by Tea Krulos

Milwaukee’s Most Haunted

Milwaukee’s City Hall has been the heart of government in Wisconsin’s biggest city since construction on it was completed in 1895. It was the tallest building in the city up until 1973. The building’s height and its huge open atrium style of design is the key to a horrifying and gruesome chapter in the building’s past.

It all started February 19, 1929 with 36-year-old Frances Schurmeir, according to an article titled “Suicides at City Hall,” researched by Matt J. Prigge for the Shepherd Express. Schurmeir entered City Hall early that afternoon. She was despondent– it was later revealed that the custody of her 15-year-old son was being taken away from her. Schurmeir’s husband accused her of substance abuse and being neglectful. She went to City Hall’s fifth floor and threw herself off the balcony to the hard linoleum floor below, shattering her skull.

Courtesy Gillfoto – Wikimedia

Schurmeir’s suicide was followed by six more over the next decade. In 1931 a man in failing health jumped to his death, his cane still firmly gripped in his hand when his body was removed from City Hall’s lobby. Seven years passed without incident, but a recession that led to suicides around the country created a new wave of jumpers. One person, Harry Kumelski, leaped to his death and landed close to a milkman making a delivery. The milkman was so shocked by Kumelski’s impact that he collapsed and died of shock.

City Hall knew they had a dangerous problem they needed to stop and debated ways to deter the jumpers. One idea was to install crisscrossing razorwire in the atrium, the idea being that the death would be so gruesome that it would stop people in their tracks. Eventually they decided on installing chain link nets that hung between the railings. These were in place until City Hall remodeled in 1988.

There was also an attempted murder-suicide in City Hall on July 11, 1933. Milwaukee City Comptroller Louis Kotecki shot and nearly killed Deputy Comptroller William Wendt. Kotecki had been indicted with “malfeasance in office” when money was lost in a bond transaction, as Jim Stingl reported for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Kotecki believed Wendt’s testimony led to his indictment, so he walked into his City Hall office and shot him in the face, then shot himself. Kotecki died the next day in a hospital, while Wendt miraculously pulled through and lived. Feelings about Kotecki in the city must not have been too hard– there’s a memorial dedicated to him in a small triangular park on Milwaukee’s South Side on Windlake Avenue south of Lincoln Ave.

Has all of this violent history left something lingering behind? It’s seems possibly so– security guards have told us that at night, when everyone else has left, they hear doors slamming by themselves and loud “thumping” sounds…maybe the sound a body might make hitting a floor.

Here’s a less grim mystery involving City Hall. A book published in 1981 called The Secret was created by Byron Preiss. Twelve paintings matched with twelve poems give clues to where Preiss buried a cask with a key in it in twelve different cities. He hid them really well– so far only three have been found (Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston). One of the paintings has a castle-like building that is clearly Milwaukee’s City Hall. Other clues in the painting and poem seem to point to Lake Park. Josh Gates of Expedition Unknown tried to find it and seemed to come close, but a thunderstorm rolled in and interrupted the search. That means for now the hidden treasure is still out there.

Haunted History Ghost Tours in Milwaukee:

The Shadow of City Hall Ghost Walk

Saints and Sinners of Brady Street Ghost Walk

The Bloody Third Ward Ghost Walk

Photo Credits Flickr @Richie Diesterheft


Matthew Prigge:

Jim Stingl: