As we walk through the second of three floors in Tom and Julie Carr’s Victorian building with an Arts and Crafts influence, I hear whispering. I ask Tom if his wife Julie is somewhere around, and he absentmindedly responds that she might be. I know that innkeeper Tonja Thomas is not in her room, and the other renovation workers are working singularly in rooms far from us.
So what have I just heard? At this point, I’ve only come here to get a tour of the Brumder Mansion and its remodeled ballroom before the big Halloween Bash this Saturday. I have not yet been told that the place is known for being haunted.
After ten years of hard work to take the mansion from its former disrepaired state to a Bed and Breakfast destination, well-known owner Carol Hirschi gave up the ghost in 2007 — so to speak. The actress and innkeeper brought the nearly century-old place back to life with artsy touches before spiriting away her favorite pieces of Victorian furniture and starting a new renovation/innkeeping project at the Mosheim Mansion in Seguin, Texas.
Enter Tom and Julie Carr. The couple just happened to stay at the Brumder on a trip to Milwaukee while on a scouting trip for their website development business (one such website is hauntedhouses.com). They quickly bought the place, becoming one of less than a dozen deed holders in the mansion’s history. The mansion was built by publishing magnate George Brumder for his son, who lived there with his family for more than a decade. Then reputed Chicago gangster Samuel Picks, who later disappeared, bought it for his family and associates. Over the years, the mansion served as a boarding house, a parsonage, a youth activity center and finally, a B&B.
Hirschi sold the Carrs the mansion, along with the business and the adjacent house, which stand in the shadow of architectural giants Our Saviors Lutheran Church and the Tripoli Shrine along the once-posh street known as Grand Avenue. (Now, it’s Wisconsin Avenue, and the building’s address is 3046 W. Wisconsin Ave.) Within blocks of the Brumder are the well-known Pabst and lesser-known Schuster mansions. The Carrs proceeded to update their mansion even further with new wiring and bathroom fixtures. But Tom’s favorite project is the basement, which is currently a busy hive of carpentry work to meet the Oct. 31 party deadline.
The basement is just as storied as the rest of the mansion. Originally, in 1910, the space was a small ballroom before it was transformed into an underground speakeasy during Prohibition. Later, in the 1940s, it was an after-hours jazz club, a beatnik coffeehouse in the 1950s, a church activity room in the proceeding decades, a 75-seat professional theater in the 2000s and now, it is back to being a spiffy ballroom with an elevated stage. Inspired by a recent, large wedding and reception hosted entirely in the Brumder, the Carrs converted the space back to its original luster by revealing the original wood floors and restoring touches like a crafted ceiling and ornate fireplace.
In one corner of the lower level, the floor is torn up where a bar will eventually be installed. That section will be inlaid with tile by Shelly Bird, who turned out to be a great networking source for artists, musicians and mediums who will appear at the Halloween bash.
During the seven-hour costume party this weekend, magician Tom Burgermeister will perform a 7 p.m. show followed by smaller, room-to-room magic tricks (in the open house). There will also be piano concerts (almost every room has an ancient set of ivories). At 8 p.m., musician Zane Zirkle along with violinist Marvin Suson and soprano Meaghan Reider will take over the stage. And at 9 p.m., a DJ sets up for dancing. Meanwhile, Bird’s connections scored five different types of fortune tellers who will offer services in various rooms.
To top it off, ghost hunters from the “Northern Alliance of Paranormal Investigators” return to Brumder to once again seek out spirits from beyond. Although the B&B is not marketed as haunted, the volume of past residents and guests from the great beyond reportedly still hang out there. Perhaps they know who killed Mr. Body in this Clue game-like mansion.
Tickets for the Halloween Bash are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Visit the special Brumder webpage for information. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity.