Is The Athenaeum Haunted?

The Athenaeum

A centerpiece of German culture, The Athenaeum is said to house dozens of poltergeists and ghosts

Paranormal Reports at
The Athenaeum

  • A ghost called Jolly Verner is said to haunt the Rathskeller Restaurant
  • Sounds of children playing and laughing are heard throughout the building without explanation
  • A lady in blue is seen on a stairwell near the Rathskeller Restaurant
  • Two apparitions, possibly a couple, are often seen walking through the theater after hours
  • Disembodied voices and phantom footsteps are commonly heard
  • The spirit of Dr. Helene Knabe, a murdered German immigrant, reportedly resides in the building
  • The figure of a woman in white is seen around the YMCA
  • Exercise equipment has been seen activating by itself
  • EVPs have reportedly been recorded in the 'Grandma's Attic' storage space
  • The apparition of an Athenaeum founder has been seen

Germanic History of The Athenaeum

Just down the street from Lockerbie Square, the oldest intact residential neighborhood in Indianapolis, sits a magnificent building that looks delightfully historic even by the high standards of the surrounding neighborhoods. The Athenaeum’s castle-like brick may look more at home in Vienna than the Midwest United States.

A monument to German heritage and an ongoing cultural center in the city since the 1890s, The Athenaeum is truly a living piece of Germanic history in Indiana.

But, to some who have visited, it is a place where the community’s past still lives on, and where spirits of the past reside.

Timeline of The Athenaeum's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see The Athenaeum through the years

A spectral couple are said to dance on the stage of turner hall ballroom


The Athenaeum’s story begins in Germany, years before it was built. In 1848, a troubled revolution in what is now Germany caused a wave of immigration to the US. Many of these immigrants, dubbed Forty-Eighters, landed in the Midwest.

A large number ended up in central Indiana. And with this new German blood in the region came German culture. The immigrants soon formed familiar social clubs, like Mannerchor (men’s choirs and singers) and Turnverein (gymnastics).


Over the years, the German immigrants around Indianapolis grew their social clubs. It wasn’t long before they needed a clubhouse. In 1892, the German social clubs united to form the Social Gymnastics Association to fundraise for a clubhouse.

They soon raised enough to buy two lots and start building. The group hired architects Arthur Bohn and Bernard Vonnegut Sr. (grandfather of novelist Kurt Vonnegut) to design it. Construction went in phases, with the East Wing of the building completed in 1894. It took until 1898 to finish the West Wing.


By the West Wing’s completion in 1898, the new clubhouse was a grand affair, named Das Deutsche Haus (The German House). It housed gymnastics, choirs, theater groups, a community orchestra, the German-American Veterans Society, the German-American School Society, the German Ladies’ Aid Society, and the Turner Building and Savings Association.

Over the next two decades, Das Deutsche Haus proved to be a highly popular cultural center for the German population of Indianapolis.

The Wilke Room, once a frequent haunt of the murdered Dr. Knabe is rumored to still be frequented by her ghost


In the early 1900s, changes would need to come to Das Deutsche Haus. During World War I in 1917, the US declared war on Germany. The public became suspicious of German culture, and some were even openly hostile. So, as an expression of patriotism and support for the US in the war, Das Deutsche Haus changed its name to The Athenaeum.

The name change proved successful in blunting the impact of anti-German sentiments of the time. And it continued to be effective when World War II broke out and anti-German beliefs spread through the US once more.


The Athenaeum has remained a cultural center of Indianapolis. It has continued to host clubs, orchestra recitals, church gatherings, and theater events. In 1991, the Athenaeum Foundation was formed to take over the ownership of the building. Since then, numerous important restorations have been done. Visitors today can also find a beer garden, the YMCA, the Rathskeller restaurant, a cafe…and maybe even ghosts.

It is said that The Athenaeum is a place where some German immigrants of long gone eras stay forever as phantoms.

Is The Athenaeum Haunted?

At The Athenaeum, ghosts are known to exist throughout the entire building. On the third floor, a spirit is said to repeatedly turn lights on and off at random times and playfully open and close doors in a similar manner.

