From bumps in the night to misty apparitions, something mysterious may linger in this historic home
Ghost Stories at the
- An apparition in white is seen on the second floor
- The sound of piano music is heard on the first floor
- The entity of a grouchy man has been reported in the basement
- A dark shadow has been seen looking down from the second floor into the foyer
- The shadow of a man is sometimes seen in attic doorways
- Senses of dread are reported by workers in the attic
- Sounds of footsteps are reported throughout the house
- Unexplainable equipment malfunctions have been encountered in the servants’ quarters
- Shadows have been seeing darting quickly from room-to-room
Storied Past of the
At the end of a residential block in downtown Janesville, Wisconsin, the Rock County Historical Society manages a sprawling property of half a dozen buildings, all dedicated to telling the stories that weave the tapestry of local history. At the center of this property stands a home that proudly displays an opulence not seen anywhere else in the city.
As Janesville’s finest Italianate mansion, the Lincoln-Tallman House’s wide windows and well-manicured exterior offer enticing glimpses of what awaits within, while its looming size and architectural intricacy foster a sense of intrigue that can only be satisfied by a tour of the home’s inner beauty.
The Lincoln-Tallman House wears its history like a silken garment, enchanting visitors with its attention to detail and innumerable artifacts from the Tallman family’s past. It is truly a museum where exhibits come alive, sometimes in very unexpected ways.
Over the years, visitors and workers alike have had some of these unexpected encounters, telling tales of apparitions of ladies in white dresses and mysterious footsteps on uninhabited floors. All of this has built up a local legend that the Lincoln-Tallman House might just be haunted by specters of its past, specters that still have stories to weave into Janesville’s historic fabric.
Timeline of Lincoln-Tallman House's History
Swipe or use timeline points to see Lincoln-Tallman House through the years
Long before the Lincoln-Tallman House graced Wisconsin with its presence, William Tallman was a successful lawyer in Rome, N.Y. Born in 1808, Tallman spent his early years building a name for himself in New York, but by the late 1840s, new opportunities enticed him.
The promise of great prosperity and growth in the West (modern day’s Midwest) inspired Tallman to invest in land, and a lot of it. Tallman purchased 52,000 acres of prime property in southern Wisconsin and moved his family to the area in 1850.
After moving to Janesville with his family, Tallman set up a law office and began selling off parcels of his land, and soon was seeing hefty profit. In 1855, he used his success to build a new home for his family, one fitting their new lot in life. That year, on a plot of land overlooking the Rock River, work on the Tallman House began.
It wouldn’t finish until 1857, but by then the stately new home offered such modern conveniences as central heat, running water, intercoms, and gas lighting.
In 1859, the Tallman House would earn its place in history when Abraham Lincoln came to town that October. Speaking across the nation on abolition, William Tallman, an outspoken abolitionist, invited Lincoln to Janesville.
After a speech in Janesville, Lincoln lodged with the Tallmans for the night. But he awoke the next day to find his shoes missing. In the mad dash to find Lincoln’s shoes, his train came and went, and Honest Abe spent another night with the family, always well taken care of by the home’s amenities and many servants.
Tragedy met the Tallman family in 1866 when daughter Cornelia Augusta ‘Gussie’ Tallman died after a sudden illness, having just married the year before. Gussie was well-known as a pianist, playing the family piano almost daily, and the silence her death brought to the home surely cast a long pall over the surviving Tallmans.
William tried to sell the home in 1870, but hardly anyone in the region could even afford such a home. So he and his wife, Emeline, lived quietly in Janesville until their deaths in 1878.
After the death of William and Emeline, management of the family mansion fell to the Tallman sons, Edgar and William Jr. William Jr. and his wife had bought their own home shortly after the family arrived in Janesville, leaving Edgar and his wife Francis ‘Nellie’ the sole permanent residents of the home.
Edgar worked the rest of his life in the family perfume and toiletry business, while Nelly managed the sprawling property. After Edgar’s death in 1890, Nellie kept busy just trying to maintain the now aging mansion.
Nellie did what she could to keep the old mansion maintained, but often lamented that all the best servants now worked in local industry, and that those still working servant roles could find smaller, easier homes to manage than the Tallman estate.
