At night after the customers clear out bartenders at the Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, North Carolina say they sometimes see figures three stories above, near a skylight in the ceiling. Odd, mysterious and a little creepy, one night bartenders were talking with customers about the visions and a few days later one came back with a possible explanation.
His name was Henry Wenzel and he was a German immigrant who at the time of his death worked as a painter. In the early 1900s he was on scaffolding, painting the ceiling and fell to his death. The building dates back to 1865 and that area he would have been painting now holds the skylight, says Head Brewer Kevin Kozak. One interesting fact from the obituary said Wenzel worked as a driver for the long-gone Palmetto Brewery in South Carolina.
“Which may explain his reasoning behind hanging around the brewery,” said Kozak. “German immigrant, old brewery worker, it kind of makes sense to me.”
From Waterbury, Vermont to Terre Haute, Indiana, America’s craft breweries are filled with tales of things that go bump in the mash, friendly specters living in the cellar or ghouls gumming up bottling lines. With so many breweries housed in historic buildings, it’s not surprising to hear of a growler loving ghost!
Here are a few to help get you in the Halloween spirit!
Questioning Sanity: Triumph Brewing Co.There are times when brewer Brendan Anderson is in the fermentation room at Triumph Brewing Co. in New Hope, PA and he can feel “a black mass staring” at him. It hovers in the doorway that connects the fermentation room to the brew house, a portal that connects an old part of the structure that was once a paper bag manufacturer with newer construction.
“The first time I saw it I swore it was my boss; then a quick glance to see who was there, and I found nothing,” recalled Anderson. “It happened again and again and then I started mentioning this to some of our employees. As soon as I said, ‘You know, sometimes I think I see a…’ and they finish my sentence with, ‘this black thing in the door way?’”
He says it is not a shadow or a glare because people see it from different points in the brewery. He said no one seems to feel threatened, just curious of their own sanity.
“No one wants to admit to such crazy sightings, but I must say it feels good to not be the only one who has witnessed this thing,” Anderson said.
Rattling Above: Portneuf Valley Brewing
Penny Pink calls it the ghost of brewer’s past. Shortly after she purchased the building that would become the Portneuf Valley Brewing in Idaho, it was not uncommon to hear bottles rattling across the old wooden floor. What is strange, is that after investigating the noise, there were no bottles to be found.
Pink, the owner and general manager, says that 50 years ago her current brewery was the bottling plant for East Idaho Brewing Company. When she bought the building in 1999 it was a gutted shell. No running water. No heat. Power was supplied from another building. The bottles rattled, and footsteps could be heard, she said. Creepy indeed coming from an empty structure.
“The good news is that now that we’ve had the building renovated and producing beer again, it appears to have appeased the ghosts. We no longer hear the footsteps or beer bottles upstairs… but, occasionally when things go missing, we just blame the ghosts of brewer’s past,” she said.
Facing the Ghost: Front Street Brewing
After years of dismissing the bartender’s stories about the Front Street ghost, Kozak says he got his own encounter. He was in his office, in the basement of the building “paging through a McMaster Carr catalog looking for a particular part, when out of the corner of my eye through the window I saw someone coming towards my office wearing mostly gray,” Kozak recalls.
It so happened that on that day the general manager was wearing a gray shirt and Kozak called out a greeting. No reply came and looking up Kozak saw no one in his office. Further examination revealed no one was outside, or in the adjacent area.
“I went back in to my office and tried to compute the situation. I immediately started to think of the ghost stories and decided to be a man about it by sitting back down and picking up the catalog again. I then trashed the idea of being a man about it and scurried upstairs to the bar area where customers and staff were plentiful,” he said. “I told my story to a few of the bartenders and they laughed at me and made fun of me for thinking they were crazy for all these years. “
John Holl, a frequent contributor to CraftBeer.com, lives in New Jersey. His first book, Indiana Breweries was published in April 2011. He occasionally blogs on his website, BeerBriefing.com, and can be reached at JohnHoll@gmail.com or via twitter @John_Holl.
Last Updated: October 6, 2011