Haunted Houses (For Real)

Rick and Summer needed more room. They were expecting their second child and had outgrown their humble starter home. They fell in love with the 19th-century Stillwater house immediately. It was roomy, stately, and overflowing with character. But Rick had grown up in a haunted house in North Dakota, essentially sharing a bedroom with a feisty but ultimately harmless ghost. The experience left him intensely wary of haunted spaces, so Rick and Summer took the precaution of putting language in the purchase agreement that required the seller to disclose any paranormal activity (something not automatically required by Minnesota law).

Forepaugh's restaurant in St. Paul
Forepaugh’s Restaurant in St. Paul, a 19th-century mansion renowned for ghostly goings-on. (Corey Gaffer)

Nothing was disclosed, and they bought the house. A few nights later, Rick went over to the new home with the family’s pug to do some painting. While Rick was on a ladder in the living room, the dog became more and more agitated, following something invisible and barking frantically at the air. The couple brushed it off, but remained uneasy.

Small, strange incidents have continued to accumulate over the three years they’ve lived in the house (though none disturbing enough to prompt another relocation or a ghostbuster intervention). One night, as they put their oldest son to bed, he wouldn’t let Summer turn on his night light, whispering, “The people told me to tell you they don’t like it when you do that.” There’s the door that sometimes locks itself, and the visiting friend with a history of spiritual sensitivity who stopped cold on his way into the house, insisting that he had just seen a gentleman in old-fashioned clothes and a top hat leading a horse into the garage, “like a window through time.”

Some local homes have well-established histories of ghostly sightings and unexplainable incidents. It’s a rare visit to Forepaugh’s Restaurant in St. Paul, for example, that doesn’t include a spine-tingling tale along with drinks and dinner. The nineteenth-century Victorian mansion, once the home of Joseph Forepaugh and his family, is said to be haunted by his former paramour and housemaid Molly. In 1892, after Joseph’s wife caught them in flagrante delicto, pregnant Molly hung herself from a chandelier in an upstairs room. Servers report lights turning on and off, cold spots, and sightings of Molly herself.

Anoka Halloween Parade 1937
The 1937 Halloween parade in the Halloween Capital of the World: Anoka. The northwest metro has been a paranormal hot spot this year. (Minnesota Historical Society)

For believers and skeptics alike, “real-life” ghost stories are fascinatingly creepy—the more lurid details, the better. But living with a mysterious presence in the house—even when spectral roommates appear relatively benign? “Some people are comfortable with a spirit staying as long as it’s not harmful or bothersome,” says Angela Rosenberg, an investigator with the Twin Cities Paranormal Society (TCPS).

The TCPS, whose motto is “paranormal investigations with a critical eye and an open mind,” has conducted more than 120 investigations at Minnesota businesses, residences, and hotels since its founding in 2006. “People contact us if they have something going on they can’t explain,” says Rosenberg. A team of four to five investigators then conducts an interview and a private investigation using shadow detectors, electromagnetic field detectors, and infrared cameras.

Had it existed back then, the Paranormal Society might have come in handy for Mark, a local designer, photographer, and digital strategist, who moved into a Minnetonka home with three other guys in 2003. The friends rented the house from an owner who left numerous religious icons in every room, the remnants of burnt sage on all the windowsills, and a stern warning never to enter a small room in the basement, saying a malevolent spirit was trapped there.

Paranormal Society K2 Meter
K2 meters measure electromagnetic frequencies, the theory being that disturbances in high frequencies could be the result of a spirit manifesting.  (Twin Cities Paranormal Society)

After a full day of moving into the house and shuttling the religious icons out to the garage, the guys were relaxing in the living room when a large beach ball they’d stashed in the corner began to roll back and forth, a couple of feet in each direction. “It was winter, all the windows were closed, and there were no fans on,” says Mark. “We were standing around the ball, trying to work out what’s making this thing roll, and the thing stopped, changed direction, and started rolling back and forth, 90 degrees off from what it had been doing.”
A few minutes later, after they’d kicked the ball back into its corner, it spontaneously started rolling across the room again, this time aiming for the opposite corner. “Halfway through the living room was a shop vac,” says Mark, “and the damn thing bounced over the shop vac hose. The hose was around three inches thick; it should have stopped or redirected the beach ball, but it was like someone was guiding it.”

A self-propelled beach ball would be on the tamer end of things the Paranormal Society investigators have encountered. “We’ve seen full-on apparitions,” says Rosenberg, citing one memorable case in central Minnesota in February of 2014, in a former general store-turned-residence. “During the investigation I saw a female figure in the basement, clear as day,” says Rosenberg. “I described in the report what the woman looked like, what she was wearing, and it turned out to be the same apparition the owner had been seeing.” The team also caught footsteps from the floor above them on the audio recorder when no one else was home.

