The Spectre of Port Washington Road

•March 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

sm port washington road ghost

This story was contributed by Yance Marti from OLDMILWAUKEE.NET. Thanks, Yance! The article first appeared in the Milwaukee Free Press in 1906 and concerns possible shadow people, fireballs, and a moaning shrouded phantom. Where exactly did this wraith appear? To what was it pointing? And what does it want? So many unanswered questions! For now, just enjoy this colorful Milwaukee ghost story.

The Roadside Spectre:
John Wenninger’s Gruesome Adventure on The Port Washington Road

“A ghost! Why, it’s been ten years since he saw a ghost,” said John Wenninger when his brother was asked if he had ever encountered a being from the unknown world. Mr. Wenninger is employed by the Boehm Stove and Repair Co., and old readers will recall the peculiar experience chronicled in this paper that he had some years ago on the old Line road, south of this city.

The inexplicable features of the following mystery are exceptionally remarkable, and the exact facts are truthfully recorded here. Late one night during the fore part of the month of April 1896, a heavy fog floated in from the lake and nestled close to the river and the lowlands lying immediately south of Port Washington. The muddy Port Washington road forbade fast driving, yet a foam-flecked and mud-be-spattered team hitched to a light buggy containing two occupants dashed out of the darkness and over the obscure bridge at a head-long clip. A man on foot going in the opposite direction leaped lightly to one side, barely escaping the iron shod hoof of the plunging horses.

“The fool nearly missed the bridge,” muttered the man who was no other than Wenninger.

Horse Hoofs in the Night

He wondered what caused the driver to endanger human life by crossing that bridge in darkness at full speed. The next instant he had more to wonder about. From some distance up the road came the ever increasing hoofs beats of another hard driven horse. Nearer and nearer the lightning thuds came, and as he drew discreetly to one side a second rig shot by in a blur with a shower of mud and gravel rearward bound.

What could it mean? The driver could not be drunk for there was no wild yelling. The fellow has been excitedly urging his horse forward with wicked stinging snaps of the whip and low sharp commands. Were they trying to get away from something? If so, what was it?

For one short second he hesitated about going farther up the road. Then, putting his apprehensions aside, he started on, glad that the second driver had been as fortunate in hitting the bridge as the first, for of this the muffled thud of the heavy hoofs on the planking was conclusive proof. On up the dismal, lonesome road the young man picked his way, watchful and alert.

He was passing a cottage in which there lived an eccentric, old hermit, when, on rounding a bend of the road that brought him opposite the dwelling, the third surprise of the evening confronted him. It was not far from midnight, yet there was a light in the house of a man who was positively known to go to bed with the chickens. This was most unusual. For some reason Wenninger connected the light with the hurried flight of the two reckless drivers. He stood still, uncertain, fascinated by the bright glow. Then he was startled, for ebony darkness walled him in. The light was out. One second and the light reappeared again. A startling thought came to him forcibly. Someone or something had moved between him and the window, cutting off his line of vision. Whoever or whatever it was must be loitering in the darkness some where between him and the cottage.

The Mysterious Light

Wenninger had not quite made up his mind what action to pursue when the light went out again. Strange thing. It began to work upon his nerves. He shrugged his shoulders and half started to look behind, but conquered the weakness. He would investigate the cause of this disappearing light. It was really none of his business, but curiosity had taken a firm grip upon him, and acting upon a sudden resolve he crept noiselessly forward.

He had scarcely moved when the light blazed forth again. He felt less along when the darkness was relieved by that bright blaze. Within twenty feet of the window he stopped and listened intently.

Silence! Not a rustle, not a sound. He thought he had scared the thing away, when without audible movement it came between him and the light again. A demoralizing chill ran up Wenninger’s spine. He felt helpless in that inky blackness. What could this thing be? What if? He half turned to go when he saw something that changed his mind. With increasing anger he ran forward and clutched at a moving object. Something jet black and elusive as the fog that ringed him round seemed to slip through his fingers and then the mellow glow of the lamp ploughed a furrow out into the foggy night again.

