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Central Minnesota’s Most Convincing Haunted Places

Abby Faulkner, slightly spooked ghost hunter

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Tis the season for campfires, flannel shirts, warm socks… and a good ghost story.  Growing up, I was the kid that pulled the blanket over my head right before the scary part in the movie.

Today, I’m that jerk that goes into the haunted house and shrieks like a moron when some guy in a clown suit jumps out of the corner. Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE a good scary movie – but I still need to hold someone’s hand now and then. That’s just the way it is.

On the flip side, I’m not too terribly frightened by “real-life” ghost stories. As of matter of fact, I haven’t really believed most of them. I’ve always assumed there are perfectly reasonable explanations to debunk these stories.  In the words of the X-Files, it’s not that I don’t “WANT to believe” – I’ve just never really experienced the unexplainable for myself.

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been searching all over central Minnesota for the best real-life haunted tales. From schools to skating rinks, hotels to restaurants, there are a lot of fascinating ghost stories kicking around in central Minnesota lore. In reading personal accounts, newspaper features and other writings, one of the things that struck me was how casual and comfortable the people telling the stories seem to be with the haunted experiences they’ve had. And frankly, a few of these places have a staggering amount of people – most of whom don’t know one another – recounting very similar experiences.

I decided to suspend my disbelief. These stories that I dug up really piqued my interest, so I knew I had to grab the camera and see if I could have an “unexplainable experience” of my own.

And you want to know something? I think I did.

In the spirit of the season, and with an open mind, may I present my list of the top 5 haunted legends in central Minnesota.


1

THE PALMER HOUSE HOTEL

Sauk Centre | Location

 
 

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Many people lack opinions on the supernatural - until faced with a situation they simply can’t explain.
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Such is the case with Kelley Freese.
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Freese has owned The Palmer House Hotel for about a decade, knows every room inside and out and has a treasure trove of fascinating and chill-inducing tales. Freese says she never really gave the concept of hauntings much thought until she took over Palmer House – and in chatting with Freese and her employees, it’s clear reports of the paranormal through the years are just too numerous to count.
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A brief history snapshot for you – Palmer House was built as “Sauk Centre House” in 1863, gutted by fire just 40 years later and resurrected by an enterprising businessman named R.L. Palmer. To use a favorite expression of mine, Palmer decided to “go big or go home” when he developed the hotel, expanding the space to nearly 40 rooms complete with washrooms and electricity – not typical for a hotel of that time. This endeared the hotel to many, and because this was the era before apartment buildings, some people lived here full time. A few raised families. Many had hard lives, and yes, some even died here. Basically, the place has a very eclectic history. Is there any wonder that there would be lore swirling around each room?
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Today, the Palmer House attracts curiosity seekers from all over, including myself. I experienced a few things during my 1.5 hour tour that I just don’t know how to explain away. Check out video highlights from the trek and tell me if I’m crazy. I’m not gonna lie – the Palmer House Hotel is sitting in the number one spot on this list for a very good reason.

http://www.thepalmerhousehotel.com/
 
2

MAINSTREET BREWERY

Alexandria | Location

 
 

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The Mainstreet Brewery was the next stop on my ghost hunt. Sadly, last week the restaurant made the announcement that it’s shuttering its doors. Right before this, I got the chance to visit Mainstreet, where I learned the story of Martha.
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Martha lived near the turn of the century and was, um, “self-employed,” so to speak. As it turned out, one of her “clients” was a very jealous man, and in the heat of passion, pushed Martha down a flight of stairs where she met her end. Since then, Martha’s ghost has been encountered.
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I spent some time chatting with the staff, and one of the things that struck me as odd was how comfortable they all are with their consistent Martha sightings.  However, the more I learned, the more it made sense.
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See, Martha’s a bit of a prankster, fond of doing stuff like unrolling paper towels, flushing toilets over and over, tossing plates around in the kitchen, flickering lights, and even disengaging the credit card machine. According to my reports from nearly half a dozen nonchalant restaurant staff, she likes to “push buttons.” So, yes, Martha’s a little eerie, but pretty funny too.
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Check out my highlights.
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3

SKATIN' PLACE

St. Cloud | Map

 
 

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DISCLAIMER:  The basis for the ghostly legend of the Skatin’ Place in St. Cloud is just that – legend. We can’t know anything for sure, but it’s undeniable that through the years, a great many staff and customers have reported strange and confusing happenings.

