The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company now sits at the site of the haunted Fess Hotel, one of the longest family-run hotels in Madison, Wisconsin. The great irony here is that the Fess Hotel was a rarity in its time, a “temperance hotel” that did not serve alcohol.
Now, the booze flows freely at The Great Dane, which has sent the spirits spinning. Spiritual activity at the Fess Hotel has been a staple since 1973, when the property was sold, and remains to this day.
Discover who still roams the hallways and rooms of this popular haunt and what serves as a reminder to the bar staff that they’re not alone.
Come along as we dive into the haunted Fess Hotel, and be sure to book your ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures on your next visit to Madison.
George E. Fess was an English immigrant who came to Madison in search of the American dream. He arrived in 1842 aboard a Michigan Lake steamer, destitute and downtrodden, working as a steward.
Within the next decade and a half, Fess had purchased a lot in the new and bustling downtown Madison area. Fess Hotel officially opened in 1856, catering to politicians, businessmen, and all types looking to mingle in Wisconsin’s state capitol. George Fess ran a restaurant and grocery store, both of which had been in operation since 1848, alongside this enterprise.
The railroads funneled people into the Capitol building, only two blocks away, and business boomed. In 1871, he added a second lot and an additional story to the successful operation. However, the hotelier’s success was short-lived, as George Fess died of “brain fever” in 1875.
His wife, Anna, ran the 34-room hotel until she died in 1895. Along the way, she oversaw the purchase of two additional lots, creating the structure that is seen today.
The eldest son, George Fess, Jr., took over operations after Anna died, and a huge renovation quickly followed. In 1901, a $14,000 remodel brought the 19th-century hotel into the 20th-century.
Carrie Nation, the infamous hatchet-wielding leader of the temperance movement, often stayed at the Fess during this period. It became her favorite, as it was one of the few hotels in the area that did not serve alcohol.
Despite George Fess Jr.’s best efforts, the hotel entered a period of decline. A lot was sold off in 1907 and demolished. The once elegant hotel continued to fall from grace over the following years and was eventually sold out of the family in 1972.
Not a single drop of liquor was served at the Fess while it remained in the hands of the family. But strange things began to occur just as soon as it reopened in 1974. Many believe the new cocktail lounge and restaurant offering a full bar were to blame.
The Fess Hotel remained open and under new management until 1994, when the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company moved into the building. Office spaces were rented out of the top floor for the twenty years it remained a hotel.
Switchboards were still used to operate telephones back in the 1970s. Operators working late at night began noticing a strange trend happening in the boardroom. Lights on the old board, the same model the Fess family used, would light up from rooms that were no longer occupied! In fact, the lines had been disconnected altogether.
Many believe these calls came from the spirits of George Fess, who died in his beloved hotel, and his wife, Anna. It’s believed they are disgusted by the allowance of alcohol in their once-sober establishment.
The phantom phone calls did not cease in 1994 when the hotel closed and the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company moved in. Calls kept coming from inside the building, even as the switchboard was removed and more modern systems were implemented. They are said to continue to this day.
Other unexplained activity is prevalent in the old Victorian building as well. There is a room in the basement that employees refer to as the “spooky room” where unusual voices are heard. It is always cold and damp, and an uneasy feeling falls over anyone who has to enter it. With Madison’s long and sometimes sordid history, it is hard to say who could be inhabiting this room.
One night, as two employees were closing up for the night, they heard a strange sound coming from a distant room. As they investigated, they saw pool cues falling to the ground on their own, with no one in sight.
The two closed up as quickly as possible, and these days, they do their best not to stay too late after work.
The spirits of the Fess family are actively haunting the bar and dining rooms of the old Fess Hotel. The Great Dane Pub and Brewery pays no mind to them, and the drinks keep flowing. Wouldn’t you like to join them?
You can join in on a spooky good time with one of our Madison ghost tours!
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