A Creature of the Mist

Something akin to terror tugged at Wenninger’s nerves, but he gamely stopped and listened for retreating footsteps. Appalling silence prevailed. Queer. How could an object as large as this thing move away without even the slightest rustle? Something was wrong – some evil was impending. He was conscious of it now – it was in the very atmosphere. Probably there was a deadly danger lurking under cover of the darkness. Maybe the old man’s life was at stake. He would warn him.

Stepping quickly to the door Wenninger rapped softly. A long moment passed and there was no response. Again he rapped, and loudly.

“What’s wanted?” came in the cracked tones of the old man from within.

“I want to talk to you. It’s important,” was the answer. There was a smothered oath, the latch rattled, and the old man’s angry face peered forth from a narrow crack in the door. Wenninger told him what he had seen and to his astonishment was promptly ordered off the premises. Before he could open his mouth to retort the door was slammed shut in his face.

Angry to think that his well meant intentions were met with rebuke and insult, Wenninger left the place hastily and with several backward glances. However, he reached his home, a half mile further up the road without further mishap or adventures.

What the Drivers Saw

The following day he learned that the people he had seen driving so recklessly were fleeing from a ghost. They said it had stood by the road side below the hermit’s cottage and when they were opposite had raised a great arm and uttered a long drawn sob that ended in a piercing wail. Before the frightened people had time to lift a finger the thing shot skyward in a fiery flash of vapor and disappeared.

Uncertain was the night and the hour that this mysterious being put in its appearance, yet it kept the entire neighborhood in feverish apprehension of some dreadful climax for two long weeks. Young Wenninger said nothing, but he was sure that he had been in close contact with this strange being the night he had tried to investigate the vanishing light in the hermit’s cottage.

A quiet, star-lit night found him and two companions secreted behind a clump of bushes across the road from where the unnatural thing usually made its appearance. A double barreled breech-loaded shot-gun lay across the young man’s knees. The little company crouched down in the darkness and waited patiently. A soft breeze rustled the buckling branches of their shelter, and fanned their hot, expectant faces. The ground was cold, damp and disagreeable, but these young fellows were determined. When they spoke it was in low, strained whispers.

The place was lonely and they were on a daring mission. Queer fancies took root in their minds. Fancies that they would have been ashamed to admit. Yet each one was fearful that the others would hear the loud thumping of his heart. A night-bird rustled a twig behind them and one of the boys sprang to his feet in wild alarm. The other two hastily pulled him down beside them. Moving forms seemed to be skulking among the deeper shadows. The slightest breeze appeared to them not unlike the icy breath of the departed. The suspense was becoming unbearable. Something would have to happen quickly. It did.

The Beckoning Arm

Down the road came two unsuspecting fellows on bicycles, their lanterns glaring out of the darkness angry red and the size of saucers. The eyes of the men in ambush were upon the approaching wheelmen. Suddenly one of them toppled from his machine and startled the stillness with a wild scream of fright that pealed down the road and bounded off on the distant river bank in echo after echo. The other leaned low over his handle bars and whipped around the bend of the road at a clip that was not unlike the swoop of a hawk.

Wenninger and his party stared across the road, then sat bolt upright. An apparition in white was visible in the shrubbery on the other side of the thoroughfare. The sullen fear of the unearthly numbed their senses. The thing came nearer and raised an arm. Imperiously. The party scarcely dared breathe. There was a clicking sound as of chattering teeth. The fallen cyclist moaned and prayed for mercy. A deep groan as of mortal anguish rose from the awful being and the uplifted arm slowly sank to its side. Instantly a great sigh wheezed through the trees, the shrubbery, and seemed even to stir the grass blades. An unearthly spell hovered menacingly over the spot. But the spectre did not come nearer. It remained on a rising bank and again swept that long draped arm imperiously to and fro.

Suddenly Wenninger realized that his fingers were gripping the gun stock. He jerked it to his breast with a low exclamation. In the first awful fright he had forgotten that he had a gun. He had been conscious of nothing but an overwhelming scene of terror. Now he felt more secure. He raised the gun and sighted it. As if anticipating the action, the thing moaned again in its weird, heart-racking way. The menacing muzzle was lowered. The draped arm once more swung aloft as if to wipe everything from the universe, then dropped slowly as if in deep despair. Death like quiet ensued.

