This Halloween, ditch the kitsch and get spine-tinglingly real at the most haunted, ghost-hunter-approved sites in Minnesota
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Palmer House Hotel
Forget being the most haunted site in Minnesota. The Palmer House Hotel, in Sauk Centre, is one of the most haunted sites in America. No joke. Big-city ghost hunters—including, most recently, the crew from the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventurers—flock to this antique 1901 hotel with such frequency that owner Kelley Freese has had to gently insist on some Midwestern spook manners: “Here, as in life,” she warns, “Please and Thank you go a long way.” In other words, don’t be a jerk to the ghosts. Especially Lucy.
The hotel’s most notorious “permanent, unregistered guest,” as Freese calls the ghosts, resides in Room 17. Guests can sit in one of the two high-backed chairs facing the bed, but not both, not at the same time. Why? It forces Lucy to the mattress. And she doesn’t like that, says Freese, “because of what her employer made her do there.”
Legend has it that Lucy was a prostitute working at the Sauk Centre House, a grim frontier brothel that occupied the current site of the Palmer. The Sauk Centre House burned down in 1900, and the Palmer was erected in its place the following year. But the new joint couldn’t shake the legacy of abused and murdered women. Lucy is said to dislike men. She reacts to male guests by slamming the room door so hard it rattles the artwork on the wall and aggressively dropping the temperature. During a recent investigation, a Chicago ghost-hunting outfit allegedly recorded a temperature of negative-one-degrees Fahrenheit during their stay.
Other active areas include the bar and Room 22, home to a rancorous entity named Raymond—rumored to be Lucy’s pimp. “My favorite is when guests complain about how noisy the people above them were,” says Freese. “Then I remind them: you were on the top floor.”
If the Palmer House is the most famous haunted site in Minnesota, then the Soap Factory—a cavernous 1883 warehouse on the Minneapolis riverfront, now an experimental art venue—is the fiercest.
It is “one of the most paranormally thick environments I have ever had the displeasure to investigate,” says Adrian Lee, a London-born historian and founder of the International Paranormal Society. And while Lee is loathe to speak in religious terms, he considers the entities there “bordering on demonic.” His four-year investigation of the space has found men getting attacked, a darkness so profound it blotted out infrared imagery, and—perhaps most disturbingly—the smell of sulfur. It seems this is the one place that truly flaps the unflappable. Lee doesn’t go in without a couple of pastors.
The Soap Factory was, of course, an old soap factory, pumping out suds during the soap boom of the 1880s. And you know what soap’s made from, right? Animal carcasses. Thousands of them. The flow of bloody skins through the factory rivaled the current of the great river next door, and at the turn of the century, the building’s appetite for flesh made it a repository for stray dogs that the city paid to be rounded up and strangled. Not gruesome enough for you? Consider, then, that before the warehouse was built, the site was home to a small business that produced artificial limbs for soldiers wounded in the Civil War. That’s some creepy stuff.
This month, brave souls are invited to venture into the Soap Factory’s bowels for the gallery’s annual Halloween Haunted Basement event. Even braver souls can volunteer to play ghouls for the production. But exorcists take note: “There’s a spirit that kind of takes over our actors,” says Tom Loftus, last year’s director. “It can get pretty wild.”
Chase on the Lake
You’ve got your EVPs, your Ghost Boxes, your EMF meters. But sometimes the best gauge of a hotel’s spookiness is to simply poll the teenagers working the front desk. “Oh, this place is SO haunted,” chirped one young employee. This summer, she said, a coworker was downstairs servicing the resort’s retro, two-lane bowling alley, when the nearby jukebox jolted to life. “And it was, like, playing his favorite song.” OMG. Other employee tales involve phantom children playing in the hallways, unplugged phones ringing, and the grandfather clock in the lobby spitting its key from its lock.
It’s all due to the Leech Lake resort’s “meta-narrative of death, violence, and sorrow,” claims Lee. While researching his new book, Mysterious Minnesota, Lee found that not only was the original Chase Hotel used as a temporary morgue for dead soldiers during the 1898 Battle of Sugar Point, but later, on the cusp of the resort’s first major renovation, the son of hotel founder Lewis “Bert” Woodruff Chase died of pneumonia, on May 27, 1922. The grand reopening, 11 days later, doubled as a wake.
When the Chase celebrated its 2007 renovation the family’s original funeral garb was trotted out for an exhibition in the lobby. And teen employees take note: guests witnessed the frocks sway in an unexplained gush of wind.