Find Real Frights at These Haunted Minnesota Sites

By Lisa Meyers McClintick

Seasonally spooky corn mazes and haunted houses across Minnesota deliver steady screams and scares to Halloween thrill-seekers, but anyone craving authentic ghost stories can find those, too, and not just in October. From eerie fog to aggressive spirits, paranormal activities at several historic sites may trigger deeper chills than fear creeping up your spine. Here’s a look at a few of Minnesota’s most haunted haunts.

Downtown Pipestone

Pipestone ghost walks_Lisa Meyers McClintick
Hear spooky tales on Pipestone's annual ghost walks / Photo by Lisa Meyers McClintick

As the home of Pipestone National Monument, this town’s origins reach back to ancient civilizations, which would trade hand-quarried red stone across the continent to be carved as sacred pipes. Visitors can spot gargoyle-like faces carved into downtown’s pink quartzite buildings and stay at the 1888 Calumet Inn, where a guest who died in a 1944 Valentine’s Day fire reportedly still haunts his room.

Summer ghost walks include stories of footsteps, flickering lights, sudden drops in temperature at various buildings, and reports of children’s voices still heard in a former Indian boarding school building. Anyone craving more stories and ghost hunts can return for the annual Pipestone Paranormal Weekend in mid-October.

Redwood County Museum, Redwood Falls

This museum sits within what was considered the state’s nicest poor farm in the early 1900s. A form of early Social Security, it was a haven for widows, disabled veterans, people with mental illnesses, and anyone who could not support themselves but could work for shelter and food. It’s reportedly haunted by the ghosts of residents who hung themselves in despair and a man who was hung on purpose as punishment, but had to be hung twice when the first attempt was botched, said Adrian Lee, author of Mysterious Minnesota: Digging Up the Ghostly Past at 13 Haunted Sites.

The museum is open May-October, and will host a Mysterious Minnesota discussion and book signing with the author on Nov. 1.

St. James Hotel, Red Wing

St. James Hotel lobby, Red Wing
Clara, the St. James Hotel's former owner, continues to keep an eye on the place

With halls built wide enough for Victorian hoop skirts and elegant touches such as a pipe organ on the first floor, Red Wing’s 1875 St. James Hotel anchors downtown along the Mississippi River like a grand dame. Its resident ghost, former hotel owner Clara Lillyblad from 1932 to 1972, fits that description, too. She reportedly lingers on the third floor where she lived in room 310, and makes sure cutlery and napkins are correctly placed for diners.

Like Chase on the Lake in Walker, it also became a makeshift (and far more tragic) morgue when 98 passengers drowned after the Sea Wing paddle-wheeler capsized. Lee says he thinks those victims are among the spirits that once triggered what looked like fog rolling across the basement.

Wabasha Street Caves, St. Paul

With the ambience of candles and inky darkness of deep caves, the Lost Souls walking tours entice visitors deep into St. Paul’s sandstone bluffs. Guides weave together eerie tales and mysteries, including the disappearance of three men who were gunned down at the Castle Royal, a surprisingly elegant club tucked into the caves from 1933-1940.

If you have kids along, try the family-friendly Spirited Cave Tours in October, which add the chill of ghost stories to year-round history tours. Costumed guides also offer two-hour bus tours around St. Paul with a seasonal Ghosts and Graves theme or year-round Gangster Tours with stories of the city’s most notorious chapter.

Palmer House Hotel, Sauk Centre

Palmer House Hotel in winter, Sauk CentreWith its location at an east-west-north-south crossroads for traveling Native American tribes, 1800s pioneers and salesmen, the town that inspired Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street novel has its share of spirits. Hotel clerks were often vulnerable to what came with travelers, namely diseases such as diphtheria.

The hotel offers historic tours that include its basement, where some of the eeriest activity has been detected, while the guest rooms ranks among Minnesota’s best-known places for spooky happenings from strange noises and voices to odd lights and apparitions.

Chase on the Lake, Walker

Depending on your timing, the two-lane basement bowling alley at the renovated late-1800s Chase on the Lake hotel might add a case of the willies to the thrill of a strike. “The bowling alley is really haunted,” said Lee. Among the building’s many spirits may be the soldiers who died in 1898’s Battle of Sugar Point, considered the last conflict between the U.S. Army and Native tribes. The soldiers’ bodies were stored in the hotel’s basement until they could be transferred to Fort Snelling or buried. Some investigators have heard spirits of a stable boy and aggressive characters from its lumberjack and Prohibition years.

Find more Halloween fun, or seek out these historic sites for more tales from the past.