Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Behind the curtain of Madison’s concert venues, the undead put on their own performances

Rumors of paranormal presences chill The Majestic, The Frequency and The Orpheum
Katie Cooney

For many of Madison’s theaters and concert venues, drama isn’t limited to the stage.

Through more than a century of operation, countless staff and performers have passed through Madison’s many venues. While many of these people may be long gone, it is said some of their spirits remain.

When the curtain falls and the concert halls have been cleared of all guests, Madison’s theaters begin to stir with hints of otherworldly occupants. For years, patrons and employees of theaters and dance halls all over town have whispered of these paranormal experiences.


These venues’ subwoofers might not be the only things going bump in the night.

The Frequency

Situated in the shadow of the Capitol on West Main Street sits The Frequency, a notable local bar and music venue.

The building’s connection with the paranormal decidedly predates its current role as a music venue.

Marissa Haegele/The Badger Herald

For some years the building housed a mortuary, and for many years it was partitioned into private residences, owner Darwin Sampson said.

“We have apartments up above the venue, and I’ve had two residents pass away since I’ve been in here,” Sampson said. “It takes a special person to actually live above a live music venue with music seven nights a week. You kind of have to be a night owl to live up there so we’ll get drug dealers and addicts, stuff like that.”

The Frequency’s staff reports many mystifying incidents, often happening after hours when most people have left the building.

Katie Cooney/The Badger Herald

One night a few years ago, the staff were closing up the building and had made sure all the guests had left. As employees were tidying the bar, a young man who appeared to be a student walked into the bar from the dance floor and asked the staff if they had seen his friend.

The young man was unresponsive to any questions and left through the front door, unlocking it with remarkable ease. The employees on staff that night swear the building had been emptied.

The front door lock also operated inversely and was notoriously sticky, baffling employees how the stranger had operated it with such ease.

Katie Cooney/The Badger Herald

The Frequency’s basement is the epicenter of paranormal activity. It houses a boiler room, which one might expect to be very warm. But employees report feeling sudden strange drops in temperature when working there and experiencing the feeling of a mysterious figure running toward them.

“There’s been a couple times when I’ve left at 4:30 in the morning and it’s really dark and I’m shutting the place by myself,” Sampson said. “I kinda [felt] a presence in the backroom and it doesn’t feel necessarily friendly.”

Sampson said his wife, who is a very religious person, has felt a presence come home with him after he’s worked a late night. Now when Sampson leaves he tells the spirits they have to stay at The Frequency.

The Frequency’s sound engineer, Dustin Boyle, relays a haunting incident in the basement bathroom some years ago.

Katie Cooney/The Badger Herald

It was late at night, and he was closing up shop. Boyle had just finished using the bathroom and was going to return to the main floor.

Katie Cooney/The Badger Herald

“As I tried to open the door, it felt as if someone was pushing against the door,” Boyle said. “I couldn’t turn the doorknob, and then the whole door started shaking. I even let go of it, and it was still shaking. I pushed to open the door and it opened, and nobody was there.”

The Majestic Theatre

Each weekend, hundreds of Badgers line up outside The Majestic Theatre to watch their favorite artists holler into a microphone and sweat on them. But what many aren’t aware of is that The Majestic hosts a show of paranormal incidents on a nightly basis.

Marissa Haegele/The Badger Herald

The Majestic has encountered resident ghouls since its origins in 1906 as a Vaudeville theater, Lisa Van Buskirk, tour guide for Madison Ghost Walks, said.

Marissa Haegele/The Badger Herald

Van Buskirk said the balcony is home to most of these spooky events, including a noteworthy encounter from an employee in the 1980s. 

“He said he was picking up the floor in the balcony and he looked up and saw a man with extra long arms that went down to his feet,” Van Buskirk said. “As he was looking at him, the man waved his extra long arm over his head and put it back down, which very much freaked [the employee] out.”

This ghost is believed to go by the name Joe, the spirit of a Vaudeville performer who hung himself in the green room in the 1920s. Van Buskirk cites numerous other ghastly occurrences at the Majestic, such as disappearing men spotted in the balcony and performers receiving well wishes before their show from mysterious voices.

The Orpheum Theatre

The Orpheum is the most haunted building in Madison, according to Van Buskirk.

Badger Herald archives

The theater is home to numerous spirits, which are most likely manifestations of past employees, Van Buskirk said. One is a shadowy figure often seen seated in the theater’s house, who is believed to be the ghost of an usher who died after falling off the upper balcony. Others report seeing a floating mass of red mist.

The most active resident is known as Projectionist Pete, believed to be the spirit of a former projectionist who committed suicide in the theater. Van Buskirk relates the story of a night manager’s run-in with Pete, which started when he walked into the projection room late one night to find everything mysteriously thrown about.

“‘Oh my God, can’t you leave me alone for one night?’ he yells at the ghost. Then it gets really really quiet, like the ghost is right in his ear. He feels hot breath on his face and spittle, but he hears nothing,” Van Buskirk said. 

The manager ran out of the room and downstairs to the bar, where he had previously arranged all the clean dishes.

“As he came down the stairs he heard a crash,” Van Buskirk said. “He looked back and it looked like somebody took their arm and knocked all of the dishes off the bar.”

Admittedly, it is difficult to verify each and every one of these encounters. But these tales of the supernatural continue to surface across Madison.

So next time the crowd is feeling the music at one of Madison’s venues, it might be more than sound waves.

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