Ghost Walks and Trails: The Legends and Myths in Wisconsin’s Historic Sites, Cemeteries, and Towns

Ghost walks and trails: The legends and myths in Wisconsin’s historic sites, cemeteries, and towns

Photo courtesy of Canva

By Erin Yarnall

October 23, 2023

It’s fall, and in Wisconsin that means a few things: visits to pumpkin patches, apple picking at orchards, and of course scary stories. Some of these local horror stories are created out of thin air, but some are inspired by history or real-life experiences. One of the best ways to hear ghost stories is on a ghost tour, which will lead you directly to (and sometimes through) the sites that inspired the haunting tales.

There are all types of ghost tours throughout the Badger State, including classic walking tours that span a portion of a city, and kid-friendly ghost hunts that are slightly less spooky than other offerings. Taking part in a ghost tour isn’t just a spooky way to learn about the supposed spirits haunting different locations. It’s also an interesting opportunity to learn local history.

From walking tours to haunted trolley tours, to theaters and hotels that you’ll have to tour yourself to witness some paranormal activity, here are some of the most bone-chilling ghost walks and trails that you can take throughout Wisconsin.

SOUTHERN WISCONSIN

The Pfister Hotel

424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee

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For more than 130 years, The Pfister Hotel has been one of Milwaukee’s most luxurious and elegant places to stay. It’s also reportedly one of its most haunted.

The historic hotel has hosted presidents, rock stars, and plenty of baseball players, as visiting teams in town to play the Milwaukee Brewers typically stay at the spooky hotel. Some of the athletes have even gone on to describe their chilling experiences, including former Philadelphia Phillies player Bryce Harper, who said that, while spending the night at the hotel during his time with the Washington Nationals, all of his clothes were thrown from his bed and a table was moved across the room. Recently, rapper Megan Thee Stallion documented her own eerie stay at the hotel while in town to perform at Summerfest in 2021.

While the hotel doesn’t offer tours itself, visitors can get a peek of the interior and try to do some of their own ghost hunting by attending one of the Pfister Hotel’s more family-friendly events like Breakfast with Santa or Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, you could also make a reservation and see what happens.

Wisconsin Dells’ Haunted History Trolley Tour

Starting point: 750 Wisconsin Dells Parkway S., Wisconsin Dells

Ghost walks and trails: The legends and myths in Wisconsin’s historic sites, cemeteries, and towns

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Dells Trolley Tours via Facebook

Wisconsin Dells may be called the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” but the city isn’t all fun and games. In fact, if you believe in ghosts, it might be one of the scariest places you can visit. Take a ride on the Haunted History Trolley Tour to learn some of Wisconsin Dells’ most spine-chilling stories. The tour stops at the Brat House Grill, a church-turned-restaurant that is rumored to house the spirits of both a young girl and a Union soldier, as well as the Spring Grove Cemetery.

The tour typically lasts 90 minutes, but advises tourgoers that it may go longer if the tour group experiences any strong activity. If you’re a little too spooked to go on the Haunted History tour but still want to explore the city via trolley, try out some of the Wisconsin Dells Trolley Tours’ other offerings, including the Santa Holiday Trolley or the Bloody Mary/Mimosa Brunch Tour.

Lake Geneva Ghost Walk

Starting point: 521 Baker St., Lake Geneva

Ghost walks and trails: The legends and myths in Wisconsin’s historic sites, cemeteries, and towns

Photo courtesy of American Ghost Walks (Lake Geneva) via Facebook

There’s no need to travel all the way to Disney World to see the Haunted Mansion. Lake Geneva, a resort city in southeastern Wisconsin, has at least two. Both the Baker House (now an elegant hotel) and the Maxwell Mansion can be viewed as part of the Lake Geneva Ghost Walk.

This 90-minute walking tour is available year round and costs $25 per person. Some of its haunted highlights include the Spirit of the Lake, a ghost who is rumored to talk to people who are out enjoying the city’s namesake lake. There’s also Elm Park, where ghost hunters try to see the Woman in Black, a Victorian woman who is said to follow people throughout the park.

Shaker’s Cigar Bar

422 S. 2nd St., Milwaukee

There’s a few things that Milwaukee has an abundance of—street festivals, breweries, and supposedly haunted buildings. While there’s plenty of old, historic hotels and theaters with their own ghost stories, there’s also a few bars throughout the city that are rumored to be haunted.

Shaker’s Cigar Bar, in the city’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, has been a local haunt for decades. There are even rumors that it was a haunt of Al Capone. Guides say bones have been found in the walls of the building dating back to Prohibition times, as well. If that’s not disturbing enough, the bar was also a haunt of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

If you’re interested in seeing some overnight activity, go on a ghost-hunting tour of the property or stay the night in the building’s penthouse.

Old Baraboo Inn

135 Walnut St., Baraboo

Ghost walks and trails: The legends and myths in Wisconsin’s historic sites, cemeteries, and towns

Photo courtesy of Old Baraboo Inn via Facebook

With a name that acknowledges the inn’s history, it makes sense that there are plenty of ghost stories that pop up around the Old Baraboo Inn. Built in 1864, the inn is said to be one of the most haunted spots in the entire state. Currently, it is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, serving up classic Wisconsin grub during Friday fish fry. It’s arguably best known for its haunted history, though.

Initially opened as a boarding house, the building has also been used as a brothel and dive bar throughout its history. When the Old Baraboo Inn was being restored in the early 2000s, lights would turn on and off, doors would open and close by themselves, and tools would vanish and turn up in other locations. There have been reported sightings of phantoms in the inn, including a 20th-century woman nicknamed Mary and a chilling presence in the Old Baraboo Inn’s basement, according to local rumors.

