Top Ten Hauntings: Milwaukee

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a city known for its beer, bar, and brat culture. But few know that it is one of the most haunted cities in the Midwest, rivaled only by its neighbor over the state line, Chicago.

Founded by opposing forces on the land of the Natives, the city’s history began in turmoil. The death and destruction of its origins left a dark stain upon the city’s history that emanates outwards in the form of various types of hauntings.

Early records of the area date back to 1674; however, French traders and explorers had been stopping through far before then. The town soon became known for its trading and logging industry and was officially incorporated in 1846.

During the 19th century, German settlers moved in, and Milwaukee quickly became a hard-drinking town, bringing us the famous breweries we know today. Adding to its colorful past, many bars serving these beers around the city were once brothels and hideouts for many criminals and gangsters.

With such a vivid and dangerous history comes a slew of hauntings. When you find yourself in The Cream City next, take a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures to learn more! 

1. The Pabst Mansion 

Black and white photo of a large Gothic mansion believed to be the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee

Source: Picryl

Fredrick Pabst came to America with his family from Germany in 1848, one of many that flooded into the city between 1846 and 1854.

He would soon become a cultural icon and leader for the growing population. While Pabst is a nationally known beer today, his dive into the beer industry did not begin until he met his future wife.

Maria Best was the daughter of Phillip Best who owned the Best Brewery. Best Brewery, a local favorite, had been in production since 1844. By the early 1860s, Phillip Best had fallen into ill health.

After a sailing mishap in 1863, Pabst, who had been working on a steamship line for nearly a decade prior to this, decided to join his father-in-law’s business. By 1874, he’d taken over operations with his brother-in-law Emil Schaedein and turned Best Brewery into the largest brewery in the United States.

The famous blue ribbon began to appear after his beer won two gold medals in 1876 and 1878. He would tie a blue ribbon around Best Beer to distinguish them from competitors. Eventually, it became their namesake. 

A Ghostly Legacy

In 1889, Best Brewery became Pabst Brewing Company but just seven years prior, Fredrick Pabst built the palatial mansion that sits on W. Wisconsin Avenue today.

This Gilded Age mansion boasts a whopping 37 bedrooms, a dozen bathrooms, and 14 fireplaces. Unfortunately, the Pabst family did not get to enjoy it for long.

Fredrick died in 1904 and his wife Maria in 1906. The family sold it in 1908 to the Catholic Archdiocese, which used it as their headquarters until 1975 when a nonprofit purchased it. The mansion was then used for tours of the building and as a place to host special events.

Soon after it opened in 1978, visitors and staff alike noticed many strange activities. Many of the luxurious chandeliers would shake. Doors would open and close on their own. A repairman on duty reported a nagging overseer.

After complaining to staff about him, and giving an apt description of the man, he discovered that it was Fredrick Pabst himself. 

Why is The Pabst Mansion Haunted?

It appears that Fredrick Pabst is not ready to leave his beloved mansion. The beer magnate not only passed away inside the mansion but his funeral was held inside the home as well. While the building no longer serves its original purpose, Mr. Pabst still claims it as his own.

2. Shaker’s Cigar Bar

Considered one of the most haunted spots in Milwaukee, Shaker’s Cigar Bar also boasts the unique title of “America’s Most Haunted Cigar Bar.” Built in 1894 as a cooperage, a building where barrels and casks were made, it served Schlitz Beer and its subsidiaries until the early 1900s.

Up until 1923, the building was used as a coal and oil distribution center for William J. Kramer Oil. From here on out the building was utilized for much more sinful and unlawful purposes.

Al Capone and his brother Robert bought the building in 1923 and turned the top two floors into a “soda bottling company.”

The bottom floor operated as a brothel where all types of salacious activity took place. The Capones ran this den of sin until 1946.

The Preferred Bar of The Otherworldly

Various bars were in and out of the building until Bob Weiss opened Shaker’s Cigar Bar in 1986. Though, the area’s bar scene wasn’t the only thing that was resurrected.

Occurrences are frequent and range from apparitions to sudden cold fog. A door in the lower level that leads to a storage closet often shakes from the inside, as though someone is trying to get out. It was blocked off eventually but over the years a crack began to form due to pressure coming from within.

Upon further inspection of the area below Weiss found two skeletons from the 1940s huddled up next to each other.

The amount of spiritual activity in this one spot is almost beyond comprehension. It is no wonder it is labeled as one of the top five most haunted bars in the United States.

The walk-in cooler has been known to lock employees inside. Many go in hoping to out quickly but before they can turn around the door shuts itself. In fact, workers are generally warned to bring their cell phones with them.

