'The Nearly Departed': Minnesota ghost stories

Forepaugh's Restaurant
The Forepaugh mansion was built in St. Paul in the mid-1800s. Today it's the site of Forepaugh's Restaurant -- and the occasional rumor of ghosts.
Elkman | Creative Commons via Wikipedia
'Nearly Departed' by Michael Norman
'Nearly Departed' by Michael Norman
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society Press

Michael Norman has never seen a ghost, but in the course of writing seven books about haunted places, he's talked to hundreds of people who say they have.

Norman is the author of "Haunted Wisconsin," "Haunted Heartland," "Historic Haunted America" and "The Nearly Departed: Minnesota Ghost Stories and Legends" — to name a few.

As a former journalist, he's always looking for the facts — which in ghost stories can be hard to find.

"I try to work with the ones that are most verifiable," Norman said. He wants witnesses and first-hand accounts, not "my cousin said she knew someone who saw something once."

When he was compiling his book on Minnesota haunts, he heard plenty of rumors about ghosts at Minneapolis City Hall. Supposedly, the historic building is haunted by John Moshik, who was hanged there in 1892. Norman, however, couldn't find anyone who'd actually had an encounter with the ghostly Moshik.

Ghosts on campus

For ghosts on the St. Olaf campus, however, it's a different story.

A St. Olaf administrator actually keeps a ghost file — a record of all the supernatural encounters on campus. Norman interviewed him extensively for his book.

"The Boy in the Red Cap" is the most frequently sighted ghost at St. Olaf. He's often seen in Thorson Hall, one of the dormitories. Those who've spotted the baseball-hat wearing specter believe he's the ghost of a young man who died near campus in a tunnel cave-in in the 1980s.

"He haunts his old dorm room," Norman said.

The campus library has haunts of its own: Norman interviewed a St. Olaf graduate who came upon an old woman sorting through a library cart late one night.

It seemed strange for her to be working late, and the woman didn't respond when spoken to. Later, the student was walking past the portraits of former faculty and staff when one picture jumped out to her. It was the woman she'd just seen by the cart: Charlotte Jacobsen, a former librarian — now deceased.

The student ran back to find the cart abandoned.

The haunted mansions

When it comes to confirming ghost stories, it's hard to beat photographic evidence.

Forepaugh's Restaurant in St. Paul has sparked many rumors of hauntings in its 100-year history. The original owner, Joseph Forepaugh, committed suicide on the grounds. Legend has it he was mourning his mistress, a maid named Molly who had killed herself after their affair was discovered.

Norman couldn't verify the story about Molly, or even find a last name for her. But he did find something that's hard to explain.

"Last time I went, there was a photograph kept behind the bar. They call it 'The Ghost Bride,'" Norman said. The photograph features a couple posing at their wedding reception, which was held at the restaurant in the 1990s. It's a lovely memory — until you see the disembodied arm floating on the staircase.

Norman tracked down the couple in the photograph. "Both of them said there was no one standing back there when the picture was taken."

He keeps a copy of the photograph with his research. He won't say whether it has swayed his belief in the supernatural.

"I don't take the position as a believer," he said. "I've never seen a ghost — but that doesn't mean they don't exist."

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