Milwaukee's Engine House 35 is built on the site of what was once the Fairview Mausoleum.
Photo credit: Milwaukee Fire Department
A poll found that 48% of Americans believe in ghosts, and increasingly that includes the Milwaukee firefighters working at quite possibly haunted Engine House 35.
It's at 64th and Fairview Ave., a couple blocks south of Blue Mound Road, in a quiet residential neighborhood. This is not a creepy old building. In fact, it's been there less than 15 years.
Here's the thing, though: The firehouse is built on the site of what was once the Fairview Mausoleum, a spooky looking granite fortress that housed the remains of nearly 1,000 people. It was 999, actually, a number you don't want to turn upside down.
The mausoleum, built in 1912, fell into severe disrepair, and the city was forced to take ownership in 1994. By 1997, all the remains were removed from the structure and buried in a special section at Graceland Cemetery, 6401 N. 43rd St.
These dearly departed were supposed to spend eternity in aboveground crypts, but wound up under the sod instead. It's not hard to imagine some uneasy spirits left behind on Fairview Ave.
A sign for the absent mausoleum still marks the land. And the firefighters now occupying the site have carved their firehouse nickname, Crypt Keeper, on a real tombstone that sits between the two large overhead doors where the rigs come and go. Photos and news articles about the demise of Fairview Mausoleum are framed in the station office.
And the ghosts come and go as they please, if you believe in that sort of thing
Sometimes it's more mischievous, like when they keep turning on the same bathroom sink faucet, often in the middle of the night.
"It's always the cold water, and it's always full blast. This has happened at least a dozen times," said firefighter Ron Reagan, who is not the ghost of a former president.
I don't want to take the cold water imagery too far, but three people interred at the mausoleum were on the Titanic. The man died that night, and his wife and daughter survived in a lifeboat.
Josh Larson tells of a night when he was on watch duty at the firehouse. His laptop computer, which he had turned off and tucked into its case, suddenly switched on and began playing music on YouTube. To be exact, it was Zac Brown Band's version of "Feel Like Making Love." Um, no thanks, Jacob Marley.
Elsa Gomez has been spooked more than once. There was the time she heard two large pans and a popcorn pot fall off the stove in the kitchen, and was shocked to find them on the floor but nowhere near the stove. "They just flew off the stove basically, is what I'm saying. It was weird," she said.
Then there was the night when she and a fellow firefighter were relaxing in chairs on either side of a floor lamp. Suddenly the lamp plug popped out of the wall, and the room went dark. They couldn't think of any logical explanation.
"I believe in spirits and things like that, so it doesn't bother me. I know it was nothing bad. There's no need to be afraid of it," Gomez said.
Tell that to Dave Grams and Mike Lopez.
Grams grew up in this neighborhood, and as a teen he helped dig graves at a nearby cemetery. But nothing compared to what has happened to him -- twice -- at Engine House 35. While in bed in the firehouse dormitory, he spotted a man standing next to him. He wore a bowler hat, corduroy vest and wool pants. The man said nothing and then vanished.
Grams believes in spirits, but thinks they should be left alone. "I don't play with Ouija boards. I don't think we should be contacting them. To me it's very real," he said.
So far, no one can top Lopez' story. He snores, so he sleeps in the basement. One night, as he lay awake on his side, he felt someone pressing down on him. He felt like he couldn't move, so he pushed back as hard as he could and his blanket flew off. He saw and heard no one around.
"I had a bruise right where I was being pushed on," he said.
Even after that experience, Lopez still bunks in the basement. "The only difference is now I sleep with a light on," he said. "I'm starting to believe in ghosts. Not 100% yet, but I'm telling you it's not going to take much more."
I'm told other fire stations around here have their own ghosts. Supposedly a long-ago chief haunts the one at 45th and Burnham, and two firefighters swear they saw the same shapeless floating black mass in the dorm on Granville Road.
But it's hard to top Engine House 35 and its ready-made supply of 999 ghosts.
"I've always wanted to walk around here with a thermal imaging camera," said Lt. Al Chitel, who has heard all the scary tales and experienced some himself. "But I don't want to piss them off."
Copyright 2012 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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