Meet Madison’s Ghosts

by admin

The spirits stroll amongst us.

They hang-out the buildings the place we work, the spots we cross downtown and the creepy locations we strive onerous to keep away from. Some are born of historical past, of precise tragic occasions that also reside within the registers and in our reminiscences. Others are the stuff of legends and lore, rising deeper, spookier and extra plausible with each recounting.

And in Madison, there are numerous them. Jeff Finup, the person behind the unsettling and engaging Badgerland Legends web site and Instagram feed, has been publishing tales of the supernatural and paranormal from across the Badger State since 2020. He’s seen a lot of the skeletons Wisconsin has stashed in its varied closets.

“As capital cities go, Madison is on the smaller finish when it comes to its measurement,” says Finup. “However the quantity of spirit lore we’ve skilled right here since 1848 is sort of astounding.”

That lore encompasses all types of ghosts: vengeful, pleasant, tortured and difficult. Murderous, misunderstood, murky and misguided.

Perhaps you’ve encountered a few of them already.

Shadowy Forest Determine
Peak: Indeterminate, however positively hunched
Distinguishing traits: Shy, keen on low temperatures and hide-and-seek

Shadowy figure stands below a gran arch that reads

Picture by Patrick Stutz; illustration by Tim Burton

It simply appears creepy.

And the extra you find out about it, the extra you perceive precisely why that’s the case. On the prime of a steep slope off Northport Drive sits a constructing that used to deal with a big variety of very sick folks. Up till 1966, the 66,000-square-foot Lake Hill Sanatorium was a repository for tuberculosis sufferers, at a time in historical past when the illness may imply a dying sentence.

Sanatorium Hill appears ominous. It appears haunted. The primary constructing appears deserted, or maybe prefer it may very well be the setting for an encore season of “American Horror Story: Asylum.” It’s not: Astoundingly, this construction is the present residence of the Dane County Human Providers Division, the place authorities staff go about their enterprise, 5 days every week. However the spooky forest that sits behind the constructing, the facility plant the place useless and infirm our bodies of tuberculosis sufferers had been burned and the close by graveyard? Effectively, they’re a part of a darker story.

Tobias and Emily Wayland, a duo who make up the Singular Fortean Society — a Madison-based group that investigates paranormal websites throughout the state — visited the previous sanatorium and the woods behind it. Tobias’ journal captures the vibe:

As we stroll I start to note a horrific, mild mist. It’s seen, however not like any pure impact of water vapor I’ve ever seen. It seems as a layer of static overlaying the encompassing panorama. Emily says that she doesn’t see the etheric fog, however she does really feel an uncomfortable chilly humidity that appears to relaxation closely “in her thoughts.” I really feel it, too; it’s a lot colder inside the woods than with out.

It’s simply previous this spot on the path that I see a humanoid shadow stroll out from behind one tree and disappear behind one other. This happens roughly 20 ft off of the path, and the shifting shadow covers a span of a number of ft earlier than it vanishes. Emily tells me that she noticed a hunched shadow determine stroll a brief distance and fade in the identical space.

Frequent guests to Lake View Hill Park declare there’s nothing to concern, that it’s an amazing place to stroll and luxuriate in nature. And each winter, scores of youngsters nonetheless sled down Sanatorium Hill’s ominous slopes. Simply assume twice earlier than visiting at nightfall or after darkish.

Varley Bond
Peak: 5 ft, 9 inches
Distinguishing traits: one arm, white hair, likes to play the harmonica

A shadowy figure next to a black and white photo of an old two story house

(L) Picture-illustration by Tim Burton, supply photograph: Getty Photos. (R) Supply photograph: Wikipedia Commons

Hey, you strive designing homes with a ghost hovering over your shoulder.

That’s what our pals on the American Institute of Architects routinely do, if historical past and legend are to be believed. Their places of work are positioned on Hamilton Road, within the historic — and really haunted — Joseph J. Stoner Home. In line with Historic Madison Inc., that home was as soon as the house of Varley Bond, a Canadian expatriate and supervisor of a number of department shops. Varley’s son, Walter, was one thing of a rake, residing a life that sounds prefer it was ripped from the pages of a Henry James novel: A primary lieutenant within the Military, he married his first spouse in America in 1942. Deployed to Paris throughout World Conflict II, Walter promptly fell in love with a French girl, and vowed to return to France after the struggle to marry her.

