By Jeniece Smith
There’s much more waiting for you than a good night’s sleep in these historic Wisconsin hotels. Of course, once you learn the stories behind these authentic haunted houses, you may feel a tad restless after nightfall. Are you brave enough to pillow your head at these inns with some especially spirited guests who never checked out?
The ghosts at this fabulous world-class hotel have teased some pretty high-profile guests over the years – including the likes of professional ballplayers from a handful of major league teams. According to USA TODAY, one was spooked enough to sleep with his bat, another left his room to sleep on the couch in the lobby, and at least two more sought alternative lodging down the street. Players have reported hearing strange pounding noises in the night – then awaking to find clothes and furniture moved or windows and blinds opened. One Minnesota Twins player told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune his iPod started playing inexplicably and vibrating across a table on the other side of the room – twice.
When you walk through the decadent three-story lobby of this “Jewel of Milwaukee,” be sure to look up at the marble grand staircase. Charles Pfister, who opened the hotel in 1893, might be peering back at you.
This fully restored 1885 Victorian home has gorgeous views of Lake Belle and a lovely garden with a gazebo and fountain – but that’s not all it’s got. “The occurrences just kept piling up, until we couldn’t deny them any longer,” Lynn Owen, who owns the house with Jim Magrone.
The highlight of their otherworldly experiences? Seeing the ghostly apparition of a woman walking down into the floor where a staircase used to be. For a span, Magrone heard the voices of little girls about once a week as he worked in the home’s garage – built over the site of an old barn. The original log cabin that stood on the site in the mid-1800s was swallowed up by the construction of the main house around its hand-hewn beams. The owners surmise the property was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and before that, the site of Native American burial grounds.
Though they’ve heard unexplained pounding and crashing sounds, Owen says “none of these episodes has ever been scary or threatening.” She’s watched a wallpaper roll and sheet music move seemingly on their own accord, but took it to mean “our spirits” approve of the home’s restoration and appreciate vintage piano music.
Born from the ashes of a fire where a saloon once stood, this hotel is best known as the birthplace of the Gideon Bible. It also hosted some well-known politicians over the years before closing down to overnight guests, most notably John F. and Jackie Kennedy. But some people surmise that former owner Adam Bobel, who died four years after rebuilding on the site of his former saloon in 1881, is still around.
Another theory is that an orphan girl named “Snowflake” who was abandoned outside the hotel in the snow as an infant, returned there from beyond the grave. “She lived to be 12, and at least according to some legends, loved the hotel so much that she has never left,” according to OnMilwaukee magazine’s archives. “Snowflake showed up periodically at the foot of guests' beds for years.”
Today the hotel is, once again, a bar. Visit for fine dining during the evenings Thursday, Friday and Saturday. You might even share your meal with Mr. Bobel and Snowflake.
You’ll find haunted rooms aplenty in this hotel founded by Kewaunee mayor William Karsten, including the location of his former quarters where rooms 205 to 210 are today. Karsten died of a heart attack in is suite in 1940, but the current owners say his spirit is still around making sure the hotel is run properly, and that he’s often visited by the ghost of his five-year-old grandson, William “Billy” Karsten III. Another hot spot is room 310, where a housekeeper named Agatha lived and worked for more than a decade.
The hotel changed names and owners many times over the years, and paranormal activity has been reported since 1966, when the hotel underwent substantial renovation efforts. Strange smells, including that of cigar smoke, have permeated the second floor around Karsten’s suite, the current owners say. Billy, meanwhile, runs up and down the hallways and has been known to play with living children. Agatha, the “most active entity” according to the owners, smells of flowers and has appeared to various staff members and guests, including one worker who looked up to see her standing behind him as he cleaned a mirror. Guests who have stayed in her room “have heard strange knocks, faint crying and sounds.”
WBAY Action 2 News, the local ABC affiliate, reported that the Chicago Paranormal Investigators recorded in its visits a tripod being inexplicably flung across a hallway and two shadowy figures, including one that lifted an investigator’s hair off her shoulder.
The family that has owned this hotel for roughly the last century has passed down plenty of ghost stories to the current owners, who believe their former relatives still haunt the 12-room inn and restaurant. One of the owners told WLUK-TV, the local Fox affiliate, that she once heard singing coming from the corner of the empty bar. The basement is thought to be a focal point for activity.
This mansion has been a mobster’s home, boarding house, parsonage and coffee house. Today, it’s thought to be haunted by (mostly) playful spirits. “Unexplained noises, bad dreams and moved objects have given the mansion a reputation for being haunted,” Milwaukee Home and Fine Living wrote in a profile of the 1910 bed & breakfast. According to Milwaukee Ghosts Tours & Investigations, owner Carol Hirschi went into the B&B’s Gold Suite “several days since anyone had been in there, only to find several drops of fresh blood in the bathtub.” The usually more lighthearted supernatural mischief is thought to be the work of a ghostly woman and child, a psychic told Hirschi.
Team PROPHET, a paranormal research group from Minnesota, recorded disembodied voices and strange noises, and experienced unexplained equipment malfunctions in two visits to this Northwoods hotel operated by Best Western. Staff and guests have reported most of the creepy encounters in room 314 and the attic.
A former brothel and watering hole that now operates as a tavern with upstairs apartments, this inn’s most famous guest is “Mary,” a prostitute who died in the building in the early 1900s and has been known to appear cavorting in her saloon dancer dress. Owner B.C. Farr told the Wisconsin State Journal that he’s seen “dishware flying off a rack, a broom floating across the kitchen, (and) doors opening and closing by themselves.” Though employees and apartment tenants have been spooked by the haunted happenings, Farr enjoys taking bar and dinner guests on ghosts hunts.
In the mood for more hair-raising stories? Check out these three haunted Door County lighthouses.