Vanishes in Cloud and Flame

Like an avenging spirit, the spectre stood straight and dignified for perhaps five seconds, then a great white spiral shaped cloud of vapor shot upward in a flash of pale green flame and the thing was gone.

Wenninger had started sharply. The gun butt leaped to his shoulder and the double eyed muzzle squirted a shot laden streak of fire into the bosom of the vanishing spectre. He reloaded and followed by his companions ran across the road to where the apparition had stood. They found nothing.

The frightened wheelman recovered and mounted his machine. Commands for him to halt only accelerated his speed. The boys went home much mystified. The old hermit was questioned to no purpose. But the ghost was never heard of again, probably it journeyed to less hostile haunts.

A Ghostly Milwaukee Love Story

•February 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! Check out this local legend and the comments (in the original post) from Miller security guards for the rest of the story!



The ghosts of two 19th century lovers haunt the famous Miller Caves, according to a Milwaukee Sentinel article from April 17th, 1955. Brewery workers have reported paranormal activity there since the late 1800s. To present a possible explanation for the haunting, the article tells a tragic, local love story too irresistible to pass up, especially on Valentine’s Day.

From the late 1880s until 1906 when modern refrigeration buildings replaced them, the staggering 600 feet of tunnels named the Miller Caves, were the main storage facilities for Miller Brewing Company. The chilly environs also became the scene of romance and tragedy during one hot summer.

Employees told of secret meetings between a young brewery worker and his sweetheart at the mouth of the caves near the back of the brewery. All summer long, every Saturday night without fail, the lovers kept to their hidden rendezvous. In the cool air, amid…

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Top 5 Milwaukee Haunts

•November 1, 2013 • 1 Comment

Ripped from the files of, here are our 5 favorite, allegedly haunted landmarks!

    Broadway_Theatre_Center-cropped# 5 – Skylight Music Theatre – In the Cabot Theater, located within the Broadway Theater Center, the human remains of founder Clair Richardson reside underneath the stage. It was Clair’s final wish to be buried there. He wanted to remind his successors that any questionable decisions they make are over his dead body. A spotlight that shines on Clair’s urn is never supposed to be allowed to go out. On several occasions when the bulb has burned out, live performances have been disrupted by technical problems with the stage lights. The stage crew checks that Clair’s light still burns before the show can go on for each and every performance at the Skylight Music Theatre.

    Miller Inn and Caves# 4 – Miller Inn & Caves – The ghosts of two 19th century lovers haunt the famous Miller Caves, according to a Milwaukee Sentinel article from April 17th, 1955. Employees told of secret meetings between a young brewery worker and his sweetheart at the mouth of the caves. Then one fateful Saturday night, without warning, the young man missed their regular rendezvous. After waiting in vain for hours, the young lady learned of her lover’s serious accident. He had fallen on a stairway in one of the caves and hit his head. She rushed to his beside. He died soon after, never regaining consciousness. When the young woman died some weeks later, brewery workers were convinced it was due to broken heart. Legend has it that on some nights the young woman returns to the cave entrance to wait for her lover. Today security staff report eerie footsteps that follow them around, strange voices that call out or whisper in their ears, and ghostly intruders that disappear when pursued. See full story:

    Dr. Stephan Borhegyi# 3 – Milwaukee Public Museum – According to staff, the ghost of former museum director Dr. Stephan Borhegyi has haunted the building for the last 44 years. Dr. Borhegyi was quite an individual. He was a baron from Hungary who enjoyed archaeology, fencing, and wearing a cape instead of a winter coat. Although he was killed in a car accident on his way to work in 1969, some believe he just keeps clocking in. He is a prankster who has spooked curators, contractors, and security guards alike. Dr. Borhegyi has been known to pass through unsuspecting staff on the third floor like a cold wind, leaving his victims chilled to the bone. He also sets off motion-activated alarms, calls the elevator to the third and fourth floors, and lurks the halls of the mezzanine in a dark cape.

