By Allison Jornlin
The ghosts of two 19th century lovers haunt the famous Miller Caves, according to a Milwaukee Sentinel article from April 17th, 1955. Brewery workers have reported paranormal activity there since the late 1800s. To present a possible explanation for the haunting, the article tells a tragic, local love story too irresistible to pass up, especially on Valentine’s Day.
From the late 1880s until 1906 when modern refrigeration buildings replaced them, the staggering 600 feet of tunnels named the Miller Caves, were the main storage facilities for Miller Brewing Company. The chilly environs also became the scene of romance and tragedy during one hot summer.
Employees told of secret meetings between a young brewery worker and his sweetheart at the mouth of the caves near the back of the brewery. All summer long, every Saturday night without fail, the lovers kept to their hidden rendezvous. In the cool air, amid the seclusion of huge wooden casks, their affections sparked in the lantern light.
Then one fateful Saturday night, without warning, the young man missed his appointment. After waiting in vain for hours, the young lady returned home, only to learn of her lover’s serious accident. He had fallen on a stairway in one of the caves and hit his head. She rushed to his beside. He died soon after, never regaining consciousness. When the young woman died some weeks later, brewery workers were convinced it was due to broken heart.
Before long, employees began reporting strange experiences in and near the caves. In fall, an apparition of the young lady was seen lingering at the mouth of the cave as she had done so often in life that summer. Later, masons reported luminous figures floating just beyond the same cave entrance. Over the years, workers also reported hearing disembodied speech and laughter among the casks.
After 1906, the deep, dark caverns were largely forgotten, until a small portion was renovated and reopened as a museum in 1953. Today, this area is part of the The Miller Visitor Center’s free brewery tour.
Although the conclusion of the tour includes an address by the “ghost” of Miller founder Frederick Miller projected on a cave wall, no one seems to recall the tragic tale of doomed lovers related in the Sentinel article. However, strange goings-on are still reported in and near the caves at The Miller Visitor Center (4251 West State Street, Milwaukee, WI). One confidential source, the wife of a former brewery worker, admitted her husband is still awakened by nightmares about his eerie (but, unfortunately, undisclosed) experiences in the caves. Recently workers at the Miller Inn, where tour-goers enjoy beer and soft drink samples, have also reported hearing mysterious footsteps after hours.
So are the abandoned Miller caves still a catacomb of lost love? It’s hard to say since most of the tunnels are inaccessible, at least to the general public. Even so, some paranormal investigators might consider the caves a probable location for a residual or imprint haunting because they are carved from limestone hillsides. Paranormal celebrities often cite the well-known, but very controversial, idea (sometimes called “stone tape theory”) that the limestone could have recorded events from the tragic lover’s tryst, providing a ghostly playback years later. However, until a careful paranormal investigation is conducted in the caves, the ghost stories are nothing more than intriguing local folklore.