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October is the perfect month to explore the ghosts, legends, and lore that make Brew-City spook-tacular. Milwaukee has its own collection of strange tales, and one of the most popular is the rumor that the Milwaukee Public Museum is haunted by its former director, Dr. Stephan Francis Borhegyi (1921–1969).
A passionate scholar and generous man, Dr. Borhegyi was the driving force behind one of MPM’s most beloved exhibits, The Streets of Old Milwaukee. Legendary in his own time, he cut a dramatic figure while clad in his signature outfit: a dashing cape, paired with a string tie. Recognized for his courtly manners, the Hungarian from aristocratic stock was known to kiss the hands of ladies and present heel-cracking bows to distinguished guests. The specialist in Maya culture drew parallels to the fictional character, Indiana Jones, as they were both college professors, archeologist and had experience fighting Nazis. For his part, Borhegyi joined the underground resistance in 1944 after the fall of the Hungarian government.
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Borhegyi’s life came to an abrupt end on Sept. 26, 1969, when he was involved in a fatal car accident just blocks from the museum. Many believe that the spirit of the doctor continued on to his office that day and still remains in the Milwaukee Public Museum. The third floor, where Middle American treasures from his beloved collection can be found, is the place where countless members of the museum staff are said to have had encounters with the former director.
Through the years, there have been stories of staff claiming catch glimpses of a man in a cape out of the corner of their eyes as they walk through the exhibits on the third floor. It is told that after hours, third-floor motion sensors often go off, seemingly by themselves, and the elevator will frequently arrive on the third floor, and then the doors open, despite the lack of human intervention. It is also on that floor that staff have claimed to feel cold spots they describe as an “intense chill” that some have felt pass through their bodies.
Today, the portrait of this legendary man who helped shape one of Milwaukee’s most beloved institutions is prominently displayed on the storied third floor. One can only hope Dr. Borhegyi joins his prized collection when it relocates to its new home in the Deer District.