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Ghosts & Hauntings

Digging up weird history in Milwaukee’s oldest cemeteries

The “man they couldn’t hang,” a priest’s lonely crypt, the Midwest’s first crematorium, and other strange bits of history can be found in Milwaukee’s historic cemeteries.

Obligatory mausoleum vault window selfie. That’s a thing, right?

To celebrate the first day of fall, I embarked on an expedition to a couple of my favorite cemeteries for the annual Doors Open Milwaukee event. Thankfully, the equinox also brought with it the first hint of crisp autumn air, so I threw on my new Dead Sled hoodie and set off on a journey into Milwaukee’s Great Beyond.

The destination?

The two oldest cemeteries, where the city’s founders, early mayors, industrialists, and other prominent historical figures are interred. During Doors Open Milwaukee, both cemeteries allow visitors a glimpse into areas that are otherwise closed to the public. Among other things, that means an opportunity to peek into the Midwest’s first crematorium, as well as a large underground crypt where only one priest was entombed before it was closed.

My first stop was:

Forest Home Cemetery


The mausoleum of Milwaukee beer baron Valentin Blatz

Milwaukee’s early burials, one guide explained, took place either on private land in family graveyards or in fields among herds of cattle. When the first forested acres of land were bought for the city’s first actual cemetery in 1850, many of those remains were moved to what would become Forest Home Cemetery.

Before the cemetery, the land was dotted with more than 60 Paleo-Indian burial and effigy mounds which were all catalogued by pioneer scientist Increase A. Lapham. None of those mounds remain today, but Lapham is now one of the cemetery’s notable residents.

Others worth mentioning are the founders of Harley Davidson, Milwaukee Beer Barons Jacob Best, Frederick Pabst, and Valentin Blatz, as well as a cenotaph for Joseph Schlitz, who was lost at sea when the ship he was headed to Germany on sank in 1875 near Cornwall, England.

The Man They Couldn’t Hang

The grave of John
The grave of John “Babbacombe” Lee

The one grave in particular I was hoping to find this visit was that of a man named John Henry George Lee who was born in Abbotskerswell, Devon, England in 1864. He is also known as John “Babbacombe” Lee, or “The Man They Couldn’t Hang.”

Lee was sentenced to death after being convicted of the brutal 1884 murder of an elderly woman named Emma Keyse at her home in England’s Babbacombe Bay. On February 23, 1885, Lee was brought to the gallows to be hanged at Exeter Prison. He stood on the scaffold with the noose securely around his neck, but the trapdoor through which he was supposed to drop failed to open. Lee was brought down and the executioner examined it. He couldn’t find anything wrong. The trapdoor was tested and seemed to work fine. So Lee was brought back up and the rope placed around his neck again. But again, the trapdoor failed. And again. After the third time the medical officer attending the execution refused to take part in the proceedings. The execution was halted, and Lee’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.

Lee was released in 1907, but what happened to him after that was something of a mystery. It seemed as though he died in a workhouse in Tavistock and was buried there. He has a death certificate and a grave there in Plymouth Road cemetery. However, in 2009 two researchers discovered a trail of documents revealing Lee boarded a ship in Southhampton in 1911 bound for New York. He abandoned his pregnant wife with their other child, arriving in the US with a woman named Adeline Gibbs. Adeline, it seems, was fleeing her recent marriage to a man named William Jones, and was listed as Lee’s wife Jessie Lee on the ship’s manifest.


Burial card and plot map showing the graves of John Lee and his family

The convicted killer and his mistress came to Milwaukee, where they lived out their secret, anonymous lives. They had a daughter together named Evelyn Lee, who died at the age of 18 or 19. Evelyn was working as a maid for Dr. Arthur Kovak. On October 12, 1933 Kovak came home to find Evelyn dead, asphyxiated by the fumes from the naphtha she was using to clean the drapes in the bathroom.

John Lee died in 1945, followed by Adeline, listed as his window, in 1947. The three are buried together, Evelyn between her mother and father. Lee, the man who couldn’t be hanged, who has two graves on two continents, rests in Milwaukee’s Forest Home Cemetery.

The Midwest’s First Crematorium

The Forest Home chapel is made of red Lake Superior sandstone from the Apostle Islands. It opened in 1892. Several years later the first crematorium in the Midwest was built below the chapel, and the first cremation took place in on July 7, 1896.

The crematorium is notable for using oil instead of coal, gas or whatever other crematorys used at the time, meaning the bodies were incinerated faster.

