Category Archives: Dane County

Dillinger, the Chicago Mob & Some Good Drinks at Madison’s Wonder Bar

The haunted Wonder Bar, with a deep mafia history in Madison, WI.

The haunted Wonder Bar, with a deep mafia history in Madison, WI.

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.

The notice reads "Closed by order of the National Prohibition Act" haunted Wonder Bar Madison

The notice reads “Closed by order of the National Prohibition Act”

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.

Wendy Lynn Staats descends the staircase to explore some of the mysteries in the Wonder Bar basement. Madison haunted

Wendy Lynn Staats descends the staircase to explore some of the mysteries in the Wonder Bar basement.

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.

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Photo gallery: Madison Ghost Walk

Situated between two large lakes, the beautiful, old capital town of Madison has European roots dating back to the 1820s, but Native American presence here dates back nearly 12,000 years.  The haunted history of this city has a lot to draw on – from the ancient mounds that still dot the landscape (though many were built over, possibly leading to more unrest), to the murders, eccentric characters and accidents that make up any town’s history.

madison-ghost-walks

This little strip of land has enough paranormal activity to support not one or two, but THREE downtown walking tours, including one that specifically focuses on the UW Campus.

Click on the banner above to book your own tour – there’s never an ‘off season’ for ghost stories!  And keep in mind that the tour company, operated by paranormal podcast host, Mike Huberty, has tours across the Wisconsin (Lake Geneva, Milwaukee, Waukesha & the Dells) & Minnesota (St. Paul, Minneapolis & Stillwater).  You can book inquire about tours, including private tours in any of this listed towns at this link.

I checked out one of the downtown Madison tours with our incredible guide, Lisa Van Buskirk, a firefighter who has unique insight to Madison’s dark, true and sometimes hidden stories.

To check out a photo gallery from our tour:

Captions, clockwise from top, left:

1. Capitol Building – built on the grounds of the original, burned building. Fascinating ghost story involving a painting!
2. Old hotels and apartment buildings have all the stories!  And the Lorraine Hotel has a very unique claim to a bit of crime history!
3. This classic, 100+ year old building (commonplace in Madison) boasts a tie to Thomas Jefferson & a ghostly couple still seen in an upper window.
4. One of the absolute highlights of the tour (in my opinion), is Madison’s Masonic Lodge.  They are just now starting to make their ghost stories known – thanks to the prodding of our ‘vampy’ tour guide.
5. Madison’s US Federal Court building has at least one post-mortem employee still occupying an office.  Time will tell if loose lips will start exposing more stories!

Do you know about another haunted Madison location?  Or do you have a personal experience or know an interesting fact about one of the locations listed here?  Leave a comment on this post and share!

If you are interested in more haunted Madison locations, check out our posts on Sanitarium Hill and the Wonder Bar.


Haunted Woods? Indian Burial Grounds? Urban Legends Galore on Sanatorium Hill, Madison, WI

This is a first look at a location I’ve wanted to explore for a while now.  Sanatorium Hill (aka Lake View Sanatorium, now Dane County Health and Human Services) lived up to my hopes as a fun place to explore.  Next step is doing a LOT more research, including hearing more about YOUR stories of the place, followed by, of course, actual ghost hunting!