    Charles Pfister Portrait# 2 – Pfister Hotel – Charles Pfister, who died in 1927, has been rumored to haunt the Pfister Hotel for decades. He’s been seen all over the building overlooking his grand hotel and ensuring hospitality for all guests . . . except, maybe, baseball players. Since the first mention in Sports Illustrated in 2001, Major League baseball players have been reporting harrowing experiences. Players report problems with the room lights and televisions and are sometimes locked out of their own bathrooms. They report that sometimes things in the room are not where they left them the night before. One Texas Rangers player may have even seen an apparition that scared him so badly he needed to see the team chaplain. More stories can be found in the book of baseball ghost stories called Field of Screams. The first chapter in the book is devoted to Pfister ghost stories. See full story:

    sm hilton garden inn cropped# 1 – Hilton Garden Inn – This hotel, which opened last year in the historic 1886 Loyalty Building, has a stunning interior complete with a huge skylight and majestic central staircase. So ghost or no ghost, go see it! The Hilton Garden Inn is built on the site of a famous 19th Century hotel called the Newhall House, which burned to the ground in 1883, taking almost 100 souls with it. The fire made national news at the time and there are Newhall House memorials in both Forest Home and Calvary cemeteries. In the Loyalty Building, waitresses at a former restaurant housed there, often reported being bothered by streaks of white light in their peripheral vision, especially when they were carrying heavy trays of food and drink. Now hotel staff report ghostly experiences in Rooms 201 and 326. Two employees witnessed the bathroom door in 201 open and close by itself. Maids report the feeling of being watched and occasionally experience their hair being pulled. Others report ghostly voices and temperature drops in the room.

For more information about these and other Milwaukee ghost stories, please see the haunted map on Visit to submit your stories for possible inclusion in the upcoming paranormal travel guide, Haunted Milwaukee: 101 Public Haunts You Can Visit. Follow the progress of the book, browse research articles, and listen to witness interviews about local haunts.

Ghost Tours Invade Milwaukee!

•October 1, 2012 • 1 Comment

When launched our city’s first ghost tour in the summer of 2008, it was a pretty lonely business. Although Milwaukeeans came in droves to take our tour, no one else seemed to recognize the extraordinary demand for haunted history.

Our inspiration was Richard T. Crowe, who saw the writing on the wall almost 40 years ago. If you love ghost stories, you should definitely remember his name. Known as Chicago’s ghost hunter, Richard was arguably the father of the haunted history tour. He began offering them way back in 1973. Richard walked on this year, succumbing to pancreatic cancer in June. He left a legacy that spans the United States. Ghost tours haunt nearly every large city and we have Richard to thank for that.

In our own community, ghost tours are alive and well. This October promises to be the most exciting yet for paranormal enthusiasts. A bumper crop of local tours await the intrepid ghost hunter! We can’t get enough of that weird stuff and dream of a social calendar brimming with ghostly tales. If you too are a total ghost geek, check out these new tours invading a community near you. With so many opportunities to celebrate local folklore, Milwaukee is well on its way to recognizing the value of our haunted history.

  • Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Ghost Walk
  • Shaker’s Cigar Bar Haunted Tour
  • Ghost Tours of Cedarburg
  • Downtown West Bend Ghost Walk
  • Port Washington Ghost Walk
  • Ghosts of Presidents’ Day

    •February 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

    In honor of President’s Day, we remember our presidents who have gone before us into the great beyond. Although there are legion presidential ghost stories and many books that document them, nearly all such tales occur outside of Wisconsin. George Washington is said to roam various locales, while the ghost of Lincoln claims the White House. Lincoln’s funeral train, which passed through 7 states in 1865, still glides the rails, according to legend, but only gets as close as Illinois.

    However, there is one paranormal presidential tale to which we can lay claim. Teddy Roosevelt visited Milwaukee in 1912. While Roosevelt was in route to an important speech, John Schrank, a former bartender, shot him in the chest with a .38 revolver.

    Roosevelt was saved by the folded up speech and eyeglass case in his jacket pocket, which slowed down the bullet and caused it to miss vital vessels and organs. His intrepid style largely unchecked, Roosevelt still went on to deliver his speech, with the bullet lodged in his chest. This is arguably the most interesting part of the story, lest we forget the ghostly element.

    The shooter didn’t claim the devil made him do it. He was a little more original, alleging it was the ghost of assassinated President McKinley. According to Schrank, the phantom president blamed Roosevelt for his death and urged he be taken out to avoid the reinstatement of monarchy in the United States. Schrank was quickly found insane, although he fought this label, and was incarcerated until his death in 1943.


