Does the Ghost of Lake Emily Still Haunt Wisconsin Avenue?

An article [no longer online] published in The Milwaukee Sentinel on January 30, 1971 came up in conversation last night. It concerns Lake Emily, a considerable body of water which once graced the surface of downtown Milwaukee in the 1800s. Lake Emily was once a childhood swimming hole and favorite fishing spot until it was judged a public nuissance by the powers-that-be. However, it was only buried, not killed. Now driven underground, Lake Emily still exists beneath the Northwestern Mutual Life (NML) building on Wisconsin Avenue. The building maintenance staff for NML still regularly check the water level of Lake Emily. The building rests on cedar pilings which need to be keep moist to prevent leaning. This revelation is almost as fascinating as the article’s implication (albeit a tongue-in-cheek one) that Lake Emily is a lurking spiritual presence which still affects Wisconsin Avenue.

The article also references a surprising tragedy that befell a member of the crew working on the construction of the NML building in 1911. The unfortunate worker fell into quicksand near the southwest corner of the block and was suddenly sucked under. Reportedly his body wasn’t found until a year later when it was spotted floating mysteriously in Lake Michigan. Sadly hours of fruitless searching today did not locate any original articles about the incident. However, I did find an article in The Milwaukee Sentinel from the February 17, 1898, which has a nice illustration of Lake Emily before it was relegated to the shadowy Milwaukee underworld.

Lake Emily Illustration

I will continue to search for more information about the mysterious Lake Emily and the 1911 tragedy. As always, however, I welcome your feedback. If you have information about Lake Emily or any “Quiet Company” (NML) ghost stories you can no longer keep silent about, please call or email me, Allison Jornlin, at 414-807-7862 or

Additional Articles about Lake Emily

The Milwaukee Sentinel – Jun 2, 1956
The Milwaukee Journal – Sep 23, 1984


~ by mkeghosts on March 15, 2010.

3 Responses to “Does the Ghost of Lake Emily Still Haunt Wisconsin Avenue?”

  1. Fascinating item.

  2. There is a link to a forum at where there is some more of this story.

  3. I forgot to add that there is no access to any form of the lake from within the building that resided on it today. Maintenance personnel regularly check to make sure the water levels meet a standard to make sure the wooden pilings that are shoved into the ground are free from rot and thus keeping the building safe. Furthermore, there has never been any known late-night sightings of anything paranormal down there, which is disappointing considering how old the building is.

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