The 7 most haunted businesses in Madison
This Halloween, grab a bite or take in a show at one of these reportedly haunted Madison venues — if you dare.
Nothing may be scarier than snow on Halloween, but there are a few buildings and businesses around Madison that have been known to give people a fright.
While all accounts of spooks and specters are purely anecdotal, some stories have persisted over the years. Whether it’s a case of mass hysteria or just that people love a good ghost story, Madison is no stranger to hauntings and things that go bump in the night.
Here’s IB’s rundown of some of the allegedly most haunted places of business around Madison. If you’ve worked in one of these buildings, congratulations on living to tell the tale.
Madison’s Orpheum Theater was built in 1926, and its ghosts have purportedly been present since the very beginning. Small wonder, when you consider the venue takes its name from the Greek hero Orpheus, whose statue still overlooks the theater’s entryway. Orpheus, not surprisingly given his namesake theater, was a champion of music and poetry, but he’s best known from the story of his lost love Eurydice, for whom he traveled all the way to the Underworld.
Over the years, visitors to the Orpheum have reported an uneasy feeling in the theater’s furnace room and downstairs restroom area. Strange noises such as muffled conversations, footsteps in the hall, and jingling keys have been heard throughout the building. What’s really spooky is that these sounds apparently happen when no one else is present in the theater.
People have also claimed to see ghostly apparitions in period clothing from the 1920s and 1930s who vanish soon after being seen. However, one may have been captured on camera. The theater has a photograph from 1927 in the hallway to your left as you enter that depicts a ghostly image of a man who was said to have not been present when the picture was taken.
Keeping with the theme of haunted theaters, Madison’s Majestic Theatre first opened its doors in 1906 to host vaudeville acts, and famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini even graced its stage. Today, the Majestic is a popular music venue, but any screams you hear coming from inside may be from more than just excited concertgoers.
According to multiple witness accounts over the years, a strange, misshapen shadow man reportedly roams the building. One such story comes from a pair of college coeds who were taking a study break up in the balcony. When one of them stood up to stretch her legs, she turned and saw what she described as a “putty man” made of shadow. Upon bringing the nightmare manifestation to her friend’s attention, the creature appeared to grow larger and larger, causing the young students to scream and beat a hasty retreat.
Shortly before the Majestic closed for briefly in 2000, another paranormal event occurred. Cast members preparing to participate in the Rocky Horror Picture Show reported hearing a ghostly voice cry out “Good luck with the show!” and having their hair pulled by spectral hands.
The Ohio Tavern
Built more than 100 years ago, the Ohio Tavern features a hallmark neon Blatz sign outside. Inside, things take a scarier turn from cheap beer. Some employees have reported cabinets flying open, glasses clinking in an empty bar, and ghostly shadows from at least five unique ghosts. Workers have also noted pool balls will sometimes roll across the tables when no one’s playing and feeling someone — or something — brush up against them when not a single other person is around.
The Wonder Bar
Madison’s Wonder Bar Steak House has an exciting real-life story to compete with its more ghoulish rumors. Built in 1929 at the behest of Prohibition-era mobsters, it was originally run by Eddie Touhy, brother to Chicago’s infamous Roger “The Terrible” Touhy — famous for distributing alcohol illegally and his rivalry with fellow Chicago mob boss Al Capone. Though they’ve since been filled in, Wonder Bar once had an underground tunnel leading to nearby Lake Monona to aid in the Touhy brothers’ bootlegging activities.
Though no bloody shootouts ever took place at the establishment, Eddie Touhy went missing in the 1950s and is believed to be buried behind the fireplace on the second floor. Employees have also reported a smell of body odor and citrus that comes and goes within the bar, the sound of footsteps in stairwells, and the laugh of a young girl.
Other reported paranormal phenomena include a men’s room door that slams seemingly of its own accord, and a helpful ghost who once returned a small sum of money to a waitress after it went missing from her till. But it’s not just Wonder Bar’s staff who witness strange things — a firefighter performing a building inspection after hours once reported hearing phantom footsteps and voices while examining the basement.
The Great Dane
One of Madison’s favorite brewpubs, the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. is located in a 140-year-old building that was once known as the Fess Hotel and has long been considered haunted by its employees.
After it was a hotel but before it became home to the Great Dane, the downtown Madison building was used for office space, and it was then that mysterious stories began to emerge. Apparently, after these office spaces opened, phone calls would come from rooms that didn’t exist anymore. This was back when there were switchboard operators to connect the caller to whomever it was they were calling. So, if the room didn’t exist, the switchboard operator wouldn’t even connect the calls from these rooms.
Over the years, the stories have continued among Great Dane employees. There is a room in the basement used for storage known as the “spooky room.” It’s rumored to be constantly cold and evokes a feeling of dread so intense that few can stand to be in its presence. The bar receives phantom phone calls, as well, and in true horror-movie fashion they always appear to be coming from the in-house line. It’s even experienced poltergeist phenomenon, as one employee witnessed a set of pool cues being knocked from their rack, one by one.
Tempest Oyster Bar
Tempest, a Madison oyster bar, was once a funeral home owned by the Frautschi family who brought us the Overture Center and Concerts on the Square. The Frautschis owned the funeral home from when it was built in 1929 until the late 1970s when the business was closed.
Employees of Tempest have reported dishes and fire extinguishers moving on their own, and residents of the upstairs apartments have complained of paranormal activity. Whether such activity comes from ghosts still wandering lost — long after their bodies were buried — is anyone’s guess.
Boar and Barrel
Though a comparatively new addition to the Capitol Square bar and restaurant scene, the Boar and Barrel was established within the building which previously housed The Blue Marlin and Hamilton’s on the Square, and the space was historically a German butcher shop owned by one of Madison’s first mayors.
During a remodel of the building in the 1980s, a sign painter reportedly went into a trance and told one of the owners that someone would die before the restaurant would open. The ominous premonition came terribly true when a construction worker died of a heart attack before the restaurant opened its doors to the public. A cleaner working in the building also reported seeing an unidentified apparition on the floor upstairs from the Boar and Barrel.
All accounts compiled from reports by the Wisconsin State Journal, Badger Herald, The Singular Fortean Society, and the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club.
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