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The legend of the Pfister Hotel ghost

outside of Pfister Hotel
Kobe Brown
The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee is one of the city's most historic landmarks. It's also, said to be haunted.

The Pfister Hotel is one of Milwaukee’s most historic and luxurious places to stay. It’s been around for nearly 130 years and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also supposedly haunted.

The Pfister opened in 1893 and was known as the 'Grand Hotel of the West.' It’s decorated throughout with gold trim and grand chandeliers.

Anna Lardinois is a former Pfister Narrator and the owner of Gothic Milwaukee, which is known for walking ghost tours. She’s spent a lot of time researching the history of the hotel.

“It started as a dream of Guido Pfister," she explains. "He wanted to have the finest hotel, and he dreamed up the Pfister Hotel. Now, unfortunately, he dies before the hotel is finished. But his son, Charles Pfister seamlessly steps in and he completes the hotel."

Pfister Hotel from the sidewalk
Kobe Brown
The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.

So, when did the ghost stories begin? Charles Milwaukee Sivyer, known at the time as the first white boy born in Milwaukee, was interviewed throughout his life by local papers to reminisce about Milwaukee's past. In Lardanois' research, she found an article published on May 5, 1893 in the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel that quotes Sivyer.

“He was talking about a time in the past when he lived in a log cabin that was on the land that now holds the Pfister and he reminisced that it was also a private burying ground," says Lardanois. "They were breaking ground for it; he went to the property to look for the bones of some of these people and could not find them. So that is, I think, where this legend truly began, that this hotel is built on land that had once been graves.”

Since its opening, The Pfister has and continues to host some of the world’s most celebrated entertainers, sports players, and dignitaries.

The Pfister has hosted every U.S. president since William McKinley. Elvis stayed there in 1977, just four months before he died. Most notably, the hotel is often the place to stay for many visiting baseball teams in town to take on the Milwaukee Brewers.

Extended conversation with Anna Lardinois.

There is a long list of baseball players who’ve described strange occurrences at the hotel. That includes everything from weird noises, to flickering lights, to electronics acting strangely, to things being moved around in rooms.

And then there’s what Carlos Martinez experienced in 2018.

“The Cardinals pitcher woke up in the middle of the night and jumped on Instagram saying that he had just been touched by the Pfister ghost," Lardinois says. "Well, the next day, he plays terribly, he blames it on the Pfister ghost, and the city cheers. So how do you not love the Pfister ghost who just wants the Brewers to win?”

It’s not just baseball players. Actor Joey Lawrence claimed during his stay in 2006, he was awakened in the night by lights and sounds coming from his daughter’s toys. Last summer, rapper and singer Megan Thee Stallion had a little fun with the Pfister ghost.

“When Megan Thee Stallion was in town for Summerfest, last year, she and her entourage did some posts about their ghost hunting experience in the hotel. And if you believe Thee Stallion, and who doesn't, she had a ghostly encounter there.”

So, who is this ghost waking up celebrities and freaking out baseball players? According to Lardinois, all signs point to Charles Pfister, himself.

Charles Pfister
Pfister Hotel

“Charles Pfister is so closely connected with this hotel, he becomes kind of the spokes-ghost," Lardinois theorizes. "And if you had to have a ghost in a hotel, I can't think of a better one than Charles Pfister. Because Charles Pfister, it appears, just wants you to have an amazing time in his hotel and wants the hometown baseball team to win.”

The hotel didn't respond to a request for an interview or comment about the alleged haunting. They generally don’t comment on any rumors related to the hotel’s ghost. But, they did post a response on Twitter in 2013.

Ghost or no ghost, the Pfister Hotel is one of Milwaukee’s most famous landmarks. And who doesn't love a good ghost story?

“I think that the legend is a delightful one," says Lardinois. "Especially when you think of the things that it could be, you know, it's not a terrible murder. It's not anything gruesome. If you think of the Pfister ghost as Charles Pfister just with a careful eye watching over his hotel, it's actually quite delightful.”

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Editor's note: This story was originally published April 22, 2022.

Becky Mortensen joined WUWM as the executive producer of Lake Effect in 2019.
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