Menomonie, Wisconsin History/FireAlex861

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Luxorious inside of Mabel Tainter Theater

The Mabel Tainter Theater is a Romanesque style building set in downtown Menomonie Wisconsin. The history of the building is important in the history of Menomonie. The Mabel Tainter Theater is a living memorial built for Mabel Tainter by her parents, Andrew and Bertha Tainter. After young Mabel died at the age of 19, in 1886, her parents began construction of the theater in remembrance of their beloved daughters love of music and theater. The theater was designed by the famous architect, Harvey Ellis, and began construction in 1886. It was completed 16 months later in 1889. The building has been used as theater, library, and a Unitarian church throughout the years. In 1890, the theater was renamed Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. Although this building is known for the arts of the community, there have been many suspicious accounts of “hauntings” at this memorial. These accounts have been taken from performers on and off the stage, guests, and even workers and janitors of the building. This article will focus on the history of the Tainter family, Mabel Tainter's Death, the Mabel Tainter building, reported hauntings, and the legacy.

Tainter Family History[edit]

The patriarchal figure, Andrew Tainter was born in Salina NY on July 6, 1823. His father was a business man working for various lumber companies in the Midwestern area. In 1832, Andrew Tainter moved to Prairie Du Chen Wisconsin. His father was a business man of sorts, and this helped Andrew Tainter to excel in the business world, in the later years of his life. In 1845 he moved to Chippewa falls where he worked at a saw mill. He worked there for a year being paid a monthly salary of twenty dollars. In 1846 he worked both the mill in Chippewa falls as well as a mill on Irvin Creek near the Menomonie river. In 1848 he sold his share of the business and by 1850, he had saved up enough money to buy himself a partnership with John H Knapp and Wilson, who owned a lumber firm. Andrew’s role in the business was to transport lumber up and down the Mississippi river using keel boats. This earned Andrew the title of Captain.[1]  Andrew Tainter was married twice in his lifetime. His first marriage was to a native woman, named Mary Poskins from the Ojibwa tribe. Together they were married nine years and had five children. She left him and his children and returned back to her a people, who were forced on to an Indian reservation, due to the lumber mills which Tainter now owned completely. Andrew Tainter hired a nanny by the name of Bertha Lesure, to take care of his children that Mary left him with. Andrew was soon married to Bertha on May 9, 1861 and together they had five children: Louis, Ruth, Mabel, and Fanney.[2]

Mabel Tainter's Death[edit]

Mabel Tainter was one of five children to Andrew Tainter and Burtha Tainter. Mabel had loved music and theater and was a very outgoing person. She died however from what was reported as cancer of the side, or otherwise known as a ruptured appendix. According to local accounts though the cause of Mabel’s death is more than just a ruptured appendix. Local speculation says that about the time when her father Andrew was at the head of his company, Mabel had fallen in love with one of the loggers. Mabel had gotten pregnant and because of the shame due to the difference of social status between the two lovers, the logger left. Mabel’s parents heard that she was pregnant and because they too did not want to live with the shame, they had Mabel go through an abortion procedure. Local speculation has it that she died in the abortion procedure.[3]  According to a biography of Andrew Tainter written by Tim Hirsch, he states that both stories of the failed abortion and the ruptured appendix is equally plausible. Some of the clues that point to the failed abortion story, is that the death certificate was sloppily registered. This could just be a coincidence, but it would be a good reason for a rumor of the failed abortion be started. Hirsch also points out that due to the difference of the Tainter family and the working class, there was much resentment and guilt. This is due to the fact that the Tainter family was part of the rich and “proper” social status, and that the rumor Mabel having a failed abortion would be the perfect rumor clarifying the resentment made between the working class and the wealthy family. The rumor would also explain any possible guilt the family would have had if the rumor was true.[4] Mabel died in 1886, and because of her death, her parents decided to honor her by building a theater in her name.

Mabel Tainter Memorial[edit]

This table was custom built with a radiator in the center of it. Its design was very advanced in its time period. It was designed to enhance the comfort of those visiting the Mabel Tainter theater. It is still in working condition almost 125 years later.
Exterior of the Mabel Tainter Memorial.