While they’re not regularly held, tours of the Old Baraboo Inn are sometimes available. There are also tours of the city’s haunted downtown, which cost $15 when booked in advance. Otherwise, stop by the inn on a weekend and see for yourself if the stories ring true.

Madison Ghosts

Starting point: 100 N. Pinckney St., Madison

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It’s hard to believe that there can be a lot of different supernatural activity to explore in just a 1-mile span of a city, but in Madison, it’s possible. Ghost tour company US Ghost Adventures has set up a 1-mile tour of Wisconsin’s capital city, and despite the relatively light walking distance, the tour hits plenty of paranormal hotspots.

The tours, which are held nightly and cost $25 for adults, hit several historic Madison locations including the Majestic Theater, which was first built in 1906 and is rumored to contain several mischievous spirits. The tour isn’t just limited to ghosts, however, as guides tell guests about the UFO that was seen over Lake Monona, supposedly abducting a couple in the 1970s.

The Rave/Eagles Club and Ambassador Hotel

2401 W. Wisconsin Ave. & 2308 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee

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One of Milwaukee’s largest and most popular music venues, most of the several floors within The Rave/Eagles Club contain stages and bars, but the venue’s basement is a completely different story. The Rave/Eagles Club used to be a clubhouse, which featured a pool in the basement that’s still there today—and is reportedly haunted after a teenager drowned nearly a century ago.

The supposedly haunted pool isn’t easy to gain access to—you either have to be an artist performing at the venue, in which case you’ll get a chance to autograph the walls surrounding the pool, or you can take a guided tour when the venue offers them.

If you haven’t had enough haunts, make your way across the street to the Ambassador Hotel. The century-old hotel has been around long enough to have multiple chilling rumors pop up about its hauntings, but one of the most terrifying and tragic is the murder of Steven Tuomi, a Milwaukee cook who was reportedly the first victim of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. While Dahmer was never officially charged in Tuomi’s death, the killer said that he “believes” he murdered Tuomi at the Ambassador Hotel.

NORTHERN WISCONSIN

The Four Seasons Islands Resort

16800 Shoreline Drive, Pembine

Ghost walks and trails: The legends and myths in Wisconsin’s historic sites, cemeteries, and towns

Photo courtesy of The Four Seasons Resort Pembine Wisconsin via Facebook

With amenities like a luxurious spa, a sprawling golf course and a pool and sauna, guests at the Four Seasons Islands Resort in Pembine are typically in for a relaxing stay—unless they come across a ghost.

The elegant hotel, located on Miscauno Island in the middle of the Menominee River, has been open for nearly 120 years and was reportedly a hangout for Midwestern gangsters like Al Capone. It’s also still reportedly a hangout for spirits, and ghost hunters who have visited the luxury hotel have reported hearing voices and seeing unexplained shadows.

The hotel does occasionally offer ghost tours hosted by the Fox Cities Paranormal Team, as well as a calendar filled with Halloween-themed events throughout October, including Scary-oke and a Halloween costume contest.

Bayfield Ghost Walk

Starting point: 415 Washington Ave., Bayfield

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Most visitors to Bayfield, a small city in northern Wisconsin, make a point of visiting the area to marvel at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, or check out some of Bayfield’s fun festivals and events, like its annual Apple Festival. Others might stop by the town for a spookier reason: to learn about its haunted history. Those tourists can take part in the Bayfield Ghost Walk, a 90-minute guided walk that makes several stops across the city and explores the history of each location.

The tour stops at unassuming spots around the small city and tells the eerier stories behind them—the house on Manypenny Avenue that’s rumored to be haunted by former librarian Winnie Robinson; Morty’s Pub, haunted by its namesake former owner; and Greunke’s First Street Inn, where a fun-loving ghost supposedly tickles the toes of guests. Tours are available daily from July through the end of October and cost $25 per person.

Spirits of The Grand in Oshkosh

100 High Ave., Oshkosh

Ghost walks and trails: The legends and myths in Wisconsin’s historic sites, cemeteries, and towns

Photo courtesy of The Grand Oshkosh via Facebook

Old theaters always have a ghost story or two to tell, and there’s no theater in Wisconsin older than The Grand in Oshkosh, which first opened 140 years ago. The Grand hosts approximately 125 performances each year, but throughout the month of October, the theater is dedicated to showcasing the spookier side of its history.

The Grand’s ghost tours take attendees through some of the areas of the theater that are usually inaccessible to visitors, offering them the chance to communicate with spirits through the use of dowsing rods. The theater also offers up a tour focusing just on the spirits that have made the historic theater their permanent home, as well as a kid-friendly variation of the tour.

The theater primarily offers its haunted tours throughout the month of October, but if you’re a strong believer in the paranormal, take one of the Grand’s tours scheduled throughout the rest of the year and keep an eye out for any unusual occurrences while learning the history of the building.

Trolley of the Doomed in Door County

Starting point: 8030 Highway 42, Egg Harbor

Door County is a pleasure to visit all year long, but it really stands out in the fall. Stop at some of the apple orchards that dot the peninsula, go pumpkin picking and, of course, take part in some haunted activities, like Door County’s Trolley of the Doomed tour.

The tour, which lasts approximately 135 minutes, starts at Egg Harbor’s trolley station and cruises along the peninsula while a guide tells the spooky history of sunken ships and haunted lighthouses in Door County.

Although it does help to add to the eerie atmosphere, you don’t have to visit Door County in the fall to take part in the tour—it runs from May through the end of October. If you haven’t had enough scares in Door County, try out the Haunted Pub Crawl, which includes a souvenir skull mug.

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