The dead are always with us. If you share your home with a ghost, perhaps you find that fairly annoying. But fresh legions of ghost hunters, often inspired by the recent rash of paranormal reality TV shows, would love to be in your shoes — at least, for a little while.
According to the authors of the new book, “Twin Cities Haunted Handbook,” at least 10 Twin Cities paranormal groups are regularly loitering about town in the hopes of experiencing a brush with the undead. And we’re not talking Zombie Pub Crawl. This definitive guide to ghosts in the Twin Cities is co-written by Dain Charbonneau, founder of the Twin Cities Paranormal Research Group, and Ohioans Jeff Morris, author of three other Haunted Handbooks and founder of an Ohio ghost tour company, and Garett Mark, founder of Tri-State Paranormal and Oddities Observation Practitioners.
The trio selected the 100 most ghostly places in the area, and offers a succinct history of each, along with some practical tips (namely: drive safety; stay off the tracks; be respectful of the locals; pony up for a meal, room, or game of golf; and be extra careful in the restrooms at the Mall of America.) Some of these stories are terribly sad, many of them are fascinating, and a few seem pretty hokey. And on that point, even the authors agree: Some ghost stories are probably no more than stories.
MinnPost: Many of the sites in your book are off the beaten path. How did you conduct your research?
Jeff Morris: We determined the initial list of locations on the Internet. This provides a great skeleton off of which to work. If there are stories of crimes or murders, we go to local libraries, historical societies or old newspapers to look for details surrounding these dark corners of history. The ghost stories often start as local lore, and we sought verification and depth by asking people who have gone to or who work at the locations in question.
We also spoke to several ghost investigation groups in the area. We were able to take two ghost tours in the Twin Cities as well. One was done by the Anoka County Historical Society, which took us through the ghostly lore of Anoka. The other focused on Saint Anthony Main, which was also a very informative and creepy tour.
MP: Did you include all the ghosts you heard about, or were you skeptical about any of them?
JM: I am actually skeptical about several of the locations in the book. Some of the stories feel like urban myths. But who among us hasn’t been fascinated by these stories? This isn’t to say that the urban myths aren’t real, but the fact that you run across the same story from city to city makes you wonder. We tried to stick to the most verifiably haunted locations, but mixed in some urban myths as well to make a more comprehensive handbook.
MP: What was the most remarkable experience you had doing the fieldwork?
JM: While there wasn’t a full bodied apparition that jumped out at us, there were some strange things that we couldn’t explain. We heard footsteps and a voice behind us while walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge. We saw shadowy figures on the Alimagnet Park Trails. We saw something in the upstairs window of Billy’s Bar and Grill during a ghost tour of Anoka. Nothing definitive, but interesting and creepy nonetheless.
MP: How does the Twin Cities measure up to other cities in terms of ghosts?
JM: I have written a Haunted Handbook about Cincinnati, Nashville, and the Twin Cities, and I am currently working on the next book, which will center around Chicago. The cities all have their own unique varieties of ghosts. Cincinnati ghosts seem to generate from around 1876 to the end of the 1920s, which was a very exciting time for the city and for the world as new technology was coming to light and mixing with the mythology and superstitions of an earlier time. Ghosts in Nashville either come from around the Civil War or from the emergence of country music. Many of the ghost stories in the Twin Cities are incredibly strange. There is a story about a disembodied hand that haunts Hamline University. There are stories about portals and naked women in the lakes. This, mixed with some of the darker history of the Twin Cities, makes the Twin Cities as interesting if not more than the previous two books.
MP: Where in the Twin Cities do you stand the best odds of actually seeing a ghost?
JM: St. Anthony Main is supposedly quite haunted. People experience things there all the time. The Wabasha Street Caves. But I think that the most haunted area in the Twin Cities is Grey Cloud Island. The entire island is rumored to house all kinds of ghostly activity. On the other hand, the locals adamantly deny that there are any ghosts there. This is probably from fear of vandalism or from fear of the island being overtaken by ghost enthusiasts driving recklessly through throughout the night. If you go to Grey Cloud Island, make sure you follow the laws and don’t trespass for any reason.
MP: I understand the Twin Cities Paranormal Society does house cleansing. Do you feel this is in the best service of the ghost — to help them cross over?
JM: The general consensus is that there are two types of ghosts, residual and intelligent. The residual hauntings are replays of some traumatic, often terrible event. The ghost will re-enact these final moments again and again. If a family were terrified or uncomfortable with a ghost of this kind, a ghost group that could get rid of such a haunting would be an asset. An intelligent haunting involves a ghost that actually interacts with the environment and seems to realize that there are people there. The ghost-hunting community is sometimes divided on how to deal with ghosts of this type. Some feel that these ghosts should be allowed to exist in their space. After all, they were there first. Other groups think that getting rid of ghosts will allow them to move on to the next life.
Any story about a ghost fascinates me and makes me want to visit the place. In fact, when I’m able, I try to grab an artifact from a haunted place and bring it back to my house in an attempt to haunt my house. I’m not sure how happy my wife is with this, although it hasn’t worked yet. But “helping” a ghost in one of the iconic haunted places in the Twin Cities was not something that ever occurred to us. We want the ghosts to be there. We want people to go to these places and find the ghosts for themselves.
Common Good Books, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 7 p.m. Dain Charbonneau discusses “Twin Cities Haunted Handbook.”