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As the story goes, the property now occupied by Skatin’ Place was once a tract of marshy farmland. On this farm was a young boy named Gilbert. Gilbert’s parents always warned him to stay away from the thick swampland. Gilbert didn’t listen, and, according to the tale, Gilbert met his end facedown in the water.
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As I said, there isn’t any verifiable proof of Gilbert’s existence, but it adds a unique and pretty creepy layer to a place that has been fraught with supernatural happenings. Through the years, many have witnessed a vast array of strange happenings. Some include: arcade machines turning on and off on their own, lights turning themselves on in the middle of the night, numerous reports of rooftop footsteps, and most humorously, one employee even reported hearing the “Ghostbusters” theme song piping in from an empty CD player that no one had turned on.
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As far as actual sightings are concerned, the most famous report was from a customer who swore to staff that she had seen a person’s face from behind an air vent while skating. The staff, upon investigation, said there was no one there. In fact, there was not any conceivable way anyone could have gotten into the vent at all.
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Spooky.

 
4

PIONEER PLACE ON FIFTH

St. Cloud | Website

 
 

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My next supernatural stop didn't take me too far from home. Pioneer Place on Fifth in downtown St. Cloud is a great place to see theatre, hear live music, have a drink...and brush up against the no-longer-with-us population.
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Now, one of the most obvious common denominators my ghost sites share is a high population of travelers, temporary guests and transients. According to my tour guide, owner Dan Barth, Pioneer Place didn't start out as a theatre. It was constructed as an Elks lodge in 1913. Lots of old Elks passed through doors through the years, and frankly, some didn't come out. One sighted spirit, that of an old man from a time gone by, is known to hang out in the men's room near the king and startle guests.
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Dan and brother Mark have been running Pioneer Place for over a decade, and Dan has a real knack for recounting the many and varied encounters folks have had with spirits while in the Pioneer Place.  These tales include strange noises from empty corners, electrical oddities, moved items, and even sightings of three separate ghosts. After this stop, I'm more of a believer in...something unbelievable...than I was before.
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Check out my video highlights for the full story of Pioneer Place on Fifth.

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5

THAYER HISTORIC BED AND BREAKFAST

Annandale

 
 

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Number five on the list is a bit of a posthumous homage to a business that is no longer with us. Because of this, I didn't get an opportunity to explore it for myself. Still, Thayer's Historic Bed and Breakfast of Annandale completely deserves to make this list. In fact, if you click that link, you'll notice the 11-room building's former status as the most notoriously haunted Bed and Breakfast in the country.  Seriously. The Minnesota Paranormal Association counted some odd 30 ghostly presences in one night a few years back.
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So. That's scary.
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Or is it? According to excerpts of interviews with psychic and former owner, Sharon Gammell, the reason so many ghosts frequented and remained at Thayer was resultant of the comfortable and memorable experiences they had there while still living. Gammell, like Kelley Freese of Palmer House, stresses that the ghosts of humans (and reportedly a few cats) are friendly and harmless, and so it's essential to respect their space. Actually, according to Gammell, the spirits were even instructed to stay out of guests' rooms, and only allowed in if invited. Sounds pretty human to me.
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But, like any space with supernatural lore, there were certainly instances of guests bolting in the night.
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I wish I could share more, but alas, that is all I know of Thayer's. If you're interested in learning more, I'd contact Sharon herself. I mean, she sounded friendly on her voicemail!




 

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