    Assailant Who Wounded ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt Dies
    The Milwaukee Journal – September 16, 1943

    Book Recalls Teddy’s Close Call
    The Milwaukee Journal – January 18, 1979

    Reagan Becomes Eighth President to Become Target of an Assassination Try
    Williamson Daily News – March 31, 1981

    Amazing but True: Assassination Attempt Similar to Another
    The Evening Independent – April 3, 1981

    Lombardi’s Ghost?

    •January 23, 2011 • 1 Comment

    Ghost Appears: Lombardi Mystery Solved

    In anticipation of the big game, one wonders if there are any Green Bay Packers’ ghost stories. Although there have been rumors, vague claims the ghost of legendary coach Vince Lombardi lingers over Lambeau, there not much tangible documentation to be found except the following story from the February 1st, 1997 edition of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

    But don’t get your hopes up; it’s a ghost story that wasn’t. A peculiar photo appeared in the January 28th, 1997 issue depicting the Packer’s triumphant homecoming. According to the February 1st article, in the photo many fans spotted what they thought was the apparition of Lombardi “come down from his heavenly perch to witness the return of the Super Bowl championship to Green Bay.”

    Unfortunately, it was not the specter of the fabled Packer legend, but only a semi-retired data processor clothed in Lombardi-esque garb, the characteristic camel hair coat and fur hat. Or so they say.

    The enigmatic photo itself is nowhere to be found. The issue in which it appeared is noticeably absent from online archives. A conspiracy to hide the truth? Well, probably not. However, I do prefer to think that Lombardi is watching over us and will spirit us, and his chosen team, to victory once again. For more on Vince Lombardi’s ghost, read p. 237 in Weird Wisconsin by Linda S. Godfrey, Mark Moran, Richard D. Hendricks, Mark Sceurman.

    Joey Lawrence Reports Haunting Experiences at Pfister

    •January 9, 2011 • 4 Comments

    Joey Lawrence on Celebrity Ghost Stories

    In a recent episode of Biography’s Celebrity Ghost Stories, Joey Lawrence reported a harrowing, paranormal experience he shared with his wife and child at a hotel in Milwaukee while he was on tour with Dancing with the Stars. Although the name of the hotel goes unmentioned in the episode, certain visual cues and a program listing on Biography’s website reveals the hotel to be the Pfister.

    Hotel revealed as the Pfister in this program listing.

    Lawrence reported that he and his wife were awakened repeatedly by lights and sound effects from several of their baby’s toys, which inexplicably switched on in the middle of the night. Later on, Lawrence was awakened by the glare from the bathroom light, which also flipped on mysteriously. When he got up to turn it off, he saw the baby’s toys switch on again as if triggered by a ghostly hand. These events led to a sleepless night for Lawrence, who remained awake to watch over his wife and child.

    When morning finally came, Lawrence packed up his family and quickly ushered them out of the room. As he prepared to leave, Lawrence made a snide remark directed at the ghost and witnessed the metal air-conditioner covers fly off in response. He fled and sought an explanation from the hotel’s desk manager.

    According to Lawrence, the desk manager blamed the disturbance on the ghost of pregnant bride, murdered on her wedding night. The specter supposedly haunts families with children who stay at the hotel because she envies the family life she never had. “The guy who built the hotel forced his son into an arranged marriage” and the reluctant groom killed his bride by hurling her down an elevator shaft, said Lawrence.

    I love ghost stories more than most; however, history does not support this fanciful tale. Lawrence’s paranormal experience may be genuine, but if the hotel where it occurred is indeed the Pfister, the explanation for it is not.

    The Pfister Hotel was first envisioned by Guido Pfister, but he died in 1889 before its completion. His son Charles Pfister took over the project and opened the hotel in 1893. Charles Pfister never married or had any children. Although many deaths have occurred at the Pfister Hotel, as in any historic building, no bride was ever murdered there. Although articles about brides who died on their wedding nights abound in historical newspapers across the U.S., I have yet to find one that occurred in Milwaukee. The story of a forced marriage which ended in murder at the Pfister Hotel is complete bunk.

    The moral of the story? Enjoy reports of paranormal activity, but forgo your own conclusions until you have credible research to back them up.