Also, the retorts were larger than normal. The reason for this, one of the cemetery volunteers told me, was to accommodate Milwaukee’s barons.

After a funeral was held in the chapel, the casket would be lowered on coffin-sized elevator lift from the sanctuary down into the crematorium. Families would then push the deceased into the retort, and then spend the next several hours in a marble-covered room waiting for the process to be complete.

The remnants of their loved ones would be swept out of the retort and dumped into a grinder, or cremulator, that breaks up the large chunks of bone into tidy “ashes” so the cremains will fit in an urn.


The cremulator

The crematorium was in use until 1998 when a more modern facility was built elsewhere on the grounds.

Another interesting feature of the chapel’s basement level is the receiving vault, where bodies were stored during the winter months until the ground thawed and graves could be dug. The guide mentioned that when Frederick Pabst died in January 1, 1904, armed guards stood at the entrance to the vault for months protecting his body until he could be buried.

The guide also noted that before the chapel was built, there was a different receiving vault where a fountain now stands that could store up to 400 coffins.


The receiving vault where bodies were stored during winter months


The Forest Home Cemetery chapel was built in 1892


The coffin elevator was used to bring coffins down to the crematory from the chapel sanctuary above

The cenotaph of Milwaukee beer baron Joseph Schlitz
The cenotaph of Milwaukee beer baron Joseph Schlitz

A sign points the way to the crematory during Doors Open Milwaukee
A sign points the way to the crematory during Doors Open Milwaukee

Stolen bronze angel statue
The 6-foot bronze angel that usually stand here was stolen a few weeks ago

It is difficult to leave Forest Home Cemetery, but after wandering aimlessly for a considerable amount of time before I found Lee’s grave (even with the plot map in hand) there was only an hour left before Doors Open Milwaukee concluded for the day.

So I hurried to my second stop:

Calvary Cemetery

Calvary Cemetery chapel in Milwaukee
Calvary Cemetery chapel on Jesuit Hill

The oldest Catholic burial ground in Milwaukee, Calvary Cemetery is filled with the Catholic victims of the Newhall House fire that took 76 lives in 1883 (the non-Catholic victims were buried in Forest Home) and numerous victims of the Lady Elgin disaster that claimed some 300 lives when the steamer collided with a schooner and sank into Lake Michigan on September 8th, 1860.

Other notable interments include Patrick Cudahy of the Patrick Cudahy meat packing company and Frederick Miller, founder of the Miller Brewing Company.

Somewhere in Calvary is a memorial to the Lady Elgin victims, as well as at least one stone (that may or may not be the same as the memorial) which says “lost on the Lady Elgin.” I’ve spent numerous hours on multiple occasions searching the cemetery to no avail, so I didn’t even bother this time. I really just wanted to see the crypt beneath the chapel again.

Abandoned Crypt

Abandoned crypt beneath the Calvary Cemetery chapel
Abandoned crypt beneath the Calvary Cemetery chapel

The Calvary chapel was built in 1899 from Cream City brick atop one of Milwaukee’s highest points. Today it overlooks Miller Park. The hill is sits upon is called as Jesuit Hill, and is primarily the burial place of clergy and members of various religious orders. At the base of the hill is the grave of Father Walter Halloran, the Jesuit priest who assisted in the exorcism of Roland Doe in 1949.

That is one of two cases (the other also involved a Wisconsin priest who was known as the foremost exorcist in America during his life) that inspired William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.

The grave of Exorcist priest Father Walter Halloran
The grave of Father Walter Halloran

The chapel was in use for a long time, but with no climate control, the harsh Wisconsin weather eventually took a toll. It was closed in the 1950s.

The mystery lies in the crypt beneath the chapel.

Calvary Cemetery crypt
Rev. Idziego Tarasiewicza is the crypt’s only interment

The underground mausoleum contains 45 niches on two levels. Two sets of spiral stairs on either side of chapel altar wind down into the crypt. To bring in the dead, each level had it’s own entrance. A tunnel through the hill lead into the lower level.

In 1903, Rev. Idziego Tarasiewicza died. He was the founder of St. Casimir’s Parish. A procession of more than 2,000 mourners walked from the church in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood to the Calvary crypt 6 miles away. Tarasiewicza was entombed in the vault directly beneath the altar. He was the first, as well as the last, interment in the crypt.

And no one knows why.

