Monday, March 9, 2009

Brumder Mansion-Milwaukee, WI

Walking down Grand Avenue in Milwaukee a century ago would have taken you through a neighborhood of Victorian mansions situated a convenient distance from the shore of Lake Michigan. Most of the homes have long since vanished, giving way to the sprawl of the city, with little evidence to the history of how Milwaukee began. Only a few homes remain of this era; the Brumder Mansion is one such home where history still resides and sometimes interacts with visitors.

Standing gracefully on its corner serving visitors to Milwaukee as a Bed and Breakfast the Brumder Mansion is on what is now known as West Wisconsin Avenue. This stately, 4 story brick Victorian, English Arts and Crafts style mansion, has survived years of indifference and neglect.

Far more imposing than the exterior is the opulent renovated interior. The first floor dining room features a stunning, handcrafted stained glass tile fireplace, designed by Neideken, a Frank Lloyd Wright protégé. The oak Gothic style main staircase leads to the second floor that features 3 bedrooms, and to another staircase. This secondary staircase leads to the third floor to an additional 3 rooms used as servant’s quarters and innkeeper's apartment. Mr. Brumder placed the requisite ballroom in the large basement instead of on the customary third floor.

The suites have beautifully wood-carved fireplaces, marble in the bathrooms, intricate woodwork and antiques. One such room, The Gold Suite on the second floor, is named for its gold and yellow decor. The suite has a Victorian parlor set of furniture, an antique Queen-sized bed, elegant draperies and an oak ornamental fireplace with fluted columns.

Built in 1910 by the prominent businessman George Brumder for his eldest son George Jr., this regal home served a wealthy Milwaukee publishing family as a residence for nearly 10 years. The family’s fortune grew from a number of German language newspapers, bibles, and sheet music, and then later shifted to banking and manufacturing. The mansion was sold in the early 1920's, to Sam Picks, providing refuge from his work in Chicago gangster organizations.

With upkeep on the mansion being excessive, the house served as a boarding house in the late 30's; then in the 1960's the neighboring Lutheran Church bought the Brumder. By 1997, the upkeep and repair work needed for the house presented a major challenge for the church. Carol Hirschi, willing to move into the now derelict neighborhood, bought the Brumder, along with its physical and otherworldly, challenges.With the mansion in a state of disrepair and institutional in appearance, Carol began the painstaking task of transforming the Brumder Mansion into what is seen today. Hirschi generated income for the renovations by converting the building into a Bed and Breakfast in 1998.

Carol Hirschi believed multiple ghosts are haunting the house with most of the activity centered on the Gold Suite. A visiting psychic confirmed Carol's impressions when she reported seeing the ghost of a woman and a child. Several experiences made Hirschi more familiar with these two entities.

The first night Carol spent in the Gold Suite with her dogs in the bed, she felt a presence and heard a stern voice in her head demanding her to remove the dogs immediately. In another instance she dreamt of a face of a woman staring down at her from one of the home's ornate ceiling medallions.

The most frightening of the bizarre experiences in the Gold Suite happened when Carol entered the room several days after someone checked out, to find several drops of fresh blood in the bathtub. Thinking blood was leaking through the ceiling and someone had died in an upstairs room, she went to investigate but found nothing.

Guests staying in The Gold Suite sometimes have intense dreams. If they have a dog in the room, they often dream of a woman sternly lecturing them to remove their pets or harm will come to them. Upon waking, patrons are filled with a strong desire to remove the animals. Guests have been locked out of the room even though the deadbolt of the door locks from the inside of the room. A German marriage certificate in a large frame with a sturdy wire on the back was hung on the wall; it mysteriously lifted itself off the wall and crashed face down onto the floor, cracking the glass. Upon closer inspection nothing was found to be wrong with the wire or the nails it was hung upon.

The woman is thought to be Susan, a maiden aunt, who came to live with the Brumder family when they moved into this mansion. As a young woman, her betrothed stood her up at the altar; something she never quite recovered from. Susan, also known as Aunt Pussy, spent a number of happy years living in the mansion on the second floor, now known as The Gold Suite. She loved simple furnishings, and followed an uncomplicated way of life. The visiting psychic conveyed a message to Hirschi that Aunt Pussy expressed her displeasure about the fancy furnishings in the renovation, and that she had trouble adjusting to the commotion associated with the Bed and Breakfast.

The second phantom sensed by the psychic, the young girl, may perhaps be the victim of disease or accidental death. She is believed to occasionally haunt the third floor and Emma's Room. Hirschi believed the more mischievous activity can be attributed to the ghost of the child. Carol once purchased a mirror and hung it over the sink of Gold Suite's bathroom. One day the mirror lifted itself off its nail, floated over to the bathtub and was shattered into shards.

Other areas in the homes also experience disturbances. In George's Room a staff member felt a cool breeze brush past her face and hair, billow the curtain, as it drafted through the room with no logical explanation. Guests will often hear objects moving in the bathroom. Silverware laid out on the dining room table the night before would be found turned around on the table the next morning. Guests and patrons of the little theater in the basement began seeing the entity of a woman, dressed in early 20th century clothing drifting through. A friend of Carol's saw a woman in a formal black dress float down the main staircase. In The Blue Room lights turn on and off by themselves. Doors have been heard to slam throughout the night, along with phantom footsteps, and breakable objects that fall from walls, but remain unharmed. In Marion's Room some think an entity of the young girl haunts this space. One ongoing occurrence involves a programmable doorbell which refused to operate when Carol set the tune. It only seemed to work when she left it alone, then it will play tunes randomly. "Happy Birthday" is one of the favorites.

During the winter of 2008 Carol resigned her ownership of the mansion to Tom and Julie Carr. As the years continue to pass hopefully the home will remain a fixture to the Milwaukee area and the Carrs keep the Brumder Mansion as a place where visitors can stay and feel a part of history. But if you decide to stay in the Gold Suite just make sure you leave your pets at home.

1 comment:

  1. According to me, The Brumder Mansion is one of a handful of stately residences still anchoring the sidewalks along Wisconsin Avenue in the city's storied Grand Avenue neighborhood.

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