The True Story of the Kenosha Kemper Center Hauntings

This Gothic mansion in Kenosha is known for a legendary haunting.

A black robe floats in the freezing water. A young girl stands on the lakeshore rocks, cold hands shoved deep in her pockets, and squints at the unnatural dark mass bobbing below. Her little brother walks up to her side, their breath cloudy in the winter air. The thing in the water reaches the land below. The black cloth covers something malformed. After only a moment’s hesitation, the children descend to see what they’ve found.

A minute later, they’re both running down Durkee Avenue toward their home, panicked and pale. The police arrive at the lakeshore minutes after the children tell their mother what was floating in the waters.

It is January 1900 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the body of a nun lies washed up in the sand.

Photo by Archer Parquette

That’s how the legend goes. Days before the discovery, the Sister had been working at Kemper Hall, an Episcopal boarding school for girls on the lakefront. The mansion had once been the private home of Senator Charles Durkee in 1861 but was converted into the school in 1865. New wings were built, and the building expanded to include a chapel and rooms for the students and nuns. The striking Gothic revival architecture and the scenic lakeshore grounds made the Hall a landmark in Kenosha.

Photo by Archer Parquette
Photo by Archer Parquette

The legend, which has never been verified, is that the Sister came to work at the school in 1899, a young woman newly out of the seminary. Her behavior began to degenerate quickly, a sort of madness taking hold of her mind. While this alarmed the other sisters, it was not enough to prevent what supposedly happened. The Sister threw herself from the rocks outside Kemper, down into the lake below. She was reported missing for days, until the children found her.

The story doesn’t end there. In the century since, sightings of mysterious figures cloaked in blackness have pervaded Kemper Hall, now known as Kemper Center. There are reports of figures appearing in hallways and disappearing when pursued, or more often, just a feeling of being watched. Sightings often involve apparitions passing by the windows, or dark shadows along the walls. In the echoing halls within the center, visitors report creaking footsteps with no source.

Photo by Archer Parquette
Photo by Archer Parquette

Other legends beyond the Sister have sprung up as well, including a nun who fell down the spiraling observatory staircase and a teenage student who jumped from the roof. The Kenosha News reported that in 1996, fiction writer David Schmickel took a photo of the scenic grounds and the mansion, and when he developed them, he found unnatural shapes in the windows — he said that he had captured ghosts looking out.

The building is no longer a school; today it is a historic site, often used for local arts events, weddings and, as one might expect, a Halloween haunted house tour. The grounds are open to the public.

According to the legend, the Sister’s body was quickly buried and the story was put to rest soon afterward. But you only have to turn to the preeminent horror writer of the same era, H.P. Lovecraft, to know “That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”



Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.