The crackpot idea of chasing ghosts conjures images of Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray vacuuming spirits and battling green goop.
But Chad Lewis, co-author of “The Minnesota Road Guide to Haunted Locations,” does just that, minus the Ghostbusters.
While some people balk at the idea of ghosts, Lewis said the belief in the paranormal came long before TV shows like “X-Files” and “Unsolved Mysteries.”
“Since the beginning of time, people have always been curious about ghosts and what happens when we die,” Lewis said. “Written ghost stories have been around for hundreds of years, and oral stories go back further.”
Lewis, a University of Wisconsin-Stout psychology graduate, started his paranormal adventures by exploring UFOs and crop circles.
He has hunted vampires in Transylvania and searched for Chupacabras in Puerto Rico; however, some of the strangest cases he’s encountered happen right in Minnesota.
In Winona, there are legends of a lady of the night who haunts Pieces of the Past and of the late Rev. Patrick Heffron’s spirit seeking revenge at Saint Mary’s University’s Heffron Hall.
Both stories are engraved into Winona’s folklore, but often overshadow the many other suspected ghost tales floating around.
Do headless Dakota children wander the halls of the Winona County Historical Society in search of their skulls?
The legend: On a cold autumn night in 1852, two prominent Winona residents, the Rev. Ely and Erwin Johnson, escorted two British craniologists to a Native American burial site in what is now downtown Winona.
According to Myron A. Nilles book, “A History of Wapasha’s Prairie,” the four men dug up several graves of Chief Wapasha’s children and broke their skulls from the skeletons. The skulls were taken home with the craniologists to be displayed in London.
The site would be located today between Second and Third Streets and Johnson and Main Streets.
According to Lewis during a walking tour of Winona’s downtown, some of the Historical Society staff reported weird noises and sounds of footsteps late at night, but nothing specific seen or proven.
Investigation: Nicole LaChapelle, who has worked at the museum for six years, sometimes hears footsteps, especially at night.
“I blame it on the old building,” she said. “I try not to think about it, because sometimes I am here alone at night, and we’ve got mannequins and guns in some of the rooms.”
Executive Director Mark Peterson doesn’t believe in ghosts and feels there is no reason to believe anyone haunts the building.
“There are plenty of people that do believe (in ghosts), and I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong,” Peterson said. “I get cold chills all the time while I’m here and it’s usually when the door opens.”
Archivist Walt Bennick echoed the sentiment, but mentioned the museum’s proximity to the Indian burial grounds destroyed during white settlement long before the former Armory was built in 1915.
Winona Family YMCA
Does a dedicated janitor still work overtime at the Winona Family YMCA?
The legend: Visitors and staff reported odd noises at night and doors mysteriously opening and closing on their own, but administrators won’t confirm it, Lewis said.
Strange sounds of mop buckets, brooms falling over and strange whispering late in the night have indicated the YMCA might be haunted by Clarence, a former maintenance worker, for about 10 years.
Apparently, the building’s lights went out when the janitor’s funeral procession passed by. It is believed to have been a squirrel.
Most people rationalize what they hear and see away, because they don’t want people to think they’re crazy, Lewis said.
Investigation: “Sorry to say, but we are ghost free,” said Andy Blomsness, YMCA director. “We have 4,100 living members, no ghosts.”
Blomsness, who has worked at the YMCA for 32 years, has never seen or heard anything.
“I’m not sure how that story got started,” Blomsness said. “No one said anything to me, and we always have someone in the building 24 hours a day.”
While some — like Pieces of Past owner Cherie Peterson — embrace their ghost stories, others remain skeptical.
“We don’t want creepy ghost stories about the Y going around,” said Jim Pingry, aquatics director.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Unexplained Conference. Chad Lewis will be in Winona tonight for a conference on Minnesota’s haunted locations. The conference will also feature a discussion on the evolution of the Western concept of the afterlife and question-and-answer session with two paranormal investigators.
When: 7 p.m. tonight
Where: Quality Inn, 956 Mankato Ave., Winona
Is Winona Haunted?
By Amber Dulek