Where to Find Wisconsin’s Most Haunted Places

We take you around the state to find Badgerland haunts.

LEGENDARY WISCONSIN FOLKARTIST Robert E. Gard once claimed that Wisconsin has more ghosts per square mile than any other state. While that claim cannot be proven, these stories confirm that there are plenty of ghosts to be found outside of the Milwaukee area. 

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1. Nelsen’s Hall

1201 MAIN RD. WASHINGTON

A trip to Washington Island and a shot of bitters was Tom Nelsen’s cure for what ailed you, no matter what that was. The founder of Wisconsin’s oldest continually operating bar, 122-year-old Nelsen’s Hall, got around Prohibition laws by serving shots of 90-proof bitters to his patrons for medicinal purposes. And sources say Nelsen, who lived to age 90, continues to make himself cozy in the popular tourist spot. A notorious fanny patter, it is said Nelsen’s ghost lingers in the hallway that leads to the ladies’ bathroom. Many a shapely backside has been tapped or pinched by unseen hands in the walkway. Employees report occasions of doors opening and closing on their own and hearing footsteps when they are alone in the building. Nelsen appears to want little more than a part of the good times in the bar he built – and a few handfuls of derriere.

Nelsen’s Hall in the 1930s; Photo courtesy of Washington Island Historical Society

2. Octagon House

276 LINDEN ST., FOND DU LAC

The Octagon House in Fond du Lac has been dubbed the “second most haunted house in Wisconsin” – after the now-destroyed Summerwind Mansion in Vilas County. Conventional wisdom says the 1856 home was built by Mayor Isaac Brown. It contains nine secret passageways and rooms, as well as a tunnel that runs out to a woodshed. Over the years, many have reported hearing the sounds of ghostly children laughing inside. Passersby claim to have seen the spectral shape of a young boy in the front yard, and many have claimed to see his form looking down on the street from the windows. The homeowner and visitors alike have reported feeling the touch of cold hands as they move through the house and have seen doors in the home open and close by themselves.

3. Morris Pratt Institute

11811 W. WATERTOWN PLANK RD.

Perhaps Whitewater is known as “the Second Salem” because the town has its origins in the Morris Pratt Institute, the Spiritualist school that opened in 1889. But some believe in a force older and deeper than the “Spooks Temple,” as the locals called Pratt’s school. They say a coven of witches has been practicing the black arts in Whitewater since its inception, as the legend states the witches designed Whitewater using demonic geography. The town’s three cemeteries form an isosceles “Witches’ Triangle.” If the Whitewater Effigy Mound Preserve is added to the equation, a double triangle, believed to double the magic effect, is revealed. Devotees believe everything inside the Witches’ Triangle is cursed – or, at least, subject to cursing.

Morris Pratt Institute; Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

4. The Wonder Bar

222 E. OLIN AVE., MADISON

Chicago-based mobster Roger “the Terrible” Touhy and his brother opened The Wonder Bar in Madison in 1929. Two apparitions are regularly seen in the building. One is a man wearing a fedora and trench coat who lurks around the staircase, and may have met some rough mob justice in the bar. The other is a beautiful redhead who may be depicted in a painting that has adorned the bar for years. There is much debate as to who she is, but her form, and the sound of her laughter, remains in the building where her portrait hangs.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s October issue.

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