The basement was where Al Capone once held numerous malicious meetings. When someone got out of line the Capone’s handled it accordingly, and many were disposed of a buried underneath the building.

Their skeletons and spirits still reside there today.

Despite all this, the top floor is known as the most haunted as it’s said an 8-year-old girl named Elizabeth resides there. However, hers is a friendly spirit, simply opening doors and turning the faucets on.

The establishment relishes its spooky reputation. Tours are offered nightly and you can even win a free pizza if you capture a picture of a ghost! Guests also have the option to spend the night, although few make it past 3 am.

Why is Shakers Cigar Bar haunted?

Though the nefarious behavior that dominated the building created a perfect storm for unexplained phenomena, it merely added its already creepy origins. The building sits on a piece of land that once served as a cemetery. From its inception, the building has been a hotbed for unearthly activity.

The Many Spirits and Experiences of Shakers

  • A young orphan girl named Elizabeth was killed in the 1850s. The bar actually has a drink dedicated to her called Elizabeth’s Raspberry Martini
  • A young prostitute who was hacked to death by a client
  • Two men who were killed in the basement
  • Past patrons of the bar
  • Disembodied voices are heard regularly
  • Faucets and lights turn off and on
  • Random knocks on doors
  • Items move on their own
  • People have reported an uneasy feeling and sense of dread while in the basement

3. Seven Bridges Trail

Located in Southern Milwaukee, this quaint section of scenery offers visitors a serene escape from the bustling city and beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Seven Bridges Trail is one of the most popular destinations in the country.

Named for the various footbridges built in the 1920s and ’30s, the trail crosses streams, man-made dams and waterfalls, and various stone staircases. A truly pleasant experience.

However, upon crossing the covered Bavarian-style bridge they often stop, ceasing their outdoor adventure to read both a warning and a welcome. Upon the highest point of this bridge is an inscription.

It reads: “Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature”. Such an apt description of both the beauty and terror many find upon venturing deep into Seven Bridges Trail. 

A photo of a wooden bridge, support by brick pillars, leading across a stream. Shot at the ground level of the bridge.

Source: Flickr

A Terrifying Stroll

Grant Park was founded in 1911. Along with his Victorian-style home, the city purchased land from early settler Horace Fowle.

In 1914, German horticulturist Fredrick C. Wuff was hired to develop a nursery, greenhouse, and orchard for the city.

He and his family built a home atop a ravine in 1917. This house today is rented out to youth and school groups for overnight stays.

Sleep is hard to come by however as many hear and see strange things in the night. Most famously there is the tale of a glowing woman dressed in all white. It is said her two children drowned in Lake Michigan.

Her search for them is eternal. Further down the trail, there is a stone bench. Many who stand by it hear screams emanating from the dark forest. Some unlucky hikers sense a dark presence following them.

Heavy breathing is heard in the corners of their ears. This is generally preceded by the sounds of loud footsteps coming down the trail. Generally, there is no counterpart to these thumps. If you dare explore the park at night, note that it officially closes at 10 pm.

Why is Seven Bridges Trail haunted?

The main bridge has a particularly horrific backstory that contributes to the hauntings experienced on Seven Bridges Trail. For years, there have been reports of suicides from the main bridge, leading many to speculate that these tortured souls are doomed to remain here for all eternity.

4. Sabbatic

Punk rock-themed bar Sabbatic is one of many in the booze-laden midwestern city of Milwaukee. Designed with the cream-colored bricks that gave Milwaukee the nickname “The Cream City”, this two-story building has a long and storied history.

Opened as a tavern in 1895, its appearance is a far cry from the popular Queen Anne style of that time. One thing that never changed, however, was the amount of alcohol that flowed within its walls. Though drinking was the primary activity in the bar, the upstairs was often used for other, more lustful, activities.

In 1920, it operated as a “Soft Drink Parlor” which was slang for prohibition-era bars during that period. For a brief period in the 1980s, it operated as a recording studio called Grand Central Recording Studio.

In 1992, it was purchased for $70,000 by the current owner, Ralph Fleegee, and turned into the punk rock emporium we see today. The bar now features a stage where local acts perform, as well as hosts the annual Milwaukee Polka Riot, a celebration of the city’s Germanic roots, music, and culture. 

Lingering Patrons of Another Time

Sabbatic pays homage to the unique culture and the individuality of the punk rock ethos, drawing individuals from all over – including the afterlife. Staff members claim much of the establishment is haunted.

In February of 2010, bartender Matt Gonzalez was closing up shop as he normally did. As he was taking out the trash he noticed a straggler that had somehow managed to go unnoticed as Matt was locking the doors.