A spiritual advisor performed a “clearing” of the home, a ritual that uses herbs, resins, and prayer for the purpose of asking (or demanding, in tougher cases) that spirits vacate the property. “Our spiritual advisor broke down crying a few times during that clearing,” says Rosenberg. “It was very emotionally intense. There was such anger from the spirit.”

Lately, Rosenberg says there’s been a big spike in the number of calls coming from the northwest suburbs, especially Anoka (which also happens to be the self-proclaimed Halloween Capital of the World). “Anoka is definitely one of our hot spots,” she says. “Every one of our cases so far this year has been in that corner of the metro—Little Canada, Fridley, Coon Rapids, Anoka… Sometimes things tend to gravitate to a certain area. We don’t know why.”

DIY Space Clearing

smudge sticks for space cleaning
Smudge sticks used for performing space cleanings (Fotolia)

Tips for evicting uninvited ghosts 

How does one go about “clearing a space” exactly? “The process of performing a space clearing is all about intent,” says Braden Jeunesse, a spiritual advisor with Twin Cities Paranormal Society.

If you have a need and want to try it yourself, Jeunesse recommends smudging with white sage sticks, traditionally used by Native Americans to offer protection, blessings, and clearings (available at the Wedge Co-op or online). The leaves of the smudge stick are burned and the smoke directed to the space that needs clearing.

“Open windows of the property and begin in the basement,” instructs Jeunesse. “Walk around the entire perimeter of the room and direct the smoke to all four corners, while opening closets or other storage doors and directing smoke inside. Continue to smudge each room, working from the basement to the top level of the property.”

Proceed with the smudging, express gratitude, have a positive intention, pray to your higher power, and exude confidence that this is your space, he says. It’s important to display confidence and exhibit no fear during this process. You may need to smudge periodically, similar to sweeping a dirty floor. The sage can be mixed with other herbs if desired.

You can also imagine a white light permeating the property and forming a protective dome. “Requesting protection from passed relatives, angels, and/or spirit guides is also helpful,” he adds. –Mo Perry

Sample the Supernatural

Soap Factory Haunted Basement Clown
Clown from Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement (Seth Dahlseid)

There are plenty of local haunts with a history of supernatural happenings. A few options:

Real Ghost Tours  Hosted in the oldest part of Minneapolis, this tour makes the most of the historic buildings along the Mississippi River and the stories of some of the city’s best-known ghosts. You’ll join a  “real ghost hunter” on the tour, “where technology, theater, and a bit of the supernatural bring lingering souls to life,” according to the website. 90-minute tours begin at 125 Main St. SE, Minneapolis. $25 per person. realghosttours.com

Ghost & Graves Tour  During the month of October, the same people who bring you the St. Paul Gangster tours at the Wabasha Street Caves host a two-hour drive around St. Paul, and tell tales of murders, ghosts, and other scary stuff, $25 per person. Once a month and during October, there’s also the Lost Souls Tour, a one-hour walking tour of the caves, where many have reported ghostly sightings. $10 per person. wabashastreetcaves.com/tours.html

Duluth Experience Dark History Walking Tour  Tour guides cover the sordid side of Canal Park and downtown Duluth as well as local legends of lake monsters, ghost ships, strange disappearances, and ghostly apparitions in the Historic Arts and Theater District.  “This isn’t a hokey, haunted-house tour with folks dressed up like goblins to scare you,” says Dave Grandmaison, Duluth Experience CEO. “Duluth’s dark history is creepy enough on its own.” Friday and Saturday evenings through September; bus tours through October. $25 per person. theduluthexperience.com/duluth-history-tours

Soap Factory  Now for something really scary: the annual Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement. For the tenth year, a cast of actors, artists, and performers will do their best to scare the bejesus out of visitors. After signing a waiver and being armed with the password should it all become too much (“uncle”), visitors venture down a steep staircase to the creepy building’s dirt-floor basement. There, they make their way through a maze complete with theatrical effects—fog, deceptive lighting, and all manner of fake blood, viscera, etc.—as well as a new horror-inducing story line each year. Adults only. September 30 – October 31, tickets $25 weekdays; $27 weekends, soapfactory.org 

The Palmer House Hotel  While there are several Minnesota hotels with reputations for supernatural sightings, none are as renowned as the Palmer House in Sauk Centre. The hotel, built in 1901, replaced a brothel that burned to the ground in 1900. Which apparently did nothing to assuage the spirits who remain. One resides in Room 17, another in Room 22. Doors slam, the temperature drops, and guests report furniture being moved around upstairs—when their rooms are on the top floor. And you thought Sauk Centre was all about Sinclair Lewis. thepalmerhousehotel.com —Chris Lee

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