Haunting activities of local ghosts revealed


Photo courtesy Therese Bowes
Photo courtesy Therese Bowes

Ten years ago, Dawn Scher Thomae, anthropology collections manager at Milwaukee Public Museum, stood in the Latin American area on the third floor of the museum. She felt a cold sensation unlike any she had felt before.


“It didn’t come from above, it came right through me,” Thomae said. “It’s a feeling you don’t readily forget.”

This is a phenomenon often described by people who have experienced a haunted place.

The Milwaukee Public Museum boasts of hauntings from several ghosts, but the most commonly spotted ghost is former museum director Stephen Borhegyi, who worked there from 1959 to 1969. Thomae described him as a renowned archaeologist and flamboyant womanizer. He is locally famous for his encouragement of the museum’s most recent location at 800 W. Wells St.

“He always had a pipe and a cape and when he would meet women, he would kiss their hands,” Thomae said.

Borhegyi is believed to inhabit the third floor of the museum. Witnesses have reported his presence in three different ways, Thomae said. Some have seen his cape flash out of the corner of their eye, others have felt a gust of cold air move through or past them. Most commonly, though, the elevator arrives at the third floor without being called and with no one inside to have pressed the button.

Borhegyi met an untimely death in September  1969. Thomae said he was driving back from a “liaison” in Chicago when he was decapitated in a car accident about one mile from the museum.

Allison Jornlin is the founder of Milwaukee Ghosts, a business that offers haunted tours throughout the city. When asked to name one of the most haunted places in the city, she identified Marquette.

“I personally call it Boo U because of all the stories,” Jornlin said. “(Marquette) has a monopoly of ghost stories.”

Last Halloween, Jornlin said she went on a student-run ghost tour out of Straz Hall and heard interesting tales about Humphrey Hall, which was a children’s hospital until 1988. Supposedly, the university has security footage of ghost children running in or near the building. Jornlin was also told the intercom system had to be taken down because it was continuously triggered by “nothing.”

Lt. Paul Mascari, assistant director of public safety, did not have any information on hauntings.

“We don’t have any knowledge of that kind of thing occurring,” Mascari said. “The intercom system has been there a long time and we haven’t had problems with it.”

Sam Boland, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, has worked at Humphrey’s front desk for two semesters and said he has never seen anything suspicious.

Faye Morris, who has been a custodian in Humphrey for two years, also said she has not seen suspicious activity and added that she has not heard anything strange either.

James Scotton, associate professor in the College of Communication, is rumored to have a haunted office. Johnston Hall is the oldest building on campus, he said, and was the university’s former Jesuit residence.

The story goes that a Jesuit either fell or leapt to his death from a fifth floor window. Scotton pointed to the suspected window in his office, room 525.

“I’ve been here late at night and I’ve never run into the ghost,” Scotton said.

Scotton has been at Marquette thirty years, he said, and the worst he’s seen are bats flying out of a sixth floor storage area.

“Occasionally they’d get out and scare people to death,” Scotton said.

Scotton said students have heard thumping sounds in the building at night, but he has not. The sound is rumored to come from the ghost of a deceased Jesuit who no longer has a key to his room and wants in.

Jornlin said full-apparition experiences are rare and she has never had one. It’s not that she didn’t try, though. She has stayed in some notoriously haunted places like The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, La., and kept herself awake looking for ghostly phenomena.

“I’m waiting for something to scare me,” Jornlin said. “Being chilled to the bone is the greatest gift in the world. The only thing I’m worried about is being disappointed.”

Jornlin is rather skeptical about hauntings. Both Jornlin and Noah Leigh, creator and lead investigator of Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, said so called paranormal activities can generally be explained through scientific reasoning.

Leigh and his colleagues perform an average of one paranormal investigation a month at no cost to those who request it. They use video, audio and photographic tools to try to capture paranormal events. His group has searched homes and businesses and found nothing he considered very startling.

“I treat them as a big experiment,” Leigh said.

He holds a Master’s degree in epidemiology and is working on a second in cell biology at Medical College of Wisconsin.

“It’s hard enough to convince myself that something paranormal is going on, let alone [convince] someone who wasn’t there,” Leigh said.

Paranormal Investigators provides written accounts of what they do or do not find, as well as the techniques they used. Leigh said the group needs multiple pieces of evidence before it attributes an occurrence as 100 percent paranormal.