John Rondy is a Bay View-based freelance writer.
Growing up in Riverwest as a little girl, Gloria Brandenburg had a recurring dream about an old place with crooked stairs and crooked floors. Then, five years ago when she was walking past an old building on South KK in St. Francis with her friend, she had the feeling that someone was watching them from an upstairs window of the empty building.
That upstairs window is now the site of her bedroom, which is located over her bar-restaurant, On the Right Track Roadhouse Cafe, located at 3724 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
What Brandenburg didn’t bank on when she bought the old building several years ago is that the place gives every indication of being haunted.
Everyday items tend to disappear, only to turn up later, she says. There are cold spots in the building. Footsteps can be heard upstairs when no one is there. Doors move on their own. People have reported being touched or pinched.
Despite the seeming creepiness, Brandenburg doesn’t seem to mind. The fact is, she feels like she’s been here before.
“When I walked by, it was like this place called to me,” says the 58-year-old Brandenburg, who runs her own hair salon from an addition built on to the back of the 1850s-era building. “I always told people that I wanted to have a place that everyone wanted to see. I never knew I would have a restaurant.”
Brandenburg has noticed countless unexplained phenomenon since she has been there.
She has a small dog, and there are certain times when it will stop on a stair and not go any further because it’s as if someone is standing at the top of the steps, she says.
“I have heard music from the late 1920s, 1930s when I am downstairs in the bar – it’s really faint, and just a couple of notes.
“There is a whole o lot of wierd stuff that happens here,” Brandenburg adds. “The ladies’ room faucet turns on by itself. My [hair salon] clients have heard things like the sound of footsteps walking up and down the stairs, and voices in the restaurant when no one else is here. We have seen shadows in doorways – we will hear the door opening, when in fact, the door wasn’t opened.”
Checking for ghosts
On a steamy night in July, members of the TriCounty Paranormal Group descended upon the old building using audio and video recording devices to investigate.
An electromagnetic field detector used by the group registered the maximum level three times when it detected cold spots, said Nadine Leder, a lead investigator with the group
“A pump that charges the air with ions was found in the women’s bathroom buried in a small basket,” Leder said. “And a small gargoyle figurine on the bar moved a couple of inches. One of our investigators said she was touched by something in the basement.”
Leder said she also had the definite sensation of being touched in the rear end when she was in an upstairs bedroom, which might not be a coincidence, given the building’s history.
Originally built as a railroad house with four sleeping rooms, the building was a known bordello in the 1920s and 30s.
“Until 1950, this was the Town of Lake, and this was considered the wrong side of the tracks,” Brandenburg says. “In order to become part of St. Francis, they had to get rid of the five whorehouses here, and this was one of them. We found different pictures. There is a 1932 picture of ‘Tony’s Chicks.’ If they were the ladies of the house, they looked like linebackers.”
Back to Leder’s feeling of being touched when she was upstairs: “I asked if that was one of the clients there, and the crystal I was using answered back ‘yes.’”
When the TriCounty Paranormal Group did the initial walk-through, Brandenburg’s bedroom door moved twice after several group members asked if the spirits could open the door.
“We got cold spots, and our hair was standing on end,” Leder said. “The people who live and work there say that the spirits move from room to room. Sometimes, you go to people’s houses, and nothing happens.”
A bit of background about TriCounty Paranormal Group: It was founded in 1995 by Jim Schilling. Over the past three years, the 12-member group has conducted roughly 60 investigations, including a recent return to an old house in Villisca, Iowa, which was the scene of a grisly axe murder in 1912 where eight people were killed by an unknown assailant.
Aside from the recurring dream of the place she would later come to own, Brandenburg says her daughter made a discovery outside the building which is downright freaky.
“My daughter found some bottles that came from the basement that date back to the turn of the century. One of the first things she sees is a an old bottle from Racine, and it was stamped ‘Brandenburg & Glode.’ (Brandenburg’s friend, the one who was walking past the building with her before she bought it, is Kate Glode). That was just too weird, what are the odds of that one?”
While the ghost-hunting group still needs to conduct a thorough review of its audio and video recordings, it did determine that the spirit of a little girl who died is still there, Leder said. Using a highly sensitive EMF device, investigators also got several audio references to someone named Elijah.
“We got some ‘Class A’s,’ which are definite responses to questions without having to amplify or enhance the recordings,” Leder says.
One of the more interesting aspects of the building is that it has a roof over a roof, which was uncovered when some work was done installing vents. The roof over the roof has hay bales, like someone was living there, Brandenburg says. Patrons to On the Right Track have suggested that the eight-foot high space may have been a hiding place for slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.
There are many strange occurrences reported by others, including a client of the hair salon who heard the sound of hands clapping behind her when she and Brandenburg were the only ones there watching a football game on t.v. Sometimes electrical appliances act wonky, only to return to normal working order.
“You can look for things for several days, and then it will turn up exactly where you were looking,” she says. “It happens all the time.”
For all of the paranormal activity, Brandenburg says she does not feel threatened by the spirits’ presence.
“I don’t mind, they have been here a long time,” she says. “They’re not really scary to me, although sometimes I will talk to them and tell them to behave.”