Walking With Ghosts

By Tobias Wayland

Emily and I sit nervously at the bar of the reportedly haunted downtown Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company, and nervously sip our drinks as we watch for our guest. We have no idea for whom we're looking, but I did at least think to mention that our photos are on our website, so I'm hoping that the representative from Madison Ghost Walks will recognize us. I shouldn't have worried.

Lisa Van Buskirk understands the importance of engaging with her audience. She glides into the pub, resplendent in her theatrically goth tour guide accoutrement. A top hat formed from a dragon's head perches atop her raven hair, and her fingers are adorned with a multitude of intimidating rings. Emily and I quickly introduce ourselves, certain that this must be the guest for whom we've been waiting, and we exchange our pleasantries before choosing to take a table in the Great Dane's beer garden. It's a lovely summer night, and we make small talk at our wrought iron table underneath a canopy of hungry bats diving through the gloaming in search of their evening dinner. It’s appropriately spooky, considering the subject at hand.

We engage in light conversation with Lisa while waiting for our other guest, Mike Huberty, to arrive. Mike is the owner of Madison Ghost Walks and hosts See You On the Other Side, a paranormal podcast. I slowly sip my beer as Lisa tells us that she is a firefighter by trade, but she harbors a deep interest in the paranormal. It’s apparent by talking to her how much she enjoys her work with the tour, and the stories she collects as its guide. It is decided that we should wait for Mike before delving too deeply into the unknown, so our conversation flits between superficial topics as we discuss our day jobs and favorite restaurants.

Mike doesn’t keep us waiting long, so the limits of my small talk skills aren’t tested as thoroughly as I might have feared. He greets us enthusiastically and we launch into our discussion at full speed. Mike possesses the kind of manic energy one would expect from a man who keeps himself as busy as he does, and it’s clear that he’s passionate about the paranormal. I’m curious, as always, what brings otherwise seemingly normal people to pursue the paranormal, so that’s where I start. For Mike, the paranormal is a lifelong interest, and one that he even manages to incorporate into the vacations he takes with his very understanding wife.

“Every time we go somewhere we go on a ghost hunt,” he says. “When we go somewhere it’s like we got to go on the ghost tour. I love it. If it’s done well and there’s good history then it’s really fun.”

It’s no surprise, then, that when Mike saw the dearth of ghost tours in Wisconsin he jumped at the opportunity to help fill the void.

“We didn’t have that many [ghost tours] in Wisconsin…There’s just not a regular kind of thing in most places, so I thought that once my sister got hers going in Milwaukee that Madison would be the next place.”

And he was right. With many tours sold out and the Halloween season just around the corner, the popularity of Madison Ghost Walks seems self-evident. But what about Mike’s personal experiences with the paranormal? Certainly a man inspired to bring people into the realm of ghosts and spirits must have some experience himself with the supernatural.

“To me, though, I try to have paranormal experiences…[out of] most of the experiences I’ve had, maybe one or two [happened at] places where I went out. The rest just happened.”

I ask Mike to expound and he tells me about one particular incident that “just happened” to him involving a ghostly hand while he was performing with his band Sunspot at the Veroqua High School’s Girls Rock Camp.

“I’m on stage and here are the people in the band, and I’m playing a solo and I’m singing a lyric that says ‘this is the day that I die—the best day of my life,’ and I feel my guitar player’s hand on my shoulder like this,” and he places his hand on his shoulder in the way you would if you were to approach someone from behind. “I’m like, this is the part where I sing. What, is he hamming it up here? What’s he doing? It’s like he was leaning on me. I look across the room and he was 15 feet away. Later, I’m talking to the people and they’re like, you like ghost stories? This high school is completely haunted. People see a lot of weird things on the stage…I love that verification.”

Our evening turns into more of a friendly hang out after that. We drink our beers and discuss everything from extradimensional theory to H.P. Lovecraft to Madison’s most famous haunted places (many of which one can see on their tour), and before I know it I’m a bit buzzed and Emily and I should really be getting home. So we say our goodbyes and promise to follow up with one another regarding our various paranormal projects. As we walk home from the bar, Emily and I go over what we just experienced, and I decide that I’m most impressed by the integrity of the people behind Madison Ghost Walks. If you want to go walking with ghosts and be led by people who share your passion for the paranormal, then let Madison Ghost Walks lead the way.