On the ground floor in the Rathskeller Restaurant, many patrons and employees have reported the presence of an entity referred to as ‘Jolly Verner’ due to his jovial attitude.

The story goes that Verner was once a regular at the eatery, but had a bit too much to drink one night and took a lethal fall in the Rathskeller.

Now, it is said his spirit remains in his favorite restaurant, mingling with modern visitors and spreading his happy attitude around.

Wraiths in the Rathskeller

Other spirits around the Rathskeller include ghosts of little children. While no one is quite certain where the spectral kids came from, they seem to enjoy the old restaurant. The child spirits can be heard laughing and playing, and they are sometimes said to move things around the Rathskeller.

The Rathskeller

On a stairwell nearby the restaurant, visitors have reportedly seen the specter of a woman in blue lingering around. It is said that this is the children’s mother, forever in search of them as they play in the restaurant.

The Athenaeum in indianapolis features a haunted YMCA gym

The Athenaeum’s Haunted YMCA

The lady in blue isn’t The Athenaeum’s only womanly apparition. In the current YMCA space, the figure of a woman in white is often spotted floating through and disappearing in an instant.

Also in the YMCA, one visitor reported an unused exercise bike suddenly turning on, and showing a menu in German.

Hauntings are prevalent in the Turner Hall Ballroom, one story is that of a ghostly couple dancing on the stage

Dancing Ghosts in the Theater

A spectral couple is also seen meandering together around the theater space after hours. Employees have approached them to shoo them out after closing time, only to watch them fade away when anyone gets close.

Also around the main theater in the building is a specter that has been known to take direction from workers. At times, Athenaeum staff have requested objects be moved or lights turned on around the theater mezzanine, and the spirit in the area would do so.

Rumor has it that this staircase in the Rathskeller Restaurant in indianapolis is haunted by a mother looking for her children

A Specter of Murder at The Athenaeum

In what was originally the building’s billiard room, now the Wilkie Room, visitors have reported the ghost of Dr. Helene Knabe. Dr. Knabe worked in the neighborhood in the early 1900s, until she was the victim of an unsolved murder at a nearby apartment in 1911.

Now, Dr. Knabe is one of The Athenaeum’s most well-known entities. While she has been noted in a few different spots over the years, her specter is said to enjoy appearing in the Wilkie Room.

Do Phantoms of Founders Still Linger?

In the old lady’s sitting room, or Dameverein, the apparition of an Athenaeum founder has been seen. The figure is reportedly that of founder Peter Lieber.

The most popular tale of an encounter with Mr. Lieber’s ghost is that a security guard entered the room and saw him sitting at a table there. He was later identified because a portrait of him hangs in the building.

Beyond the spirits who are well known, activity in The Athenaeum sometimes comes from spirits people still know very little about. The sound of footsteps from empty corridors is often encountered.

Unknown shadow figures and even strange voices are regular reports all through the building as well. Some disembodied voices in The Athenaeum even reportedly speak in German.

Shadow figures have been spotted behind the scenes on the walks behind the curtain of the athenaeum stage

Ghosts in Grandma’s Attic

Ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiasts from around the country flock to The Athenaeum to learn about Indianapolis history and hope for a chance to see some of that history come to life in the form of disembodied sounds and floating apparitions.

During many such visits, ghost hunters often say ‘Grandma’s Attic’ is a hotspot in the building. Grandma’s Attic is a storage space for costumes and props, and apparently spirits as well. Many visiting investigators claim to capture EVPs in that area.

The Athenaeum & Its Apparitions

The haunted reputation of The Athenaeum has grown to rival its local historical and cultural reputation. In 2019, the building and its ghosts were featured on the popular TV show Ghost Hunters. Public and private ghost tours and paranormal investigations remain common at the historic German community center.

The athenaeum is a popular community center in Indianapolis

So, after a storied history of being home to a popular theater, a large gymnasium, an elegant ballroom, a pivotal cultural center, and a long-lasting restaurant, The Athenaeum can also claim to be home to numerous poltergeists.

Just make sure you brush up on your German before you go looking for those ghosts, otherwise you might just hear them asking, ‘Sprechen sie Deutsch?’