The Mabel Tainter Theater was built in 1889. The designer of the building was Harvey Ellis. The exterior of the building was built from sandstone quarried a little southeast from present day Downsville. The building was highly furnished and highly decorated, not only on the outside but on the inside as well. Burtha Tainter had inspired her husband to build it fancy(docent). Surprisingly the building was built very quickly. Andrew Tainter had hired about 200 immigrants who he had guaranteed a well paid job, and with that, the theater only took sixteen months to build. In 1890 the theater was dedicated as a multipurpose facility. The theater served as a library, a theater, as well as a church. Andrew Tainter highly believed in the importance of everyone to be educated. Up until the theater was built, people had to pay to read books, and because of this reading was a luxury that only the wealthy were able to take part in. The theater however, was the one of the first library of its kind to be completely free to the public. Andrew Tainter furnished the library with about 3,000 books from his own home. Andrew Tainter also wanted his guest who would use the library to be comfortable. Radiators were installed in the building to help keep a warm and welcoming environment to its guest as well as that of four fire places. One of the radiators was built into a custom built table. This engineering feat, allowed guest to be warm and comfortable as they read.

Panoramic view of the luxurious interior of the Mabel Tainter Theater

The building was also furnished with portraits of the members of the Tainter family. The portrait of Mabel was done and dedicated to her after her death. The painting of her depicts her head on her sister Fanney's body. We know this because the portrait depicts her wearing a wedding ring and Mabel was never married, however Fanney was. The artist who painted the family portraits was Henry Coggswell, who is as credited to painting the portraits of American presidents. (Docent) Andrew Tainter also was able to furnish the theater with a style of chairs that were only known to theaters in the East coast.

Henry Maxis last words of his last sermon reads “He who has caused me fear to the smallest creature has no cause to fear when he dies.” 

As a multi purpose facility, the Mabel Tainter memorial served many purposes other than being a theater. One of the most notable services that took place within the theater was Unitarian church services. Burtha Tainter followed the religion of Unitarianism and she had paid a preacher named Henry dote Maxis to preach at the theater. (Docent) Maxis conducted services as well as small study sessions at the the theater. He died at the age of forty and on a chalk board inside his office in the theater still holds his writing of the last study session, and this is considered his last words.


The Mabel Tainter is speculated by many to be haunted. A common belief is that Mabel herself haunts the theater.  A lady in white is often seen by workers late at night and this could be Mabel. Appartitions also like to play with the sound equipment. This apparition that is responsible for that has been speculated to be the ghost of Henry Maxis himself. We are unsure of what or who exactly haunts the theater, because nobody in its history had died within the theater, however many believe that family ties with the connections point to the family members as responsible for the paranormal activity [5]


Throughout the years the Mabel Tainter Memorial has served a great deal within Menomonie and Dunn County. For the past one hundred and twenty-five years, the Mabel Tainter Theater Memorial has served as a library, a theater, a place of worship, and a place where people could gather. Without the Mabel Tainter theater, a big chunk of the history of Menomonie would be missing. And sadly the theater would not have been built if Mabel had not died. Whether the death was caused by an abortion or a ruptured appendix, the Tainter family had extreme guilt towards the death of there daughter at such a young age. This guilt helped erect such a grand monument, that has served so many in the last one hundred and twenty-five years.

External Links[edit] 


  1. Wright, S. (n.d.). Tainter, Andrew Capt. (b. 1823), Chippewa County, Wisconsin Biographical Records. Retrieved November 12, 2015, from
  2. Hirsch, T. (2000, April 27). Our Story, Vol II - Tainter - a legendary figure. Retrieved November 12, 2015, Retrieved from: from
  3. Dunn County Haunts and Folklore: The Mabel Tainter Theater. (2012, October 30). Retrieved November 12, 2015, Retrieved from:
  4. Hirsch, T. (1975). Andrew Tainter, 1823-1899: A biography of a Menomonie, Wisconsin lumber             baron (Vol. I and II). Place of publication not identified: [publisher not identified].
  5. Mabel Tainter Theater – (2007). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from