Despite my love of all things mysterious and terrifying, I am absolutely a skeptic when it comes to the paranormal. I have worked in a number of locations that are rumored to be haunted, which I guess comes with the territory when you are a museum professional and also a vaguely spooky human woman. Both museums I currently work in are rumored to be haunted, as are at least three other locations where I’ve been employed in the past. Strange things have happened at these establishments, of course. However, I’m more inclined to chalk that up to tourists hallucinating from lack of oxygen at a high altitude. Those cold spots? Probably just due to the fact that century old buildings are bound to be a little drafty. That weird shadowy figure I keep seeing in the hallway? Likely related to my frequent migraines. I have found that there is almost always a mundane explanation to even the most spooky of occurrences.
However, there is one experience I’ve never been totally able to explain. This did not happen to me when I was working at a museum. Rather, it happened the night before my high school graduation. I was living in my hometown — a suburb of Milwaukee — and had been gifted two tickets to a concert as a graduation gift. The concert was to be held downtown at The Rave. This is a large, multistage venue with a long history. It was first built in the 1920s as the headquarters for a fraternal organization. At one point it was converted into an athletic club, complete with a pool. It was also a men’s shelter. Eventually, it became a large music venue. When I was a teenager, it was considered a bit of a rite of passage to go to a show there, and I was incredibly excited to attend.
My companion for the show was Taylor, a girl I’d known since riding the bus together freshman year. She was incredibly cool and had the best taste in music. This band was a particular favorite of ours, and we got to the concert super early to secure the best possible place. Since we were underage, we were directed to go through the ‘all ages’ entrance towards the back of the building. We were the first ones to arrive, and were ushered into the lobby. There were a few employees milling about, but they paid us no mind as we leaned against a brick wall and chatted. Other than the occasional worker, there were no other people. The room was large, with restrooms on the western wall and a small snack bar to the northwest. After maybe twenty minutes, Taylor said she was going to go to the bathroom and also get a soda. I decided to wait for her where I was, loitering against the southern wall.
Since this was before cellphones were especially entertaining, I spent a few minutes people watching. More employees were starting to materialize, many of them heading for the restrooms or into areas marked as ‘staff only’. Still, it was far from busy, and I found myself thinking about the next day’s graduation festivities. All of a sudden, I felt a cold yet solid sensation brush across the back of my legs. It felt like a cat affectionately rubbing against my calves a few times except for the fact that it was truly frigid. Immediately, I assumed that I was inadvertently leaning against a cold air return, and moved about four feet to my left. I looked for any vents or signs of blowing air where I was previously standing, but I couldn’t find anything. Curiosity piqued, I continued leaning against the wall with my head turned to my right so that I could keep looking for whatever it was that had caused the strange sensation. I checked the ceiling. I checked the floors. There were no vents, just solid brick.
Within a matter of seconds, I was snapped out of my investigation by the sensation of someone coming up on my left side and slinging their arm around my shoulders. The pressure was firm and reassuring, but notably colder than I anticipated. Assuming Taylor had returned and was just oddly cold to the touch, I turned my head to smile at her and offer a quip about needing a winter jacket. My grin faded when I realized that there was no one there. Taylor was standing at the snack bar, a good twenty to thirty feet away. There were no employees around; no nearby entrances or exits that someone could have disappeared into without my notice. Now suitably freaked out, I nearly sprinted over to Taylor. She asked me what was wrong. All I could manage to say was, “Something weird happened. Let’s wait over here instead.” After that, the night proceeded without incident. Taylor and I had a good time and were only a little tired at graduation the next day. In fact, for most of college, I had forgotten about the weird events of that evening. I even attended another show there a few years later. Nothing strange happened, other than having to elbow someone who kept trying to pull me into a mosh pit.
One day during my senior year of undergrad, I decided to look up buildings rumored to be haunted in Milwaukee. I was already planning on moving back to the area and was curious about local legends. I was surprised to learn that The Rave was near the top of every list I came across. Memories from that night came flooding back to me. I spent the next few days researching the building and the legends surrounding it. The Rave’s history is lengthy and complex. It’s difficult to find exact accounts of specific events, but it is known that a teenage boy drowned in the pool in the late 1920s. There are also legends that several of the shelter’s residents disappeared after having confrontations with the man who ran the establishment (and was known for being incredibly cruel). And, then there are the loud banging noises and the cries of “Get out!” that apparently echo through certain parts of the basement.
I don’t know what any of these stories mean in the context of my experience. Maybe I was imagining things due to my heightened emotional state. Maybe it was the start of a migraine, or just a really well hidden series of air conditioning vents. But each time I try to come up with a reasonable explanation, they always seem to fall a little flat. Since that day, I haven’t experienced anything else remotely similar. Perhaps this isn’t the most exciting tale of the unknown, but I know that something happened to me that day. I’m just not sure if it was a faulty cooling system or a teenage ghost trying to get a little fresh.