The marble marker of Rev. Idziego Tarasiewicza
Rev. Tarasiewicza lies behind this marble marker

Calvary Cemetery crypt door sealed off
The entrance to the upper level of the crypt

Calvary Cemetery crypt tunnel entrance
Tunnel entrance into the lower level of the crypt

The guide in the crypt said the reason is probably due to poor ventilation, which could become hazardous. He cited another nearby crypt that was closed for that reason. But whether or not that is the case will remain a mystery. At some point, both outside entrances into the crypt were closed. The tunnel may have been covered up, or it may have collapsed. No one knows.

The crypt is open to the public on Memorial Day and during the Doors Open Milwaukee event every September.

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Ghosts & Hauntings

Reality show to be filmed in medieval “haunted castle” in Wales

British celebrities will take part in a reality show at the medieval castle of Grich in the city-county of Conwy (Wales), which, according to legend, is full of ghosts. It is reported by The Sun.

According to data from open sources, the castle was built in 1283-1289 by order of Edward I of England. For four years one and a half thousand people erected the fortress and walls. The castle is surrounded by a stone wall with round towers and loopholes. 

According to local residents, the ghost of the previous owner, Countess Dandonald, who died in 1924, wanders around the castle. According to legend, the woman’s spirit is angry because her husband took the valuables out of here. 

About ten years ago, a mysterious silhouette appeared in the photo, which was noticed on the first floor of the castle in the former banquet hall. In addition, it is rumored that objects are moving mysteriously in the castle. Also, fans of everything mystical believe that there you can meet the ghosts of gamekeepers and a maid who died after falling from a horse.

The creators of the reality survival show I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! Became interested in the legends of the ancient castle, in which celebrities perform creepy tasks. 

The producers are delighted with Greich Castle. It is planned to spend almost 1 million pounds and six weeks to prepare the location for filming.

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Ghosts & Hauntings

Loftus Hall is the most famous haunted house

Almost any house built 150 years ago is tempting to think of ghosts. Of course, if it was not restored beyond recognition. But a special pleasure is to visit, or at least look at photographs of a house in which ghosts are definitely found. Well, exactly: in the opinion of its owners and those who live nearby.

Loftus Hall is one of those. Even if, in the opinion of the locals, ghosts were not found in it, they would be worth inventing again – this is how the atmosphere of this gloomy house located on the windswept and washed by waves of the Hook Peninsula in the Irish County of Wexford has to do this.

But, before we tell you what is so paranormal in this Loftus Hall, we suggest that you familiarize yourself with real historical events related to the house. Moreover, they are worthy of attention without any devilry.

Photo # 2 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

We can say that the history of the house began in 1135, when the Norman knight, Raymond Le Gros, landed on the peninsula. To assimilate faster, the knight renamed himself the more familiar to the Irish ear by the name Redmond.

The castle, built by the knight, stood for two centuries, until in 1350 the descendants of Redmond built a new house in its place. It is interesting that they were building right during the Black Death – a plague pandemic that arrived in Ireland by ship from Bristol a year earlier. The new house, Redmond Hall, was named.

Photo # 3 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photo: Shutterstock

Three centuries later, in 1650, the house became the site of one of the fiercest sieges of the Irish Uprising. The owner of the house, 68-year-old Alexander Redmond, with his two sons, a couple of local activists and a tailor who happened to be in the house at an unfortunate time, barricaded himself and bravely repulsed the attack of almost 90 British for several days. 

In all fairness, most of these Englishmen have crawled into neighboring villages, indulging in robbery and violence, instead of laying siege to an impregnable home.

The attack was repulsed with the help of the Irish forces arrived in time, which attacked the British under the cover of a thick fog, which in time fell on the Hoek Peninsula.

According to local chronicles, Alexander repelled several more attacks. When the British nevertheless conquered Ireland in general, and Redmond Hall in particular, Cromwell even let Alexander die in peace in his own house – for his courage.

Photo # 4 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

Well, after the death of Redmond, his relatives were evicted from the house and soon the house was sold to a family of Englishmen named Loftus, who live nearby. 

Subsequently, the Redmond repeatedly tried to sue Loftus Hall back, but to no avail. But as compensation, they were given land in the neighborhood.

The Loftuses moved rapidly up the court stairs. If in the 18th century the head of the family was called Baron Loftus of Loftus Hall, then already in 1800 the title of Marquis of Eli was created especially for the Loftus.

Actually, the 4th Marquess of Ely gave the modern look to Loftus Hall. A major renovation was undertaken by the Marquis in the second half of the 19th century: he very much hoped that Queen Victoria would come to visit. After all, the Marquis’s mother was her maid of honor!

