Guided ghost tours are chatty events. I tell stories, my guests share stories, and, if things are going well, someone will ask “So, what else around here is haunted?” There is always more to know and once we get a taste, the desire to dive deeper takes over.
Here is something else that is haunted: a Milwaukee ghost story that is not on one of my tours, involves some of Milwaukee’s biggest names and is still told today.
The very Milwaukee backstory
Jacob Best’s sons, Charles and Lorenz, decided to create their own brewery in 1850. They built the brewery in Wauwatosa, and named it Plank Road Brewery. The facilities had everything needed for the modern brewer, including caves excavated by the brewers to keep the beer cold in the era before refrigeration. Five years later, Frederick Miller purchased the failing Plank Road Brewery and began to expand the building, which is now the site of Miller Brewery.
To accommodate his growing business, Miller expanded the caves to 600 ft of tunnels. The cold, damp, brick-lined caves were 15 ft wide and had ceilings
that ranged in height from 12-15 ft. The caves were kept cold by shipping in ice blocks from the frozen Pewaukee Lake. The caves could store 12,000 barrels of beer. In 1887, Miller began using mechanical refrigeration and by 1906, the need for the caves was eliminated.
The Good Stuff
While no longer needed as an integral part of the brewery, the caves, despite being closed, still saw visitors. Workers who sought relief from the heat in a pre-air conditioned world found a break time walk in the caves a welcome respite. Strolls were taken, lunches were eaten, and, if you believe factory workers from the turn of the 19th century, trysts were had.
According to an often-told tale, passed through generations of Miller employees, during a long ago summer, a young brewery worker and his sweetheart met each Saturday night at the mouth of the cave, in the rear off the brewery. Each Saturday, they would walk through the cool, dark caves, hand in hand in the lantern light.
The couple happily passed the summer. The young woman waited for her swain at the opening of the cave, as she did every Saturday. She smoothed her hair and dress, in anticipation of his arrival. When he did not appear promptly, she thought perhaps he had work that needed to be finished and he would be along shortly. Her anticipation grew to irritation as the minutes dragged on. The irritation turned to fear. Had his feelings changed? Had something happened? Distant church bells let her know she had been waiting for over an hour. With a heavy heart, she set for home, alone.
Once home, she learned the young man had fell in the staircase of the caves, striking his head and rendering him unconscious. She immediately rushed to his side. Sadly, her bedside vigil did not help; he died several days later, never regaining consciousness. Months later, the young woman was also dead. While the doctor diagnosed her with a lung ailment, many of the young man’s former coworkers were convinced she died of a broken heart.
Shortly after the death of the girl, brewery workers claimed to see two luminous figures shimmering at the cave’s entrance. Other employees reporting hearing bit of conversation and laughter from what appeared to be empty caves. Do the young lovers still dwell in the caves, walking hand and hand in the dim light? Might be worth a brewery tour to check it out.
How do you know that story?
In 1955 Miller Brewery celebrated its centennial. To honor that milestone, the Milwaukee Sentinel created a section of the paper devoted to the company. They featured everything from the history
of the brewery to sanitation crew. In this exhaustive Miller coverage was a piece on this legend. If you want to read it yourself, you are in luck! Central Library has it on microfilm.