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Gazette photos by Kari VanDerVeen
The Warden's House Museum in Stillwater has reportedly been home not only to former wardens of the Stillwater Territorial Prison, but also ghosts and spirits. A team from the Minnesota Ghost Hunters Society will set up cameras and listening devices at the museum after Halloween.

An overpopulated ghost town:
Stillwater continues to preserve its paranormal stories

 

STILLWATER - With its age, varied history and connection to prisons, is it any wonder that Stillwater has plenty of paranormal tales?

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 daughter.

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 himself.

"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."

Peterson agreed.

"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 theories abound.

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 & Bs.

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 debchial@aol.com or btp2001@aol.com.

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.


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