After abandoning his household to just do that, Walter discovered himself in a duel with a rival suitor — a duel that value him his life. His father reportedly died of grief (though embarrassment could have been a detailed second) and started haunting the home. Varley’s ghost, in white hair, a black scarf and black go well with, lower a terrifying visage. The ghost, like the person, had just one arm, simply as he did in life.

Father B aka Boleslavs Baginskis
Peak: 5 ft, 8 inches
Distinguishing traits: heavy Latvian accent, loves nature walks, bushes

A shadowy green and black figure in a hood puts their hands together to pray

Picture-illustration by Tim Burton, supply photograph: Getty Photos

Summer season sleepaway camps are usually magnets for spirits and customarily terrifying exercise. Simply ask guests to Camp Crystal Lake, or the youngsters within the “Worry Road” flicks, or the producers of the latest online game The Quarry. David Hernandez and Tereasa Surratt, the house owners of Camp Wandawega in Elkhorn, can definitely relate. Whereas this thriving summer time camp hasn’t hosted any supernatural slashers or embodiments of pure unadulterated evil, its lengthy and storied historical past options not only a sordid previous stuffed with mob exercise, bootlegging, prostitution and homicide (all from when Wandawega was a resort, not a camp), but additionally two totally different ghosts — one malevolent and one benevolent.

We’ll begin with the pleasant one. Boleslavs Baginskis was the Catholic Latvian monk who gifted the camp to Hernandez and Surratt practically 20 years in the past. Whereas he was alive, Baginskis walked the grounds of the camp every spring sprinkling holy water and studying verses from the Bible to consecrate the property. After his dying at 95, the camp planted a birch tree in his honor. It’s mentioned his spirit continues to be strolling the grounds, guarding the bushes, simply as he did in life.

John Gabriele aka “Johnny Sweetheart”
Peak: 5 ft, 9 inches
Distinguishing traits: Bowler hat, brief fuse, penchant for writing letters

A shadowy figure in a hat stands looking out at a dock and a lake. Three flags hang from the flag pole over the dock.

Picture courtesy of Camp Wandawega; photo-illustration by Tim Burton; supply photograph: Getty Photos

Wandawega’s first ghost was additionally one in all Wandawega Resort’s last visitors: a hot-tempered Chicago man whose determined getaway landed him at Wandawega in 1942. Unable to persuade the lady he cherished to stick with him, John Gabriele murdered her with a revolver. Gabriele then kidnapped a second girl at gunpoint and drove her north into Wisconsin, the place he ended up in one of many resort’s cottages. The lady escaped and drove again to Chicago, the place she alerted the police. After they arrived on the cottage, they discovered Gabriele useless in a rocking chair, a sufferer of his personal revolver.

In line with the Wandawega Historic Society, visitors on the camp have seen what appears to be the ghost of “Johnny Sweetheart” wandering a pier within the mists on the far shores of the lake, sporting a bowler hat and a mournful, looking look. Perhaps he’s on the lookout for that misplaced girlfriend. Perhaps he’s on the lookout for you.

Projectionist Pete
Peak: 5 ft, 6 inches
Distinguishing traits: Obnoxious, messy, plate-averse

Shadowy figure sits among red seats in a movie theater.

Supply photograph: Unsplash; Getty

The Orpheum Theater on State Road has a popularity as one of the vital haunted places in Madison. There’s, in fact, the {photograph} hanging within the foyer that seems to incorporate the ghost of a person who wasn’t a part of the unique image. There are tales a couple of ghostly night time supervisor who walks across the environs after darkish, jingling his keys. And there’s Pete, the stressed spirit of one of many theater’s former projectionists, who died by suicide within the constructing earlier than it was remodeled from a movie show right into a live performance/e-book tour/marriage ceremony reception venue.

