The Pabst Mansion began hosting its “Illuminating the Dark” tour for the public on October 5, in an effort to shine a new light on some mysterious stories from the historic home’s past.
The specialty “after-hours” tour was first created in 2022, and became an instant hit. Returning for its second year, “Illuminating the Dark” again embraces the spirit of the spooky season. Visitors are guided through the former home of Captain Frederick Pabst by the soft glow of candlelight, tethered by tales of intrigue.
The tour explores themes of darkness and personal loss, covering the Mansion from its hidden compartments and special access to shadowy corners of the basement rarely seen by the public. Part of the eerie history includes the room that hosted the funerals of both Captain Pabst and his wife Maria.
“This event is really different because it incorporates a lot of information that we don’t normally get to talk about,” said Reagan Herdt, Lead Museum Assistant for the Pabst Museum. “It’s a little bit more on the side of history that isn’t always the most pretty to present, especially when talking about affairs or deaths in the Pabst household. All that stuff doesn’t normally make for a very good family tour. But during this time of year, we get to give people a little bit more of the dark side of history.”
The Pabst Mansion remains a historical treasure nestled in downtown Milwaukee. While the Mansion is celebrated for its opulent design and architectural grandeur, it also conceals a mysterious past, shrouded in enigmatic stories that have come to light over the years.
A striking testament to Gilded Age architecture, the Pabst Mansion was the former residence of the renowned beer baron and his family. Completed in 1892, the Mansion has since become a museum and a symbol of Milwaukee’s rich history.
One of the Mansion’s peculiar revelations is the existence of a cellar beneath the pavilion, which was curiously marked as “dungeon” on house maps from the 1970s. The cellar’s atmosphere is undeniably eerie, with its blackened brick walls and a thick locking metal door.
On a wall near the main staircase is a large painting with a chilling presence titled “Campfire Gathering.” The scene depicts a group of people gathered by a campfire.
“The artwork we see now is actually the second layer of the painting. It was common during that time period to reuse canvases over and over again, putting a new image over the original,” said Herdt. “Because the paint can slowly deteriorate or wear away, we get glimpses of the original painting beneath it. So when you hold the light of the candle up to it at a specific angle, you can see the face of the original portrait underneath the campfire gathering space.”
Herdt said it was unknown who the person in the portrait was, or why it was painted over. But she added that it could also be unexpectedly revealed during the day from direct sunlight.
“The eyes sort of follow you when you walk, they watch you as you go up the stairs,” said Herdt. “The staff didn’t tell me that when I first started working here. So one day, I really felt like eyes were watching me. Then I turned around and caught a glimpse of it as I passed by. I was not prepared for that, and it was a little unsettling.”
Another hidden gem within the Pabst Mansion is the study, which served as Captain Pabst’s home office and smoking room. Stepping into this room feels like entering the pages of a Black Forest fable, with its playful interior design reminiscent of a fairy tale. The walls adorned with dark wood panels, intricate carvings, and cozy leather chairs, show visitors a lifestyle from a different era. But the room’s secret compartments add an extra layer of mystique, as to what Captain Pabst might have kept hidden within them.
As a key figure in the brewing industry, Captain Pabst’s life was intertwined with the history of Milwaukee. He not only played a pivotal role in the growth of the Pabst Brewing Company but also contributed significantly to the city’s cultural and civic development. The Pabst Mansion itself is a testament to his success and vision.
Pabst Mansion, Inc. continues its mission to preserve and share this remarkable piece of Milwaukee’s history, inviting visitors to explore the mansion and uncover the celebrated and inexplicable past of Captain Pabst and his family.
“I love this as a house museum, in particular, because it’s just so different from all of the other house museums you could go tour. Its architecture is on another level. It’s just absolutely stunning and stirring to walk through,” added Herdt.
The “Illuminating the Dark” tour is held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings until Halloween on October 31.
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