Ask Abe: Is the Wisconsin Union Theater haunted?

An Alum

Is the Wisconsin Union Theater haunted?

Abe

The answer is maybe. The venerable theater certainly has the essential stuff to qualify it as haunted — namely, tragic death. In fact, two tragic deaths. The first was a construction worker who died during the building of the theater in 1939. The second took place in 1950 when a timpanist in the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra — under the direction of the renowned director Antal Dorati — suffered a heart attack during the performance.

Despite the fact that a doctor was, in fact, “in the house,” the percussionist died backstage before the physician could be located in the audience and make his way to the stricken man. The rest of the orchestra, wholly unaware of what had taken place, kept playing until the intermission. Upon learning of their colleague’s death, the musicians returned to the stage to play the appropriately gloomy second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Now that’s the makings of a legend, if not a haunting.

And, through the years, employees of the Wisconsin Union Theater have spoken of seemingly inexplicable occurrences — doors locking themselves, lights turning off or on of their own accord, and the ever-classic sound of footsteps.

But aside from that, says the theater’s operations manager, Bruce Ehlinger ’88, there seems to be little conclusive evidence of a ghost. “A professional ghost hunter did some investigating here a few years ago, and as far as I know, he didn’t come up with anything.”

It appears that if there are ghosts in the Wisconsin Union Theater, they are certainly of the elusive sort. Maybe their silence these days is a sign that they’re happy in their newly renovated digs. Just over a year ago, the theater — as well as the lobby area, patio, rooftop terrace, and Fredric March Play Circle Theater — were given a facelift. The result is one of Madison’s finest performance venues.

“The acoustics are impeccable,” says Ehlinger.

That means that if there are any ghosts still lurking about in the theater, someone is going to hear them.

We’ll keep you posted.