Madison’s Haunted Music Venues

Celebrate Halloween at Some of Madison's Haunted Clubs and Theaters
by Mike Huberty
October 2018

Madison Ghost Walks tour guide Lisa Van Buskirk in front of the haunted Majestic Theatre - photo by Emily Wayland

Madison Ghost Walks tour guide Lisa Van Buskirk in front of the haunted Majestic Theatre
photo by Emily Wayland

October means that it’s Halloween season and that means it’s time for ghost stories! While you check out the live performances at these places, make sure to keep your eyes peeled because the other people watching the show just might e a ticket holder from beyond the grave!

The old overnight housekeeper at The Orpheum Theatre on State Street, a beautiful venue built in 1926, used to say that spooky things would always start happening as soon as he was the last one left in the building. When the bar closed down and all of the shows were done for the night, it was his job to come in and handle the cleaning of the theater alone.

He mentioned other employees that said they could hear the original night manager walk through the halls and jingle his keys as if he was walking through to check on the building. He claims that he even saw a few times a shadowy figure cleaning up the theater while he was doing it as well, thinking that it was the head usher from a different era still handling the night-time duties. Well, that usher is rumored to have fallen from the balcony onto the floor below and died and people have reported seeing a man sitting down in the main theater right underneath the balcony and if the turn away and look for him again, he’s disappeared.

The Majestic on King Street, was built in 1906 and originally featured vaudeville performances before it was the dance club and live music theater it is now. It is also home to a ghost that is said to roam around the balcony. visitors and employees say they often have the feeling of being watched when they are in The Majestic alone. Employees have seen a strange man waving to them from the balcony while they were mopping up the lower floor. One employee, not realizing that this was an apparition, decided to go upstairs to let the man know that it was time to go home and when he got there, the man was gone. Another terrified employee saw a man waving at them from the balcony, just to see the waving arm slowly become disembodied and drift away from the body. He never stayed late again.

The Wisconsin Union Theater at Memorial Union on campus has had many strange occurrences as well. In 1950, during a concert by the Minneapolis Symphony, the timpanist died of a heart attack in the middle of the performance. The orchestra kept playing until the end of the piece as stagehands dragged his body back under the backstage curtains.

And it’s after the show that sightings start being reported. A class of 1972 student said that he often felt someone brush up against him when no one was there. A student from the class of 1988 says that one night after a performance had finished, he sat on the stage with a friend to take a breather after the show, when they both heard a loud “bang” from backstage, and on the right side of the stage they saw a white figure walk across the stage, look over the empty chairs in the audience, and walk to the other side of the stage where it faded into nothingness. When they reported it to the manager of the theater, she just said nonchalantly, “Oh, you saw the ghost.”

And those are just some of the weird things that people have seen in bars around here. The Club Tavern in Middleton is home to the ghost of a former patron who still helps clean up the place after hours, even after being dead for well over a decade. At the site of the dearly departed Frequency on E. Main Street, the employees often saw and heard strange apparitions in the basement. At the Bartell Theatre, employees have heard mysterious whistling coming from rooms where no one is there. At Mickey’s Tavern on Williamson, some say that the original Mickey still wanders the halls or it’s the ghost of a member of Buffalo Bill’s Traveling Wild West Show that was murdered there on the front steps in 1912.

So you can really celebrate Halloween this year by going to see some live music. Go for the bands and stay for the ghosts. And if you’re really interested in exploring more of Madison’s haunted history, Madison Ghost Walks runs tours at 7:30pm every Friday and Saturday until the weekend after Halloween.

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