An old man with long, grey hair in a suit was standing visibly inside the bar. As he was about to unlock the doors and ask the gentlemen to go, he noticed something about the man.

He had no legs!

The man moved towards Matt as if he were floating. A generally tough-skinned man who, as a bartender has seen it all fled the scene without locking the doors. 

Why is Sabbatic haunted?

In the 1800s, it was almost customary that bars contain an area dedicated to “ladies of the night” and the men that frequented them. The salacious acts that took place in the upstairs portion of the Sabbatic created perfect conditions for unexplained activity and eerie happenings.

5. Wisconsin Lutheran College

Founded in 1973, this small college is the home of many truly terrifying paranormal experiences.

Though there’s – mysteriously – little documentation on the history of the building, there have been multiple reports of poltergeist, demonic, and ghost activity on campus. To the surprise of witnesses, many see the spirit of a former nun.

Her energy is described as peaceful, positive, and friendly.

The other entity in the building, however, is something far more sinister that is known for terrorizing the young minds of Wisconsin Lutheran College. 

Photo of a girl with hair in front of her face. She is dressed in a white dress.


Horror Tales Out Of School

Many students have claimed to be terrorized by a poltergeist or perhaps a demonic entity. Sounds of heavy breathing, feet dragging on the carpet, and doors rattling have been heard by several residents in the small dormitories.

One harrowing tale includes two students who got a little more than they bargained for.

It started when one student noticed her cross continually falling from the wall.

One night she walked into the bathroom that connected her room to another. Both doors were locked and a loud banging began on both sides.

Then, the student began seeing her front door open to a 45-degree angle. Scratching on the door soon followed and persisted for days. Even after a new lock was installed, the door kept opening on its own.

One student reported going into the shared showers and seeing a girl oddly standing in the same position for over 40 minutes. This phantom girl continued to follow the group.

The other student woke up one night to find what she thought was her roommate staring into her closet at 3 am. She told the roommate what she saw the next day, only to discover that her roommate had been on vacation for three days.

Then one night the two woke up in pain. One had scratches and cuts all over her body while the other had her earring torn out of her ear leaving blood on her pillow.

They cleansed their room with holy water and the events stopped for the duration of their stay.

6. Marquette University

There is another college that has a reputation for unnatural occurrences and otherworldly visitors. Located further into the city limits, Marquette University has a much more tangible history to account for its hauntings.

Founded in 1881, Marquette University was built upon burial sites of the Mascounten tribe and has been a cursed sight since. Various areas of the university are said to be haunted with horrific backstories attached to some of the spirits.

In 1968, a priest threw himself out of the fifth-floor window of Johnston Hall. This sad tale is confirmed by his obituary and the fact that this floor was housing Jesuit priests.

Many often see his distinct face looking back at them from the fifth-floor windows. Temperature changes occur often and strange voices are heard echoing throughout the fifth floor.

In 1999, three students from the school newspaper spent a night on the fifth floor. They reportedly experienced strange noises, doors opening, and footsteps that kept them awake all night.

Through the terror, however, they managed to capture a photograph of a strange white figure in the hallways. 

The Many Faces of Marquette University in Wisconsin

Another nearby building called Humphrey Hall was once a children’s hospital. When the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin moved in 1988 the building was bought by Marquette.

A seemingly great idea to create space but one that came with implications.

On the fifth floor of this building, the spirit of a young girl has been captured on film by a security camera multiple times. The sounds of children screaming and crying are also heard late at night.

Over at Straz Hall, in what was once a YMCA, there is a spirit of a young boy. They call him “Whispering Willie” due to his pension for whispering into students’ ears.

It’s said that “Whispering Willie” drowned in the pool of the YMCA many years ago. That pool still remains in the building, and so does the energy from that fateful day. Many students feel a bad sensation when they approach and feel his presence swimming alongside them.

Cobeen Hall is the home of one judgmental spirit. A former art critic walks the hallways, often tearing down posters he does not enjoy. These flyers often seemingly disappear!

There are a variety of apparitions that reside alongside the students of Marquette University. Take a tour of the campus, if you dare.

Why is Marquette University Haunted?

This place for higher learning has also been a place for mass death. Lives lost during its time as a children’s hospital, the tragic death of a young boy during its time as a YMCA, and the suicide of a priest are just some of the deaths that have contributed to the university’s reputation for being one of the most haunted in the nation.

7. The Pfister Hotel

Not far from the ghost-infested halls of Marquette University sits the Pfister Hotel. A little closer to the water, it has been a landmark hotel in the city for over one hundred years.

