Skeletons in closets and things that go bump in the night are Halloween stock and trade.
Finding someone who has heard those bumps is another thing entirely.
Mitchell’s Masonic Temple, on the corner of South Lawler Street and East Fifth Avenue, is prominently featured in the “South Dakota Road Guide to Haunted Locations,” written by Wisconsin paranormal researchers Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk.
The book, which divides the state into four regions, also includes, among others, the International Order of Odd Fellows cemetery in Gregory, a place the book’s authors say is home to a spirit that has been seen wandering the grounds, supposedly looking for a final resting place.
The book says Mitchell’s Masonic Temple — officially Resurgam Lodge #31 — which was built in the 1920s, is supposedly haunted by a grieving woman whose muffled sobs can occasionally be heard coming from behind a closed door on an upper floor. The “ghostly wails of a small baby” also have been reported. The mysterious sounds cease when doors are opened to investigate their source.
Those searching for the source of the sounds have been surprised by “a skeleton hanging in the closet of a nearby room,” the authors say.
Sounds like a politician’s nightmare.
The huge, three-story building features a ballroom on the main floor. Upstairs, there are several massive ceremonial chambers and a comfortable, oak-paneled lodge with granite floors and a barrel-vaulted ceiling.
Storage areas of varying sizes abound on the upper levels, some stuffed with costumes for ritual plays and others with items as varied as an old pump organ and janitorial supplies.
The skeleton in question is most likely a theatrical prop someone stumbled across during their investigations of the premises, said Roger Barta, a lodge member for more than 20 years.
“I spend a lot of time in the Masonic Temple late at night on my own, because I check the furnace in the wintertime,” said local attorney Jim Taylor, a member of the Mitchell lodge.
“It’s a spooky place after dark when you’re all alone.”
But Taylor says he never has heard sounds of weeping and wailing from the building’s upper reaches.
“But,” he said, “I have managed to let my imagination run wild and scare the living bejeebers out of myself.”
Taylor recalled being in the building following a special madrigal supper at the temple. The premises were festively decorated, he said.
“I’d been downstairs in the basement to check the furnace about midnight,” he said. The event was over and “everything was cleaned up and I wanted to make sure the heat was on for the next day.”
“I went up the stairs, checked the thermostat and went downstairs and started walking across the ballroom and there was a gigantic face and head floating in the ballroom that looked like some horrible thing coming to get me. I just about had a heart attack on the spot,” he laughed.
“Then I realized that light from the street light on Fifth Avenue was lighting up a portrait someone had hung on the wall for decoration,” he said.
That the portrait was the stylized head of a Spanish conquistador made the effect even more eerie, Taylor said.
The “Haunted Locations” road guides have become a profitable franchise, for authors Lewis and Fisk, who host a regular radio program in Eau Claire, Wis., called “The Unexplained.”
Many tips for the book have come from fans who meet them at conferences or who post paranormal reports on the message board of their Web site, unexplainedresearch.com.
There are other guides for Minnesota and Wisconsin. Fisk said one bookstore in South Dakota recently reported that the South Dakota guide has outsold mainstream authors like John Grisham since its June publication. Future books are planned for Iowa and Illinois.
“We kept a record of all the sites posted on the Web site and we found out that a lot of times, information was incorrect and directions were wrong. Sometimes we’d spend an entire day trying to find a location,” Fisk said. “One of us made the comment that it sure would be nice to have a road guide to find these locations.”
An idea, and a business, was born.
“We decided since we’re doing all the traveling, we should write the book ourselves,” he said. Fans are writing in to update information in their books, said Fisk, and revised editions are planned.
While they have visited many of the sites, the authors traveled to Mitchell last winter but were unable to gain entry to the Masonic Temple. “It was closed the day we got there,” admitted Fisk. “We never got to go inside.”
Nevertheless, the Halloween season has been a busy one, said Fisk.
“It’s like Christmas for us,” he said. “Chad (Lewis) has had a speaking engagement every single day this month.” The pair is planning a paranormal conference in Sioux Falls next October.
Does Fisk believe in ghosts?
“I’ve seen strange things I can’t explain,” he said, “ but I couldn’t say positively that it’s a ghost.” On one adventure in Wisconsin he saw “an orange, nebulous shape that appeared in front of a door and at the same time the door opened on its own.”
He recommends taking along company on such quests — so sightings can be verified.