Before new owners take over the Maxwell Mansion, the current owners want to know if the historic Lake Geneva hotel is being visited by guests from long ago — ghosts who never checked out.
A team of paranormal investigators descended on the 163-year-old hotel during the Halloween weekend to look into reports that the property at 421 Baker St. is haunted.
Luke Pfeifer, who along with his wife recently announced a deal to purchase the Maxwell Mansion, said he obviously would like to know if the Lake Geneva lakefront hotel has paranormal activity.
“I’ve seen some things on social media about it,” Pfeifer said. “It’s something I’m interested in learning more about.”
Maxwell Mansion was built in 1856 for Dr. Philip Maxwell, who died three years later. Maxwell’s wife, Jerutha Maxwell, lived in the property about 25 years longer.
The building has been operating as a hotel since at least the 1940s, and now includes a carriage house and stables, with a total of 28 guest suites, as well as a ballroom, a cocktail bar, and three acres of gardens.
Jay Hill, founder of Wisconsin Paranormal Research, said he and his colleagues found numerous signs of ghostly activity during their investigation on Halloween night.
Hill said the team recorded voices, heard footsteps and observed strange lights during a five-hour overnight examination when the building was otherwise empty.
Even before going inside the historic hotel, Hill said, he and his crew could sense the presence of other-worldly beings and activity.
“The energy level in that place when you walk in, it felt charged, kind of like a lightning storm,” he said. “We had a lot of positive responses.”
The paranormal investigation coincided with the Maxwell Mansion’s annual Halloween party. But event manager Ashley Brouwer said the investigation is not all fun and games.
Brouwer said there have been many ghostly sightings in the hotel over the years, and the investigators take their work seriously.
“Their main idea is to help the living understand the dead and the dead to understand the living,” she said. “And to help them co-exist.”
Among the possible hauntings reported at the hotel:
A little boy named “Eddie,” who became ill and died in the mansion, is believed to be inhabiting the hotel’s attic. One employee reported going up to the attic and finding that toys had been rearranged.
Another supernatural being known as “The Watcher” has been reportedly seen sitting and watching guests who have stayed at the hotel.
Inside the hotel’s Speakeasy tavern, employees reported seeing hanging mugs fly off the wall. A bartender also once found that a cash register kept ringing up its own order — always a Bloody Mary.
Other strange sightings and experiences have included people reporting hearing cries for help from the hotel lobby, and then finding nobody in the lobby.
Brouwer said most of the reported spirits are believed to have been people who lived or stayed in the mansion in the past.
“I think all of the ghosts were residents at one point, because the mansion is very old,” she said. “There have been a lot of people who came and gone.”
Pfeifer recently announced plans to purchase the Maxwell Mansion and to continue operating it as a boutique hotel on the Lake Geneva lakefront.
The nonprofit group Wisconsin Paranormal Research visited the property Oct. 31 while the hotel was hosting its annual Halloween party. After the party ended at 1 a.m., the four-person research team investigated the property until 5:30 a.m.
Brouwer said the investigators were clear that they did not want to go about their business until after the party had ended.
“I think they want to give the spirits some space,” she said.
Hill said his team observed circular blue lights, known as “orbs,” which are sometimes associated with ghosts. They also heard voices, footsteps and feet shuffling.
Most of the activity was in the Speakeasy tavern in the building’s basement, and in the Cognac Room on the first floor.
Hill said none of the ghostly activity was threatening or unpleasant. The Maxwell Mansion gives off the sense of a warm and friendly place, he said, which is also probably why some spirits have chosen to remain there during their afterlife.
“There’s a lot of happiness and joy in that place,” he said. “It’s very attractive to the spirits who are there.”
Reporter Scott Williams contributed to this report.