STILLWATER - With its
age, varied history and connection to prisons, is it
any wonder that Stillwater has plenty of paranormal
Many Valley dwellers have reported sightings at the
Warden's House Museum in downtown Stillwater, still in
the same spot where years ago criminals served hard
time next door.
One oft-reported story - "ghost-lore, like folklore" -
said Chad Lewis, co-author of "Minnesota Road Guide to
Haunted Locations," involves one former warden's
She supposedly died soon after giving birth to a son.
To this day she has been spotted searching the
Warden's House for her lost child.
Workers at the nearly complete Terra Springs
condominium development - located on the site of the
old Territorial Prison - have reported seeing a man
dressed in prison garb roaming the halls of the
Warden's House, Lewis said.
Employees at the historic Warden's House on Main
Street have also cited "eerie feelings" in the master
bedroom, Lewis said, and a blast of cold air with no
apparent source coming from another room. An intern at
the Warden's House once said she heard mysterious
humming, but couldn't find the source.
Washington County Historical Society Executive
Director Brent Peterson said while he's heard stories
of visitors' shoulders and hair being pulled by
something, he's never experienced anything eerie
"Maybe it's good or maybe it's bad," he said.
However, the Warden's House has become such a hotbed
for paranormal activity that in early November the
Minnesota Ghost Hunters Society will set up cameras
and listening devices during the early morning hours
soon after the house closes for the year.
The Warden's House Museum closes for the season at the
end of October, just in time for Halloween on Oct. 31.
Another Stillwater home - though built somewhat
recently, circa 1960 - is reportedly inhabited by a
ghost, Peterson said. The apparition's shadow has been
sighted roaming inside and outside the home.
One particular oddity regarding the ghost, Peterson
said, is that it doesn't seem to enjoy construction.
When home-improvement projects have been undertaken,
power tools have somehow ended up in the bathroom.
"We get all sorts of fun stuff," Peterson said.
The stuff of rumors, too, like the ghost of a
Confederate soldier at the Water Street Inn. Former
employees have smelled a body odor and heard
unexplained noises, Lewis said, often attributed to
the long-dead soldier.
But innkeeper Chuck Dougherty said the building -
built in 1896 - was an office space until 1995.
"Unless somebody went up to somebody's office and died
..." he said. "I've never heard anything."
"Who knows who comes up with this stuff," he said.
Peterson and St. Croix Valley photographer Deb Chial
are looking for stories of unusual circumstances,
unexplained happenings or outright ghost stories that
take place in Stillwater. They could be actual
sightings, things moved from one place to another or
things that are just plain odd. The hope is to compile
enough ghost stories for a tell-all book.
While stories of ghosts and out-of-body experiences
pervade the area, one morbid tale is all too real.
During Stillwater's lumber days, a man named John
Jeremy - or Fisherman John or Indian John - was known
for recovering the corpses of lumbermen from the St.
Croix River and area lakes.
"His success rate was phenomenal," Peterson said,
noting the reported 104 bodies Jeremy recovered.
Because he was a reticent man, no one really knows how
he always tracked down the bodies, Peterson said, but
Some suggested that Jeremy had trained muskrats.
Others said he used black magic. Yet another theory
supposed that he used a "body compass," Peterson said,
which was a loaf of bread injected with mercury.
Peterson surmised that Jeremy was simply a "river rat"
with a keen sense of water movement and underground
springs. The fisherman may have used grappling hooks
to recover the bodies, Peterson said.
Lynn VanOrsdale, with Edina Realty, specializes in
Stillwater's historic properties. A Realtor isn't
required to divulge if a home has history of ghost
activity, a suicide or accidental death, she said, but
letting a prospective homeowner know makes sense. A
neighbor could just as easily come over with a welcome
pie and tell the macabre tale, she said.
Off the top of her head, VanOrsdale couldn't list any
particular home in Stillwater that's been the site of
a phantom haunting.
One Stillwater bed and breakfast often named as a
haunted establishment didn't want to be associated
with ghosts or Halloween.
Lewis said that response is typical of hotels and B &
But after being listed in a similar book he wrote
about haunted places in Wisconsin, he said several
establishments experienced increased business.
"People flock to these places," Lewis said, adding
that his book includes both the straightforward
history and paranormal phenomena.
"We want people to go there on their own - now it's up
to you to go and decide for yourself," he said.
To share your ghost stories with Peterson and Chial,
write it down and send it to: Ghost Stories, PO Box
590, Stillwater, Minnesota 55082, call 651-439-8445 or
e-mail them at
Kris Janisch covers Washington County and the cities
of Stillwater and Bayport for the Gazette. He can be
reached by phone at 651-796-1111.