Photo # 5 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

The Queen never came. But the 4th Marquis of Ely became the owner of a luxurious house with such unprecedented conveniences as flush toilets at that time. And, alas, the owner of huge debts. Soon the house had to be sold and its wanderings began among different owners.

In 1917, the house was sold to the monastery order of the Sisters of Providence. In 1983, the house was converted into a hotel. Well, in the early 2000s, it was acquired by the Quickly family. In 2020, it became known that the house was again put up for sale. Moreover, Quickly emphasize that they will not choose a new owner, but “the house will choose him.” And that’s why…

The story of how the devil sailed to Loftus Hall and what happened after his visit dates back to the 19th century. It sounds like this.

On a cold rainy night, a dark-robed rider rode up to Loftus Hall on a dark horse. He said that his ship was caught in a storm and had to dock in a nearby bay. The Loftuses were away, the family of their distant relatives, the Tottenham, lived in the house. They sheltered the rider and offered him shelter and bread.

Photo # 6 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

Tottenham’s daughter, young Anna, immediately fell in love with a mysterious stranger. A couple of days later, in the evening, everyone sat down to play cards. During the game, Anna dropped the map and, bending down to pick it up, saw that the stranger had cloven hooves instead of legs.

The stranger realized that he had been discovered. He immediately soared up, surrounded by devilish flames – and, as expected, made a huge hole in the roof.

It would seem that the devil is expelled, you can live on. But Anna, after the disappearance of the stranger, became not herself. She went crazy by leaps and bounds. The family, frightened by this development of affairs, locked the girl in her favorite sewing room.

There Anna sat, almost motionless, clasping her knees with her hands and soon died. 

According to another version of the legend, before her death, she managed to give birth to a child – that is, the devil did not lose time during two days in the house. 

Anna was not buried in an ordinary coffin: they could not straighten her and buried her in a sitting position, in which she spent the last months of her life.

Since then, according to numerous testimonies of guests and owners of the house, ghosts of a girl have been walking around the house. And the house itself has become a place of attraction for lovers of everything paranormal and creepy – excursions, especially popular on Halloween, are regularly conducted in Loftus Hall.

If you consider yourself a mystic, but do not have the opportunity to visit Loftus Hall yet, we recommend watching the gothic horror film The Lodgers 2017. It is filmed entirely in the luxe and eerie interiors of Loftus Hall, and has received excellent critical reviews. Here’s the trailer:

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Ghosts & Hauntings

The ghost of the Haycock Manor Hotel: a beautiful legend about a frequent visitor to an ancient building

For decades, the Haycock Manor Hotel, located in the small English village of Wansford, has attracted tourists by claiming to be the home of the ghost of Queen Mary Stuart.

Mary of Scotland, aka Mary Stuart, according to legend, visited the Haycock Hotel on the way to Fotheringay Castle, where she was executed. Why, in this case, she chose a hotel in a small village as her last refuge , and not a stone castle, is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, visitors to the hotel claimed to have seen the ghost of Queen Mary, the Mirror writes.

The last resting place of Mary Stuart

Because of her intrigues against Queen Elizabeth I of England, Mary Stuart was put on trial and sentenced to death, which took place at Fotheringay Castle. On the way to the castle, Mary of Scotch stopped at the Haycock Hotel.

Mary Stuart

Despite the fact that the woman spent only one night in the hotel, this is the place she, for some reason, decided to choose as her last home. At least that’s what those who encountered her ghost say.

Manifestations of supernatural powers

Many of the hotel guests, who ventured to spend the night in the last refuge of Mary Stuart, complained about strange things that happened to them.

Some guests claimed to have seen a ghost, which they identified as Mary of Scotland. Why they were so sure that the ghost was exactly Mary Stuart is not clear, because the history of England has a large number of women rulers, and it is simply impossible to remember them all.

Other hotel guests recall seeing an obscure ghostly cloud-like figure in the oldest part of the hotel. They also shared that they often encountered the feeling that there is someone else in the room – someone who cannot be seen, but can be felt.

Hotel Haycock

Guests also reported that they heard quiet voices and footsteps, although there was no one else in the rooms.

Despite the fact that such stories can scare ordinary people, they are not of interest to real seekers of the paranormal, since they can easily be explained by the dilapidated state of the building.

haycock hotel

Haycock Manor is currently closed for renovation, which means that if the phenomena of supernatural forces could be explained by the state of the hotel, then after the renovation they should disappear.

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