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The Silent Partner at Sweet & Maier

The historic home adds something strange to the neighborhood

Published in 2018 Wisconsin Super Lawyers magazine

Walking toward the back of the historic Elkhorn home that houses Sweet & Maier law offices, John Maier stops at the spot he first heard it. “I was standing right here,” he says. “Nobody else was in the building—early morning—and that stupid ghost … I heard him.” 

He points to the ceiling, indicating the 12 to 15 footsteps he heard travel from one corner of the room to another. It was, he says, the unmistakable sound of someone walking across a hard, wooden floor. Except the floor above was carpeted. And there was no one else (corporeal, anyway) in the building.

Maier is far from the only one to have witnessed curious events at 114 North Church Street. Some, like a repairman working on a side porch in 2007, have reported seeing a man dressed in 19th-century attire. Others have heard footsteps, as Maier did, or felt a strong presence or breathing next to them. 

It’s accepted that a ghost comes with the house, Maier says. “It’s sort of like having living history.”

It was originally built in 1843. A stone’s throw from downtown, the building was home to the Dewing family for some 70 years, says John’s wife, Terri, who has compiled detailed research on the history. By 1913, it became a boarding house, and it would stay that way until about 1970, when Lowell and Mary Ellen Sweet converted it into his law office with two apartments upstairs. 

The Maiers bought the building in 2003, renovating the upper level into offices for more attorneys. Lowell Sweet gave the building the name that adorns the entrance, “The Inns of Court,” as a nod to the homes of English barristers. Sweet, who retired this year, is known by some as the grandfather of condominium law in Wisconsin. He worked with Maier for years on real estate-related projects, including local landmarks Abbey Resort and Geneva National, before they teamed up to practice law together. 

But none of those projects have a history quite like the office itself. It isn’t haunted—“not exactly,” Maier says—because the ghost isn’t known to cause problems. Its presence is unnerving the first time, but those who work there essentially get used to it. 

“I don’t perceive the ghost to be malevolent,” he says. Even the repairman’s story didn’t move the secretary who was in the same room. “She was nonplussed about it because she had already been used to it.”

In all of Terri’s research, she has found no clues about whom the ghost might be. No evidence of a murder at the home has ever come to light, although there is a rumor about a fight between brothers that led to one falling down the stairs and dying. The brother inspired the ghost’s nickname around the office: Robert.

The home’s history of apparent spirits never seems to bother outsiders or make clients uncomfortable, Maier says. In many ways, it’s simply a peculiar story—one of many the 175-year-old home could tell. “It’s certainly an interesting place to work,” Maier adds.

 


 

The Abe Lincoln Mosaic

Another point of interest at the home is a wood mosaic of President Lincoln, which hangs in the office’s library. It was made around 1880 by Austrian artist Jules de Belastro. It is composed of 16,000 pieces and won prizes at both the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939. 

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