Still, Nelly stayed in the old home for as long as she could, not moving out until 1915 at the age of 76. By then, Tallman heirs had built newer, more manageable homes next door with space enough for Nellie. After she moved out, the Tallman House sat empty and abandoned for 35 years.
By 1949, the Tallman House’s dark emptiness had become just another feature of the property, but both locals and the Tallmans sought to change that. In an agreement with the city, Tallman heir George K. Tallman and his wife donated the home to be used as a historical museum, managed by the Rock County Historical Society.
After a year of refurbishments, the home opened to the public as the Lincoln-Tallman House Museum in 1950. It has been operated as a museum ever since.
Ghost of Gussie at the Lincoln-Tallman House
One spirit often reported in the Lincoln-Tallman House is Cornelia ‘Gussie’ Tallman herself. The phantom of Gussie is perhaps the most well-known haunting in the home, as many now share tales of their encounters with her.
Some claim to hear her on the first floor, still tickling the keys of the Tallman family piano. Others have reported seeing her misty apparition on the second floor.
Gussie, in a flowing white dress, is frequently spotted walking up and down the main second floor hall.
In one encounter, someone working in Gussie’s bedroom heard the sounds of footsteps, and turned to see her ghost standing in the doorway, looking at them for a brief, inquisitive moment before disappearing.
Mysterious Apparitions in the Lincoln-Tallman House
Gussie’s ghost isn’t the only one you might see on the second floor of the Lincoln-Tallman House. Along with Gussie’s white dress, some people have reportedly seen a woman in a dark dress looking down on them from a small opening in the middle of the second floor corridor.
Originally built for the Tallman family to see who was visiting them without going downstairs, witnesses have suggested this darkly-dressed woman is doing something similar when peering down at people on the first floor. No one is certain who this shadowy woman is, though some have suggested it is Nellie Tallman, the home’s final caretaker.
Sounds of footsteps are another common claim of paranormal activity in the Lincoln-Tallman House. Footstep reports often correspond with areas known for their apparitions, like Gussie’s room and the main second floor corridor, but they have also been reported around the servants’ quarters in the back of the house.
In particular, unexplained sounds of footsteps can be heard on the servants’ staircase leading up to their quarters, where a servant’s young child supposedly took a lethal fall, or so legend has it.
Servant Spirits at the Lincoln-Tallman House
Also in the servants’ quarters, past investigators have reported unexplained equipment malfunctions. In one case, an investigator in the area found their flashlight to be suddenly and mysteriously inoperable, only for it to come back to life and click on in their pocket.
As an experiment with this activity, the investigator left the flashlight on a nearby staircase and offered it to the spirits of the servants’ quarters if they could physically click on the flashlight again.
Shortly after, the flashlight clicked on once more, and the spirits of the servants’ quarters won themselves a flashlight.
The Lincoln-Tallman House’s Basement Phantom
In the Lincoln-Tallman House’s basement, in a room known as the canning room, the entity of a man has been encountered by previous investigators. Based on reported communications with this man, he is said to be very standoffish and grumpy, though some think he has good reason for it.
Off of one end of the canning room is a small, windowless room that now houses mechanical and electrical components. But, on early museum layouts and documents, the room had a different name: ‘Slave Room.’
That name was born out of a currently unsubstantiated belief that the Tallmans used their home as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Though that claim has never been definitively proven and remains the Lincoln-Tallman House’s longest-lasting rumor, those who have made contact with the grouchy man in the canning room suggest he’s only being protective of whatever, or whoever, is in that room.
Whether it’s the mysteries of history or the alluring tales of hauntings within, the Lincoln-Tallman House holds a palpable and unshakable sense of intrigue in the surrounding community. And that seems only fitting for a property many now flock to in order to have their historical questions answered, whether by the home itself, the adjacent museum, or the historical society’s extensive archives.
And though the Rock County Historical Society doesn’t offer formal ghost tours or investigations today, they offer immersive historical tours of the Lincoln-Tallman House that offer pristine glimpses into the long-lost worlds of the past. Those popular tours, alongside yearly arts festivals, car shows, and other large-scale events, has made the Lincoln-Tallman House a pillar of the Janesville community, much in the same way William Tallman was all those years ago.
So whether you’re seeking information on history easily explained, or an experience of something truly unexplained, you may find exactly what you’re looking for with a trip to the Lincoln-Tallman House.