin, Obama was way out in the lead. However, VP Joe Biden was trailing GOP running mate Paul Ryan. The sales figures were 70 percent Obama, 15 percent Romney, 9 percent Ryan and 4 percent Biden.