Milwaukee Ghost Stories

newhall_house_fireBrutal murders, huge fires, unexplained suicides and other true hauntings litter Milwaukee’s history. Some believe the victims of these tragedies were never quite able to leave the city behind.

Allison Jornlin of told the Trib a couple of Milwaukee’s best ghost stories.

Skylight Music Theatre In 1959, WTMJ Public Relations Executive Clair Richardson founded the Skylight Music Theatre with the mission to bring cultural variety to Milwaukee. Richardson was a quirky man with a larger than life personality and a unique last wish: to be buried underneath the Skylight stage so that, “His successors would know that all decisions were made over his dead body,” according to Jornlin. Richardson’s colleagues honored his last wish in 1993 and created a small shrine complete with his urn underneath the stage at Skylight’s new location in the Broadway Theatre. The shrine included many of Richardson’s personal belongings and a spotlight that shines on the urn and is meant to never go out.

But just months after Richardson’s urn arrived in the theater, the crew began to have strange experiences. One night during a live performance, stage lights began malfunctioning and stopped responding to the crew’s commands. A stagehand then went underneath the stage to find Richardson’s bulb had burnt out. Immediately after he replaced the bulb, the lights began working correctly and crewmembers experienced no further problems. Checking Richardson’s spotlight became a tradition before live performances. Last fall during a performance of “Avenue Q” a smoke machine malfunctioned filing the theater with fog and set off the alarm system. The theater was evacuated and the Milwaukee Fire Department showed up to investigate. When staff members went back into the theater, they discovered the bulb in Richardson’s spotlight was out.

Hilton Garden Inn

In 1833 the current location of the Hilton Garden Inn at 611 N. Broadway was the site of a grizzly hotel fire, claiming the lives of over 90 guests and destroying Milwaukee’s most prestigious hotel. From the day the Newhall House opened its doors, it was known for two things: its opulence and its fires. The hotel experienced so many fires that the Milwaukee Fire Department identified it as a “tinder box.” Because of the frequency of Newhouse’s fires, the hotel owner developed a controversial policy. The policy stated that when a fire occurred, staff members should try to put it out quietly, never disturbing the guests or alerting them about the growing fire. That policy, along with the Newhall House, went up in flames on January 10, 1883.  When the flames began, staff members did as they were told, but the fire was stronger than any other in the hotel’s history. As the fire grew and guests began to panic, many people began jumping out of windows on the upper floors, becoming entangled in the newly installed telegraph wires. One account states that a fire fighter was seriously injured when a man jumping from a window landed on top of him just moments after exiting his vehicle. By the next morning, the Newhall House had been reduced to a smoldering pit. Officials weren’t able to identify many remains because of the fire’s heat and intensity , but it’s estimated that 90 people perished. Over the years the property served many different purposes, but was restored to its original role as a hotel in 2012 with the opening of the Hilton Garden Inn. Claims of paranormal activity have been made throughout building, namely in rooms 326 and 201. In 326, maids say they’ve had their hair pulled and the sensation of being constantly watched. On one occasion, a manager entered 326 alone, walked around the room after hearing voices and strange sounds. He didn’t see anything out of order until he was leaving. On a mirror by the door was a large, smeary handprint. Similar claims were made in 201, where the bathroom door has been observed opening and closing on its own.