Built in 1893, it was one of the most luxurious of its time, boasting the ability to control the temperature in individual rooms with electricity running throughout the building.

During its supreme reign as the finest hotel in the Midwest, it hosted every president since William McKinley, along with a troupe of pro athletes, entertainers, and celebrities. Eerily, Elvis was a guest just four months prior to his death.

The Pfister Hotel was designed by famous architect Charles Koch. Charles Pfister, the son of a leather tanning tycoon, built it with the intention of creating a “Grand Hotel for the West.” Its Victorian-era adornments still speak to that vision and Pfister it seems has stuck around to be sure of that.

Many see the figure of a man with a grey mustache resembling Pfister looking down from above the lobby staircase. But this is far from the only spiritual occurrence taking place at the Pfister Hotel.

Black and white photo of a large dining room. High ceilings. It is full of people


A Hotel and Hauntings for the Ages

Information drawn from interviews from the late 1800s with a man named Charles Milwaukee Sivyer gives little doubt as to why the hotel is so haunted.

He claims that before it was built it was the sight of a log cabin and a private burial ground.

Many guests, including baseball player Carlos Martinez of the Arizona Cardinals and actor Joey Lawerence, have experienced unexplained, spine-chilling activity within the glamorous hotel.

In fact, to the enjoyment of Milwaukee Brewers fans everywhere, Martinez blamed a bad game on one of the spirits inhabiting the building, claiming he’d been touched by “the Pfister Ghost” late one night. Lawerence’s story is one that left such a profound mark on him and his family, he described his ordeal on an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories.

The actor details hearing and witnessing his daughter’s toys coming to life while she slept, turning on by themselves in the middle of the night. This, of course, was just one of a few creepy occurrences that kept Lawrence and his family up nearly the entire night.

Though many believe it’s the spirit of Charles Pfister watching over his beloved hotel, the various professional baseball players who’ve had experiences of their own aren’t sure what – or who – is the cause.

Why is the Pfister Hotel Not an Option for Some MLB Players?

A quick Google search of The Pfister Hotel will bring up numerous stories detailing the experiences of MLB players, some of which refuse to come back because of the level of paranormal activity.

Ghostly Reports at The Pfister Hotel

  • Sounds of disembodied voices
  • Unexplained knocking on doors and walls
  • Doors opening and closing on their own
  • Disembodied footsteps and stomping
  • Window blinds lifting on their own
  • A variety of devices operating on their own
  • Sightings of Mr. Pfister himself

8. Brumder Mansion 

A neo classical building with the words Germania written on it

Source: Flickr

This three-story, 8,000-square-foot mansion was built in 1910 by German American George Brumder and now operates as a Bed and Breakfast. Though it’s famous for its Victorian and Gothic charm, it’s infamous for its forever guests.

George Brumder moved to America with his family in 1857 as part of the large German immigration to the Midwest. His work in publishing would prove lucrative as his newspaper, Germania, would propel him to becoming one of the most affluent German Americans in the country.

In 1910, he commissioned the building of Brumder Mansion for his son. Unfortunately, Brumder never lived to see the completion of his estate,  passing in May of the same year.

The events that would transpire would turn this luxurious home into a gateway to the otherworldly.

Ghosts in The Hotel

In 1927, Chicago club owner Sam Pick purchased the home from the family of George Brumder Jr. Pick was an associate of Al Capone’s and a known gangster around the Great Lakes area. He used the large ballroom, which was oddly placed in the basement, as an illegal speakeasy during the days of prohibition.

It was also known for its illegal gambling and prostitution operations.

In 1932 the Pick family left the home and, over the years, it’s been the site of varying businesses including a daycare, office building, and church. Today it operates as a historic Bed and Breakfast, hosting visitors from all over the nation, and the great beyond.

The “Gold Suite” is the most notable when it comes to unexplained activity. It’s said that an odd entity inhabits the room with various stories of its presence being reported throughout the years.

One woman who stayed in the “Gold Suite” reported seeing a wall mirror in the bathroom flying off its hook and crashing into the floor. She later saw blood in the bathtub when no one had used it. Believing it came from the floor above, she rushed to the front desk to inform them only to discover the room above hers was vacant.

Her story is one of many. There have been several reports of people having dreams of a stern-looking woman as well as hearing her voice threaten them when their dogs are present.

And this terrifying spirit is not the only one creeping out the guests of Brumder Mansion.

What other hauntings have occurred at Brunder Mansion?

