For our Halloween issue, I teamed up with two local paranormal groups, the Twin Cities Paranormal Society and Supernatural Investigators of Minnesota, and accompanied them on investigations. Both groups conduct their extensive investigations free of charge, viewing them as both a hobby and a service to those affected by spiritual forces.
There’s a lot of evidence against the existence of supernatural entities, and most of the time “hauntings” are just electrical or piping problems that can quickly be fixed and dismissed. But paranormal groups insist that some things can’t be explained.
“It’s kind of like fishing. You sit there and sit there and, most of the time, you don’t catch anything,” said Braden Jeunesse, the Twin Cities Paranormal Society’s lead investigator.
But when you do catch something, it has the potential to uproot your concept of truth.
Case 1: Kathy and Joe Werner claim four human ghosts and one ghost cat are haunting them at their rambler-style home in Otsego, Minn.
Background: The Werners’ home was built in 1965, but they’ve lived in it for only five years. They claim to have been haunted in their previous home and that the ghosts followed them to Otsego. Before they moved into their new house, it served as a home for wayward teens. The last house that sat on the property burned to the ground.
Investigative report: It’s the evening of Oct. 5, and I’m accompanying three investigators from the Twin Cities Paranormal Society to the Werners’ home. The Werners give a tour and then leave us alone at the house while they spend the evening at a local casino.
We start by setting up infrared cameras in the kitchen, the master bedroom, the basement and the guest room, otherwise known as the “ghost room.” The camera wires are taped to the hardwood and connected to a DVR.
Before we begin, Jeunesse hands me a flashlight and a K2 EMF meter, which is used to detect electric fields, and in our case, ghosts’ alleged ability to alter these fields. The lights are turned off, and we descend to the basement.
The first 10 minutes are spent in a terrible silence, which is meant to help us get acquainted with our surroundings. I’m told to speak up after audible bodily functions, like belches and coughs, so they’re not mistaken for electronic voice phenomena later.
The 10 minutes are up. Jeunesse starts by introducing himself, which he says is to let any spirits know we’re friendly and genuinely interested in them.
“We’re not here to hurt you,” he says.
We ask why they’re haunting the Werners. No answer. We ask what we can do to help them. No answer. We split up, even though I’m shaking and desperate to hold someone’s hand. A pipe in the next room drips water periodically, and a light shines through a window, but no spirits are making direct contact. We move upstairs.
The ghost room is next. We sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor. When the lights were on, I saw a picture of Kathy’s mother sitting on the dresser, her eyes closed and head thrown back — now it’s all I can think about.
The air is cold and heavy. We sit for the 10 minutes of silence, and the questions begin. Jeunesse addresses the two men and the ghost cat that have been haunting the Werners, to no avail.
He addresses Kathy’s mother, the woman from the photograph who, according to Kathy, has been leaving dimes around the house even though she’s been dead for years.
“Mrs. Doris Nichols, have you been leaving dimes around the house for your daughter?” Jeunesse says.
The K2 meter is rapidly flashing red and green behind me. No one moved; no one touched anything. How can I rationalize this?
The next question is addressed to Joe Nichols, Kathy Werner’s father.
“Mr. Joe Nichols, are you also here? Can you please show us a sign of your presence?” Jeunesse asks.
Another light flashes.
“It’s getting colder,” Jeunesse says.
Within minutes, the room warms up and any spirits that were present stop responding. We move to the master bedroom, where I sit next to a female investigator on cheetah print bedding. It’s freezing again, and I can barely stand looking at the full-length mirror positioned in front of me, lest an apparition appear.
“Can you knock like this?” Jeunesse asks. He knocks on the wall. Seconds later, an identical knock comes from the kitchen.
The Twin Cities Paranormal Society’s conclusion: “The investigation was exciting in that it is rare that the K2 meter actually fully lights twice after questions are posed to the same entity. At no time did any of the investigators feel threatened. It seems the paranormal experiences experienced by the investigators were protective in nature in the Ghost Room.”
Case 2: Walcott Mills at Faribault State Hospital
Background: Walcott Mills was once used as a training facility where the highest-functioning mentally disabled patients from Faribault State Hospital could learn farming practices. The majority of the buildings were torn down in the mid-1960s, but two remain — and everyone knows they’re haunted.
Investigation: I meet the Supernatural Investigators of Minnesota at the Faribault A&W and listen to the history of Faribault State Hospital while eating greasy chili cheese fries — the first mistake of the night.
The drive to Walcott Mills is long and winding. One car in our four-vehicle caravan gets lost, and we sit alongside the road for 20 minutes, periodically approached by stray, long-haired locals who peer into our windows with disconcerting curiosity.
When driving resumes, I gaze at the full moon. The exhaust from an overhead plane is illuminated in the moonlight like a white rainbow against the night.
We turn down a dirt road surrounded on all sides by corn. The main car pulls into a small lot, and our crew files out. The rules are recited: no smoking, no whispering and always announce audible bodily functions.
Jerry Ayres, founder of Supernatural Investigators of Minnesota, lights a bowl of sage and tells us to line up for cleansing. One by one, he wafts sage up and down our bodies with an eagle feather, replacing any negative energy with positive.
When cleansing is complete, we walk single-file through the woods toward the first building. Our groups split up when we reach the first building. I’m left with Mae Kelley, Kacie Ayres and George Donaldson, the resident skeptic.
The walls of the first building are layered with terrible graffiti, beer cans are strewn about the floor, and an abandoned dog food bowl collects rainwater and bugs in the corner. Toward the building’s exit, someone has written gut-punching graffiti on the ground: “Your not alone. Think of your friends and family.” Bad grammar aside, it’s enough to terrify.
The lights are turned off, and the questions begin. Kelley first addresses Mary, a spirit they allegedly made contact with on their last visit.
Ayres and Kelley suggest bringing out the ghost box, a device that scans radio waves. Some believe spirits can manipulate radio waves to communicate, but it generally isn’t considered legitimate evidence. I’m skeptical until I hear it say my name.
The other half of the group returns, and the Minnesota Daily photographer and I start goofing around with a camera, trying to show someone how to take a picture. In the midst of our hysterical laughter, Jerry Ayres cries out in pain.
The K2 meters are flashing rapidly, and he’s complaining of chest pains.
“Why are you doing this?” he asks. We gather around him and watch.
I announce to the group a sadness that hits me like a gym class dodge ball. They move toward me.
“It’s gotten really cold right here,” Jerry Ayres says. “Emily, when I say ‘now,’ [say] the first thing that pops into your head. Now.”
“A kid,” I tell him. The sadness multiplies.
“Is there a young person here that has a connection with Emily?” Jerry Ayres says.
The K2 meters are flashing.
“Emily is crying now. Is that how you feel and you’re just using Emily to express how you feel?” Jerry Ayres says.
I no longer remember why I’m crying. The feeling is gone.
We spend the next few hours exploring the second building, otherwise known as the bat cave (a reference to its current inhabitants) with a device that measures shadows by projecting a purple graph onto the surrounding area, but no feedback is received.
Our last stop is the graveyard where babies belonging to former Faribault State Hospital patients are buried. No contact is made. At this point, I’m relieved.
When the night finally ends, my head is spinning with upturned beliefs. I decompress at Perkins over pancakes while local teenagers laugh and share gossip a few tables away. Would they think I’m crazy if I told them what happened to me? Am I crazy?
I won’t sleep well tonight.
Conclusion: Walcott Mills is widely believed to be haunted, and numerous paranormal societies have collected evidence confirming their suspicions. My experience was no different.