By Allison Jornlin

The First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee is well-known for its commitment to social justice with a history distinguished by abolitionism and charity. The congregation originated in Milwaukee in 1842 and moved into the current church building in 1892. Today the congregation, ministers, and staff continue their tradition of activism through many efforts including the promotion of environmentally sustainable lifestyles and the open inclusion of the LGBT community. However, in 1894, according to a Milwaukee Journal article from December 22nd, this church was best known for a ghostly apparition which frequently appeared at its front entrance.

On dark nights this luminous specter, the glowing outline of person, was often seen. The phenomenon became the talk of the community and soon inspired a copycat prankster. According to the following Milwaukee Journal from December 25th, 1894, a young lady masquerading as the ghost narrowly escaped being shot as she fled from a police officer. As she ran her white sheet flew off and she was subsequently apprehended.

Unfortunately, the actual phantom was much more elusive. Whatever it was — optical illusion, Marian apparition, or the Ghost of Christmas Past — we may never know. To my current knowledge, this flickering phantasm has long since passed into antiquity.