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The story of a Milwaukee bar's haunted radio

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's Halloween - time for a good ghost story. Here is one about a radio that haunts a bar near Milwaukee. WUWM's Lina Tran headed there to check it out.

LINA TRAN, BYLINE: A bar is a good place for a ghost. They're dark, they come alive at night and they're full of stories. This corner bar in West Allis, right outside Milwaukee, is no exception. People have been flocking here for more than a century. It's been owned by different people, called different names - Kralj's Hall, Kokopelli's, Shipwrecked. Today, it's Layman Brewing. Kyle Ida runs the place with his wife, Sarah. He walks to a dark corner in the back of the pub and points to a box in the shadows.

KYLE IDA: Ta-da - haunted radio. It's an old Sears Zenith model.

TRAN: The so-called haunted radio's been there for decades. It's dark wood, about the size of a boombox and it's clearly very old. When Kyle and Sarah bought the place, waitresses from bygone bars told them about the ghost.

IDA: The old employees were like, well, there's cold drafts in the building and the lights flicker. And I'm like, it's a really old building. It's built in the 1890s.

TRAN: And they'd say, well, what about the radio?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

IDA: They're like, the radio is always on. Don't you think you just forgot to turn the radio off? She's, like, no, the radio's got tubes in it. It won't work.

TRAN: Vacuum tubes - those lightbulb-looking things used in electronics before transistors replaced them in the '50s.

IDA: When they would come in in the morning, it would always be playing one song.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

IDA: It was the slow dance of the old owner, Joe Sarich, and his wife.

TRAN: They always ended the night with a dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TRAN: Spooky, right? Or maybe they're just a couple of sweet ghosts. A lot of what Kyle knows about Joe comes from his good friend Laura. She's a history nerd - the kind of person who comes up with ghost tours for friends. A couple years ago, Laura was digging up stories for her next tour, so she checked with Kyle and Sarah.

LAURA: And that was when they told me, you know, oh, hey, there's a legend of a ghost here, Joe.

TRAN: Laura took all the documents they had - property records, business permits, appraisals - and a story began to emerge, the story of the man who haunts the radio.

LAURA: Joe is Joe Sarich, who was born in Yugoslavia in 1895 - married his wife, Barbara, had two sons. And on the 1940 census, he's listed as a tavern proprietor who worked 80 hours a week.

TRAN: The Sarichs were active in the Croatian Fraternal Union, the oldest, biggest Croatian group in North America.

LAURA: West Allis and Milwaukee had one of the most active Croatian communities at that time.

TRAN: The tavern hosted meetings for two local chapters. Eighty years ago, members gathered here to write an important letter.

LAURA: In July of 1941, before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, wrote a letter to Congress urging them to support all nations involved in the fight against Hitler fascism.

TRAN: Laura looks at the weathered walls of Layman Brewing, haunted by Joe and maybe everyone else who loved this place before she did.

LAURA: You know, other people's stories are still going on, and we're the sequel.

TRAN: And this night at the bar, a dad and his little girl are enjoying some fries.

What do you think about ghosts?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Kind of scary.

TRAN: But it seems like this ghost is a romantic ghost.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He just wants people to have a good time.

IDA: Right. Very cool.

TRAN: That's what Kyle thinks, too.

IDA: Whether real or not, Joe's legacy, and showing respect to legacy - you know, I think he is a good ghost because this is what him and his wife did to survive, and this is what my wife and I are doing to survive.

TRAN: Kyle looks at the radio. He says if he's lucky, he'll get to haunt the bar in his afterlife and keep the ghost stories going.

For NPR News, I'm Lina Tran in West Allis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lina Tran