Shaker’s Cigar Bar
Haunted Haunts, Part 2.
Shaker’s Cigar Bar (422 S. Second St.) is a myriad of horror, a tapestry of discontent, woven into the very walls of the building. It is the most haunted bar in Milwaukee.
I was lucky enough to have a guided tour (which they offer by appointment) by owner Bob Weiss of all four haunted floors. Although I’m not a believer in ghosts or apparitions, I am a believer in the mind, and with it, the emotion of terror. Shaker’s has terror in spades.
The First Floor: What originally drew me to Shaker’s was Elizabeth, the ghost I had heard so much about. She’s felt in the ladies room mostly, where giggles can be heard from empty stalls, or little, girlish feet poke out from under the door. It’s said that she was an 8-year-old girl who, in the mid-1800s, before a building was ever erected on that spot, fell from an apple tree and died. A picture on the wall of the bathroom is said to be her, before her untimely death. I never found Elizabeth, but Bob told me that many children that come into Shaker’s, for one reason or another, often talk to her.
In the main room of the bar, Bob brought to my attention two anomalies in two pictures hanging on the walls. The first one, which Bob picked up back in 1986, is of an infant. He said that, since he purchased it, the toes of the baby have slowly curled downward, to where they now look, oddly, like little claws.
The second picture is more disturbing. It’s of Bob’s great-grandparent’s and hangs on the archway between the front and back bar. His great-grandfather in the picture, according to Bob, has, in its long time since being taken, grown a pair of horns. Behind him, a fog-like monster has appeared, looming over his shoulder.
The Second Floor: Although devoid of any visible spirits, this floor has an interesting feature all its own. In the middle of the stairs, dividing the first and second floor, is an iron gate. Originally installed to separate the bordello upstairs from the bar below, its formidability adds a sense that you’re intruding.
The Penthouse: An interesting tale of murder surrounds this room. Molly Harvey Brennan was a “worker” of the bar at the peak of prohibition. Selected for her expertise in her craft, she could be found in the Penthouse, separate from the other girls on the second floor. But, one day, Molly had seen too much in her position at the brothel and was silenced. It’s said that someone hacked her apart in the very room she did business.
People who take the risk to stay overnight in her bed say a range of haunting occurs, from garments being moved, to seeing fire lapping up the walls or water pouring from the ceiling.
The true horror of the Penthouse was uncovered many years later. In 2001, Bob, doing a bit of renovating, decided a wall should come down in the back. After prying up some false floor boards, a cache of burnt bones was discovered. Bob did what any reasonable man would do. He contacted the police and had the bones analyzed. The results: Half the bones were from domestic animals, such as sheep, goats and dogs. The other half were human. Since the bones were over 70-years old, and there were no open cases, their origin remains a mystery. But, to this day, many believe them to be the hacked remains of Molly Harvey Brennan.
The Cellar: Truly, in the little time I spent walking through Shaker’s, the cellar was the most unnerving. The reason, I attribute, is the incessant chill of the place, like any basement. But psychics and mediums believe it to be the most disturbed of floors.
The cistern in the basement, from before the original foundation, is uncovered, something Bob was surprised about the first time he saw it. The strange thing is that all those who search for ghosts at Shaker’s cite this place as having a malicious quality about it. Interestingly enough, Bob said that in the last two weeks it’s been active, something that’s never happened before. It used to be relatively clear water that stood in it. Now, it’s begun to bubble up and has turned into a dark, murky sludge. I noticed when I was standing next to it, a little splash was on one side of the rim, and putrid water streamed away from it, almost as if something small had climbed out.
Also in the cellar is a pre-civil war safe that, despite all attempts, can’t be opened. Bob told me that he knew a locksmith and safe-cracker who, for one whole year, tried once a week to open it. In the end he concluded that it would never open. Who knows what manner of horror lies behind its solid door?
The most chilling reports in the cellar are from those who work at Shaker’s. The stories read like a kaleidoscope of terror, from a brutish ghost sailor, to people being physically assaulted while getting supplies for the bar.
The worst, though, are the Shadow People: Formed, black bodies in the cellar that slip between the corner of your eye and the shadows, or between the shelves and the walls, or on the very edge of darkness. Whether they’re there or not, I’m uncertain. But the time I was in the cellar, there was a palpable feeling, not of being watched, but of someone standing directly behind me. Waiting.
Aside from the ghosts, Shaker’s is one of the most interesting bars in all of Milwaukee. The architecture, the true style and décor of the bar is unlike anything else. Plus, they have quite a few absinthe drinks, believed to loosen the drinker up for an experience with the paranormal.
And, with Halloween almost here, that is exactly what everyone needs. In my opinion there’s no better place in Milwaukee to go for these ghosts or spirits, for the restless or the Shadow People. For me, it’s been several days since I was there, and still I can’t shake this feeling of estrangement, this feeling that someone is behind me, always. I’ve been quickly exiting rooms with mirrors and the smell of the cellar is something I can’t get out of my mind. My camera hasn’t been working properly since I got back…
No, there is no better place in Milwaukee to have a few drinks this time of year, no better haunted haunt.