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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Milwaukee’s Haunted History Tours

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After three years of extensive research on Milwaukee’s history and folklore, Allison Jornlin founded Milwaukee Ghosts: Tours and Investigations. This, in turn, led to her “haunted history tours” in the Historic Third Ward. Jornlin, who began her third season of tours May 1, offers walking tours on most Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. through November.

Do you believe in the ghosts you discuss on your tours?

I wouldn’t say I’m a believer, but I’m an investigator. For sure there are things in this world we don’t understand. And I believe in people and their heartfelt stories. They have incredible stories. Ghost stories are one of the ways we honor, remember and represent people. So when you retell ghost stories, you want to make sure you’re representing people and your city in a respectful way. Words and stories are powerful. They are precious things and I take them seriously.

How do you relate these ghost stories to Milwaukee history?

The Third Ward tour that I give goes back to the mid-1800s, so you’re discovering what they were saying about the city back then, and what people are experiencing now. It’s a popular way to promote your city, and I’d like to elevate Milwaukee to legendary status [by telling these stories]. History without the folklore is incomplete, and we’re here to celebrate that history and folklore like other cities. There are incredible stories out there that haven’t been heard.

Could you mention one of these stories?

There’s an interesting one about the Broadway Theatre Center, the Cabot Theatre. Clair Richardson, founder of the Skylight Theatre, is buried under the stage in the trap room, and he requested that a spotlight always remain on his picture. There were times when the stage lights would start flickering during a performance and the staff was unable to fix this. Then they discovered this happened when the light was out on Clair’s picture. This happened several times. Now the crew checks the light on Clair Richardson’s picture before every performance, to ensure it is on so the performance will go smoothly. Clair always told them any decisions they made [in the future] would be over his dead body.

Do you have any plans for haunted history tours in other parts of the city?

Doing these tours has brought the city to life for me. When people take the tour they stop and tell me the tour changes their ideas about Milwaukee. It takes 10 to 15 stories to have a tour, so I’m working on this, doing more research. I’m working on tours in Bay View, on Brady Street and Walker’s Point. I’m always encouraging people to share their stories and I’m always willing to listen. The stories are the surprising but true side of history, with a spicy side of folklore.

If you have a story for Allison Jornlin to investigate, contact her at info@milwaukeeghosts.com.