The haunting — and history — of UW- Madison’s Science Hall

By A. Emily Ralph | October 28, 2011

  • Science Hall at UW- Madison in winter.

Science Hall at UW- Madison in winter. (Photo by Ryan Wick)

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If you ask around, you’ll likely hear that ghosts are lurking on University of Wisconsin- Madison’s historic campus. From things like the very real graves atop Bascom Hill, to generations of student lore, many have reported that the history here, sometimes goes bump in the night.

WPR’s A. Emily Ralph explores this intersection of history and rumor in one of the university’s oldest buildings — UW-Madison’s Science Hall.


Back in the day, Science Hall was home to the university’s Department of Anatomy. Because of this history, there are a number of ghostly rumors about the building.

“The doctors and med students would work on cadavers, but the morgue was in the basement and a lot of the laboratories were upstairs. Before they had elevators, they used to transport cadavers up and down, through dumbwaiters in the wall. Rumor has it that they lost a couple bodies,” said Britny Williams, former director of engineering and operations at WPR. She is also a UW alum.

“The other thing that I heard was that there was a mad professor, whose office was kind of in the attic. And he did crazy experiments up there and everything is still set up to this day with the labels on the drawers and beakers,” said Williams. “This drawer’s for fingers. That drawer’s for toes. And everything’s just very creepy. But that’s a fun myth people like to tell about Science Hall.”

And the best ghost stories are the ones where so much of them is true. I don’t know about the mad professor, but the rest is dead on. As recently as the 1970s, students were still finding human remains around the building. 

Over the years, people have reported feeling a presence, or suddenly smelling strong odors of blood or formaldehyde. 

Ghosts or not, Science Hall is an imposing building, standing like a gothic red brick fortress guarding the heart of campus. 

The old anatomy labs were on the fourth floor, and that’s supposed to be the most haunted part of the building. It’s definitely creepy, but I’m more interested in rumors about secret labs and mad scientists in the attic.

Building manager Jim Miller let me and a few grad students check it out for ourselves.

At first glance, it looks like any other big old attic; dusty, full of boxes, and a floor where a misstep could be pretty bad. Then we turn a corner and things get, weird.

The room is kind of set up like a lab, with the remains of sinks or workstations maybe? A cabinet full of missing drawers still has some labels on it. 

It gets better though. In the room off that, shelves have big labels indicating where to keep your chemicals and … head holders?! I don’t know what a head holder is, but I’m hoping the meat slicer extras aren’t involved. 

As cool as this room is, there’s another dimension in this building, and that’s up. 

We climb a series of ladders and platforms, all the way to the peak of the building’s top tower. 

The floor is about the size of a picnic table, and here we find one last mystery two chairs, a deck of cards, and a can of Skoal. At least the ghosts obey the no smoking policy. 

They have an amazing view, too. Metal vents in the roof slide open, and the whole city stretches out before you. 

I didn’t see anything supernatural while touring Science Hall, but I wanted to. I keep my eyes open in the dark. Maybe one day I’ll meet the ghost with a taste for heights and chewing tobacco.

(This story originally aired October 28, 2011.)

A. Emily Ralph

A. Emily Ralph

A. Emily Ralph is Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Duchess of Operations,” and the Senior Spooky Correspondent for “Wisconsin Life.” When not handling radio automation or investigating haunted orphanages, Emily enjoys making music, long walks with her sweetie, and chillin’ with cats. 
2022-10-13T11:43:55-05:00Tags: , , , , , |

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