Haunted History in Madison

When you think of “Haunted Towns” Madison, WI might not be on the top of your list. It turns out though, that Madison has a pretty interesting history, with some spooky and mysterious ghost stories to go along with it.

The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.

The downtown location of the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co, located at 123 E Doty St, has many reported ghostly encounters. The former location of the Fess Hotel, which stood for 130 years and stabled horses in its basement, may be the source of many present day encounters.

From pool cues falling from the wall by themselves, to in-house phone lines ringing when nobody else is there, many employees have spooky tales to share. There’s also a room in the basement that is reportedly so creepy, that some employees refuse to enter it. If you’re interested in hearing about these, and other stories, you can check out American Ghost Walks walking tours. They stop at the Great Dane and other haunted Downtown locations to share stories of history and hauntings over the years. They run tours Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings through November 3rd.

Sanatorium Hill

Now home to Dane County’s Human Services Department, the original Lake View Sanatorium housed tuberculosis patients for 3.5 decades from 1930 – 1966. Thousands died from the deadly disease, and may be the source for modern-day haunted tales. Interestingly, it’s not the building itself, which looks like it could be straight from a set of a horror movie, that has the strongest reputation for paranormal activity.

The adjacent woods and nearby cemetery have spawned numerous reports of paranormal encounters from visitors to Lake View park. Reports include odd lights, mists, apparitions, unusually hot or cold spots, and even physical manifestations – like feeling the touch of “phantom” hands. If you’re up for a spooky adventure through its wooded trails, Lake View Park is open to the public seven days per week from 7:00am – 9:00pm.

The Majestic Theatre

Located on King Street, just off the Capitol Square, this theatre originally opened its doors in 1906 as a venue for vaudeville acts. Over the years it has been home to everything from silent movies to various musical acts – Harry Houdini even performed there!

Many ghostly reports have surfaced over the years at The Majestic, from the apparition of a shadowy male figure, to unexplained voices, and even the physical sensation of performer’s hair being pulled

The Orpheum

Opened in 1926, the Orpheum Theater was another addition to Downtown Madison’s entertainment scene. It still operates today, drawing various musical and live performance acts from around the country. Patrons and employees alike have gotten more than just an evening of entertainment though.

Stories include visitors feeling uneasy in the downstairs restroom and in the theater’s furnace room. Unexplained noises have also been heard, like jingling keys, muffled conversations, and the sound of footsteps – all while nobody else is in the area to account for the sounds.

If you visit the Orpheum, you can even see a photo of a ghost in the hallway as you enter the venue. The photo of the theater, from 1927, shows the image of a man that can not be explained – he was said to not be present when the photo was originally taken.

Wonder Bar Steak House

This unassuming establishment, located near the Alliant energy center on E. Olin Ave, traces its roots to the prohibition era. It was originally operated by Eddie Touhy, who was the brother of Roger Touhy – a notorious Chicago area mobster and bootlegger who was known for his rivalry with Al Capone. There was a former tunnel, which has since been filled in, that ran from the Wonder Bar to nearby Lake Monona to facilitate the movement of bootleg liquor.

Stories from the Wonder Bar include a bathroom door that slams on its own, the sound of phantom footsteps and voices, and even a tale of a helpful ghost who is said to have returned a small sum of money to a waitress that discovered it missing from her till.

Bascom Hill

Bascom Hill, a prominent part of the UW-Madison campus and home to a statue of Abraham Lincoln, originally served as a cemetery for settlers from 1837 until 1846. In 1846, the remains of those buried there were moved to another location to make way for the development of the University.

It seems that a couple of graves were missed in the process though. In 1922, while excavators were installing the statue of Lincoln, the remains of two men were found. Named Samuel Warren and William Nelson, their final resting places are still marked to this day with brass plaques engraved with their initials.

Ghostly encounters on Bascom Hill include witnesses seeing the figures of and older and younger man walking near the statue. Reports have also been told of an apparition wearing dated period clothing, including a bowler hat, that walks up and down the steps of Bascom Hall.