Pete was reportedly form of a jerk in reel — er, actual — life and apparently carried his irritating character into the afterlife. One night, an evening supervisor entered the projection room to find reels and papers scattered across the room. A crashing sound downstairs despatched him scurrying to analyze the foyer, the place he discovered the clear dishes he’d simply stacked on the bar shattered on the ground, as in the event that they’d been swept off by a spectral arm.

The Beast of Bray Street aka the Lycan of Wisconsin
Peak: Between 6 and 10 ft
Distinguishing traits: matted brown and grey fur, sharp claws, hates automotive doorways

Road is illuminated in the dark. To the right stands a shadowy figure of a beast.

Picture-illustration by Tim Burton

Wandawega shouldn’t be the one Elkhorn locale with its personal ghostly story to inform. The Beast of Bray Street, a werewolf-like mystery beast first noticed in 1936, has continued and grow to be firmly entrenched in Wisconsin lore, to the purpose the place it’s been the topic of a number of works: a e-book written by an initially skeptical journalist (“The Beast of Bray Street: Tailing Wisconsin’s Lycan”), a 2018 indie documentary (“The Bray Street Beast”) and even a 2005 horror flick (“The Beast of Bray Street”).

The Beast was extra prone to assault passing autos and wildlife than precise people, however some witnesses who declare to have seen it say it was 7 ft tall and will stroll on two or 4 legs. Sightings of this clawed monstrosity have been reported as not too long ago as August 2022.

Peak: 4 ft, 5 inches
Distinguishing traits: Wispy, mischievous, fond of fireplace escapes and basements

Location is a key factor of ghost tales, and that’s definitely the case for Elizabeth, the spirit who reportedly haunts Dino’s Bar and Pizza in Dodgeville. Means, approach again within the Nineties, the constructing that at present homes Dino’s was positioned on a website that contained two very totally different companies: a mortuary within the basement and a clothes retailer upstairs. There’s additionally a funeral residence 75 yards away from the bar’s again door.

“Form of like a one-stop store,” jokes present proprietor Dino Whitish.

Elizabeth made her first look some 22 years in the past, flipping onto the ground a butter knife that was sitting on the principle bar between Whitish and his bartender. Over time, she’s constructed up fairly a repertoire of spectral tips. Tenants upstairs would lock the door to the constructing’s hearth escape, solely to wake the next morning to search out it unlocked and hanging open. Now and again, glasses would fall off the again bar.

Elizabeth, who obtained her identify (and suspected gender) from a former worker, appears extra mischievous than malevolent — however she clearly possesses loads of energy to scare. A couple of years in the past, Whitish says, two of his teenage staff had been working within the basement and felt an sudden gust of wind. They turned to see an apparition of white mild. Each boys bolted up the steps and by no means returned to the basement once more.

The Putty Man
Peak: No less than 6 ft
Distinguishing traits: Shadowy demeanor, extra-long arms

Let’s face it: Theater balconies are unsettling as hell. Particularly the darkish ones which can be tough to see into from the bottom flooring. The balcony on the Majestic Theatre has been round because the vaudeville days of the early 1900s, and it’s apparently seen loads of supernatural exercise — together with a ghost referred to as The Putty Man. A pair of girls within the Nineteen Eighties finding out within the balcony had been reportedly the primary to see him — a mass of shadow with rubbery, Mr. Unbelievable-esque arms. He waved one in all his wild ’n’ shadowy appendages at them, sending them scurrying. Sensible transfer, girls.

Mickey Niebuhr
Peak: 5 ft, 8 inches
Distinguishing traits: Grey hair, crawls on all fours

No person likes to go away Mickey’s Tavern, the more-than-a-century-old Williamson Road hang-out. It’s a superb place to search out fellowship, nice drinks and unexpectedly scrumptious bar burgers. And by “no person,” we’re together with the person who constructed it and for whom it’s named: Mickey Niebuhr. Niebuhr died within the late Nineteen Nineties after residing in an residence above the bar for years, however employees and patrons say they nonetheless really feel his presence in machines that flip themselves on unexpectedly, and, extra pointedly, within the type of a ghostly determine of an outdated man on all fours, struggling to face up. It may, in truth, be Niebuhr’s ghost, or it may very well be the spirit of the member of Buffalo Invoice’s Touring Wild West Present who was murdered on Mickey’s metal entrance porch in 1910. Should you eye witness encounter the ghost, we suggest not sticking round to ask.

