What is the most haunted place in Minnesota?

Ghost hunters believe many locations across the state are hotspots for paranormal activity.

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Some Minnesotans at the State Fair this year were in a spooky state of mind, judging by their votes for the Star Tribune to tackle this hair-raising question: What is the most haunted place in Minnesota?

That creepy query emerged victorious among about 100 questions fairgoers submitted during Curious Minnesota Day at the Star Tribune building — part of the paper's community reporting project fueled by great questions about our state. It outpolled timeless mysteries like "Why is Jell-O served at church potlucks?"and "Why are car dealerships closed on Sunday in Minnesota?"

The question is even more charged now that Halloween is approaching. But answering it is difficult because scores of locations around the state have a reputation for being haunted, including remote cemeteries, spooky mansions, shuttered sanatoriums, historic theaters, courthouses, battlefields, factories, breweries, caves, music venues and hotels.

Which can claim the Most Haunted title? The experts don't agree.

Chad Lewis, co-author of "The Minnesota Road Guide to Haunted Locations," said a contender would need to have a long history of haunting with multiple people reporting a ghost sighting.

"It's not one person who saw a deer-man run across the street," said Lewis, an Eau Claire, Wis., author and lecturer. (Half-human, half-deer creatures are among the North Woods legends he's investigated.)

Of the places he's visited, Lewis thinks the historic Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre should be in the running because it has a history of haunting in guest rooms, the bar and the basement. He also suggested the isolated Loon Lake Cemetery in Lakefield, subject of ominous legends involving a beheaded witch and reports of paranormal activities.

A 1981 photograph of the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre.
A 1981 photograph of the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre.

Donald Black / Star Tribune

The area around Pipestone apparently has plenty of paranormal activity, Lewis said, including at the Calumet Inn.

Brady Jeunesse, a member of the Twin Cities Paranormal Society, also thinks the Palmer House is dependably haunted. It's full of light anomalies, moving objects and mysterious voices, he said. "It never seems to seems to disappoint," he said.

He and the society also have had eerie experiences at the Nopeming Sanatorium near Duluth, a former tuberculosis sanatorium, as well as the Soap Factory in Minneapolis, a former factory that became an arts venue and haunted house — one that reputedly has real ghosts.

We should consider the Christie Home, advised Adrian Lee, a ghost hunter from Windom who wrote a book about hauntings at the former doctor's residence in Long Prairie.

The abandoned chapel of the old Nopeming Sanatorium, as photographed several years ago.
The abandoned chapel of the old Nopeming Sanatorium, as photographed several years ago.

Orison Inc.

"We took a photograph of a ghost," said Lee, founder of a group called the International Paranormal Society.

At yet another haunted hotel, the St. James in Red Wing, a fellow investigator saw a phantom, floating, decapitated head, Lee said.

No such thing as ghosts?

"There's really no objective measure that can say, 'This is the most haunted,' " said Brad Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer, a science magazine that examines paranormal claims.

Another problem: There's no consensus on what ghosts are — even among ghost hunters.

"They can't even agree on what they're looking for," Radford said.

"Science can never prove that ghosts don't exist, but a lot of people have been trying to prove that they do for a very long time and no one has succeeded yet," said Randy Fletcher , a University of Minnesota associate professor of psychology who teaches an honors seminar called "The Psychology of Paranormal Phenomena."

"To my mind, that makes it very unlikely that ghosts are real," Fletcher said, calling ghost hunting "an exercise in confirmation bias."

"People go looking for evidence that some place is haunted, and they find it," Fletcher said.

In other words, if you believe in ghosts, you are more likely think that otherwise mundane occurrences or coincidences — a funny smell, a strange noise, a blur on a photograph — is evidence of a haunting.

A paranormal investigator uses a digital camera to record the presence of ghosts in 2003 at Forepaugh's in St. Paul.
A paranormal investigator uses a digital camera to record the presence of ghosts in 2003 at Forepaugh's in St. Paul.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii / Star Tribune

Lewis, the ghost hunter from Eau Claire, admits that "believing is seeing."

And a lot of people do believe. A 2019 survey by research data group YouGovAmerica found that 45 percent of Americans believe that ghosts definitely or probably exist. That's about the same amount who believe in demons — but far more than the 13 percent who think vampires exist.

And the winner is ...

Luckily, skeptic Radford suggested a logical way to determine which location is most haunted.

"The easiest answer is which place has the best publicity, the hardest working PR department," he said.

He reasoned that the place that develops the biggest reputation for being haunted will attract the most ghost hunters, the most curiosity seekers, the most sightings from people receptive to seeing something supernatural. How can a place be haunted unless there are credulous people rolling up to be haunted?

So, we looked for which location has been mentioned most in the Star Tribune for being haunted. We found stories about hauntings at First Avenue, Glensheen Mansion, Ramsey County Courthouse, the Lexington and Forepaugh's. But the winner: the Wabasha Street Caves.

Deb Frethem, a tour guide at the Wabasha Street Caves, pointed out bullet holes in the stone surround of a fireplace during a tour earlier this month.
Deb Frethem, a tour guide at the Wabasha Street Caves, pointed out bullet holes in the stone surround of a fireplace during a tour earlier this month.

Leila Navidi / Star Tribune

Over the decades, the historic manmade caves near downtown St. Paul have been a silica mine, a mushroom farm, a speakeasy, a nightclub, a pizza joint and, most recently, an event center and swing dance venue which also offers gangster and ghost tours.

Faith Pon, who recently purchased the caves, insists they really are haunted. Within days of taking possession of the caves, she started hearing voices when working late at night, even though she was the only one there.

"I have actually seen a ghost in the cave," said cave tour guide Deborah Frethem. "It is definitely haunted. I have tons of personal experience [of hauntings in the cave]. I know tons of other people who have personal experience."

Frethem said a psychic once told her that the cave held 40 ghosts.

"I would call it the most haunted place," she said. "Glensheen, I'm sure it's haunted. But it's probably got one spirit, or two. We've got 40."

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