  • “George’s Suite” is said to be inhabited by George Brumder, JR
  • Odd breezes can be felt in the room and items will go missing
  • Disembodied footsteps and humming have been heard outside the door
  • A young child is also believed to haunt the Bed and Breakfast
  • Guests have reported feeling someone jumping on the bed
  • The spirit of the young child is said to lock guests out of the mansion from time to time

9. On The Right Track Roadhouse Cafe

Travel a little further south of Milwaukee’s downtown area and you’ll find yourself in the more suburban part of the city. A small neighborhood called St. Francis is home to one of the most haunted restaurants in Southern Milwaukee.

According to manager, Kely Scordato, the building itself was constructed in the 1860s and has quite a colorful past. Many of the senior patrons of the cafe claim that it operated as a brothel up until the middle of the 1950s.

In 2005, the building was resurrected as The On The Right Track Roadhouse Cafe and while it’s known for its delicious chili and friendly service, it’s notorious for its otherworldly customers.

Since it opened, both staff and patrons have experienced a variety of strange events. Witnesses report seeing Tupperware flying off the shelf, coffee pots overflowing for no apparent reason, and food items crashing off tables with no explanation.

Of course, these occurrences aren’t nearly as terrifying as the ones experienced by the owner and granddaughter.

Black and white photography of a many people gathered around a model T ford. Dressed in the 1920's style.

Source: Picryl

A Ghostly Family Affair

Gloria Brandenburg, the owner of this haunted establishment and mother to Scordato, sleeps above the cafe. She says at night she often hears loud music and the sounds of people partying below her when the restaurant is completely empty.

Eerier than this, Brandenburg’s granddaughter Eliza has never been told about these spirits yet, she would constantly tell her mother and grandmother about a man named Jack whom she would play with in the basement.

Her claim was supported by her use of words popular in the 50s such as “scoundrel” and “villain”.

Eliza’s tales were so grand and detailed that a woman named Nadine Leder from the Tricounty Paranormal Group was brought in to investigate the grounds.

What she found provided an explanation as to what’s causing the frightening activity that the staff and patrons have become accustomed to.

Why is On The Right Track Roadhouse Cafe haunted?

During Nadine’s investigation, she was able to capture disembodied voices engaged in lewd conversations about women, alluding to the building’s days as a brothel. It appears as though this nefarious behavior was so disturbing that it continues to manifest in various ways. From poltergeist activity to the appearance of apparitions, it seems that former patrons of the brothel aren’t ready for the good times to end.

10. Miller Brewing Caves

In a city chock full of beer and ripe with hoppy history, it is only fitting to begin and end this Top 10 with beer. Now known as MillerCoors, Miller Brewing Company is an iconic piece of Milwaukee.

Founded in 1855 by Fredrick J. Miller, they are the second largest brewery in the United States and are responsible for bringing Major League Baseball to Milwaukee.

This, of course, is the lighter side of their legacy.

Beneath the brewery are a series of caves that were built to facilitate keeping the product cool. When the refrigerator was introduced, the tunnels were no longer needed. However, the privacy and coolness of the tunnels made them ideal for employees to escape for a break, particularly during the hot summer months.

Though harmless for the majority of the employees, the tunnels played a part in a haunting tale that’s equal parts touching as it is tragic.

A Tale of Two Lovers

As the story goes, these two young love birds would meet in the caves every Saturday night and walk hand in hand together.

Then, one evening the young gentlemen did not show up.

The woman believed that he was staying late after work and waited for some time. When he did not show up she tried not to worry about it and headed home. However, when she got home she was informed that the poor young man had fallen in the staircase of the caves.

He hit a large stone and had been knocked unconscious. She went to see him, hoping for a miracle that would never come.

The poor boy never woke up, and the girl fell into a deep depression, passing away just a few months later. Many say it was due to a broken heart.

Today, employees often hear laughter and disembodied footsteps when no one is around. Two luminous figures are often reported at the entrance of the cave late at night. It’s believed that the young couple are now together forever in the afterlife, walking the tunnels where their love blossomed all those years ago.

Milwaukee has much to offer for both the casual ghost hunter looking for a nice beer and the more experienced paranormal investigator. From brothels to bars, and college dorm rooms to luxurious hotels, Brew City is home to a plethora of hauntings.

It is celebrated by many, such as the Pfister Hotel and Shakers. But for others, such as Marquette and Wisconsin Lutheran College it is a tarnish upon their holy name. Be certain to enter this Midwestern mecca of brews and brats with an open mind. For you never know what you may walk away with.

Next time you visit, be sure you’re going to the most haunted locations available. Take a tour of Cream City with US Ghost Adventures! 


Featured Image Source: Flickr,to%20Oak%20Creek%20in%201835,under%20the%20direction%20of%20Wulff