Locked in time, this location opened as Eddie’s Wonder Bar in 1929. Though the name changed a few times over the years, the building is once again the Wonder Bar. Perhaps it is the fact that this building is so unchanged that has lead it to be a comfortable location for its regulars to remain after death.
It is certainly worth noting that many of the original ‘regulars’ were people of ill repute. The restaurant was opened by Eddie Touhy. He was the only Touhy brother out of six who was not a known criminal. The “Terrible Touhy” brothers gang started as bootleggers who first supplied booze to Capone’s gang. Once Capone wanted to take over their operation, a full war battle out, the famed “Beer Wars.” The same year the Wonder Bar opened, one of his brothers, Joseph, was gunned down by Capone gunmen. By this time, other brothers, John (Capone again, 1927) & James (by police, 1917) had already met their end by bullets.
While Eddie was not considered a criminal himself, it would be surprising if he kept his nose clean entirely, with such powerful brothers Roger and Tommy “the Human Bomb” still in power. In addition to bootlegging, Roger enjoyed installing gambling in local saloons. Was Madison’s Wonder Bar one of them? It’s worth looking into further. It is generally accepted that this was a safe house for John Dillinger as his crime spree dotted the Midwest.
Current employees freely share paranormal stories – things they’ve heard, things they’ve experienced. Wendy Lynn Staats, Mike Huberty & I were lucky enough to get an impromptu tour of the basement and it’s mysterious tunnels. Legend has it that at least one of the tunnels reaches Lake Monona. However, being a quarter mile from shore and that lake not easily connecting to and larger water ways, I’m unsure of the benefit here, unless they were shipping booze out to other lake front taverns. It is worth noting that the distance from the back door to a nearby rail line is barely over 100 feet, so perhaps this was a way to keep the booze flowing from Chicago to Madison & beyond.
Claims of shootouts here have been unverified so far, but research is continuing. If nothing more, an archeological study of the building, rail line & Olin Park (situated between Wonder Bar & Lake Monona) would be fascinating.
Whatever the reason, hauntings here are continued and regular. Objects move by themselves, including heavy chairs. A man in a trench coat has been observed & footsteps are regularly heard throughout the building. An oft-repeated legend claims that a murder victim’s body is walled up within the 2nd story fireplace, leading to some of the activity.