Generally They Come Again
As anybody who’s watched “Poltergeist” can let you know, as soon as one thing’s been buried, it’s a very dangerous concept to dig it again up. However that’s precisely what Madison metropolis officers did again in 1859, after they determined to transform the unique Village of Madison Cemetery, first based in 1846, into what’s now referred to as Orton Park within the Williamson Road Neighborhood. Almost 250 corpses had been unceremoniously disinterred and transported to Forest Hill Cemetery for reburial. The query that’s lingered for greater than a century is that this: Did they discover and transfer each single physique? At this time, Orton Park is the location of one in all Madison’s rockin’ summer time neighborhood festivals. However over time, residents have reported seeing bizarre balls of spooky ghost mild floating within the air. Forgotten spirits, possibly?

Apparitions With Your Oysters?
At this time, the Tempest Oyster Bar on Wilson Road is a spot the place you will get top-notch seafood entrees and steaks.

As soon as upon a time, it was a spot the place you would get a physique embalmed.

Most Madisonians know the Frautschi household, and particularly Jerry Frautschi, a beneficiant arts supporter who, amongst different feats of philanthropy, donated the majority of the cash that went into the development of the Overture Heart for the Arts on State Road. However one of many wings of the Frautschi enterprise empire was a funeral residence that for 50 years occupied the constructing the place Tempest now sits. The house closed within the late Seventies.

The constructing’s funereal historical past has led to various ghostly rumors. Some say there’s nonetheless a grate within the flooring the place the morticians drained and embalmed corpses. Whereas talking on the native “Voices From the Grave” podcast, Lisa Van Buskirk, the “Ghost with the Most” tour information who hosts Madison’s Ghost Stroll Excursions, mentioned rumors {that a} member of the notorious Heaven’s Gate cult died by suicide on the premises. Workers have reported experiencing dishes clattering on their very own, inexplicable chilly spots within the restaurant, and, better of all, a hearth extinguisher flying off the wall. Incoming!

Hey, What’s That within the Window?
The small construction camped at 101 N. Hamilton St. has, over the previous 10 years, grow to be one thing of a restaurant graveyard. For a few years up till 2015, it housed the Blue Marlin — one of the vital well-liked upscale seafood eating places on the Sq. throughout its time. Since then, it’s flamed by means of short-lived eating places like paper in hearth, changing into Hamilton’s on the Sq. for some time, then Boar and Barrel. It at present stands empty, present process one other spherical of renovations and an unsure destiny.

Perhaps it has to do with the spooky legends that encompass the constructing’s historical past. It started life as a butcher store, with large slabs of meat hanging in the identical home windows that look out on the Sq.. Within the Nineteen Eighties, an indication painter engaged on the Blue Marlin’s entrance window went right into a Danny Torrance-like fugue state, predicting that somebody would die earlier than the restaurant’s opening date. He was prescient: A building employee suffered a deadly coronary heart assault on the location just a few weeks later.

Patrons and passersby have reported seeing an ethereal determine within the window of the ground above what was the restaurant area. The ghost of the development employee? Or a spirit who refuses to let any restaurateur succeed?

Editor’s be aware: Our author and artistic director have taken some inventive liberties and relied upon educated hypothesis with regard to a few of the heights and likenesses of the 9 ghosts featured right here in phrases and footage. This story represents Madison Journal’s knowledgeable imaginative and prescient of what these ghosts would possibly appear like. (As a result of how unfun would it not have been to go along with “unknown” or “undetermined” as descriptors?) If in case you have additional proof or inklings about these ghosts’ traits — or about different ghosts you’ve encountered within the Madison space — we’d love to listen to your tales. E-mail us at

Aaron R. Conklin is a contributing author to Madison Journal. This text appeared within the October 2022 challenge of Madison Journal.

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