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Minnesota's Most Infamous Ghost Stories and Legends

The state of Minnesota shares its borders with the expansive Dakotas, the cornfields of Iowa, the cheesy state of Wisconsin and the wilderness of Canada; all situated in the northern part of the American heartland. 

You won’t find the eerie remoteness of Appalachia or the colonial ghosts of the East Coast.

Here, home to the attitude best described as “Minnesota Nice,” it’s seemingly impossible to imagine a dark underbelly lurks just beneath its surface. It simply doesn’t fit, it’s unexpected and that is perhaps what makes the subject matter of this post even more spooky.

RELATED: The Mary Jane Twiliger Story

The fact of the matter is, such stories and legends are associated with nearly every celebrated and revered site in the state. They’re easy to find too, as if these specters are begging to be heard so they are not lost to history. These are what I consider the five scariest:

1. Minnesota Deputy Attacked By A UFO
This incident is now one of the most well-known and influential cases of UFO encounters in modern times. On August 26, 1979, Marshall County Sheriff’s deputy Val Johnson was on night patrol on a rural stretch of State Highway 20, just outside of Warren, MN. Suddenly a ball of light appeared. The deputy drove his patrol car towards it (why would you do that?) to investigate when unexpectedly, the ball of light appeared inside the car with him.

It attacked him, which the deputy described as being hit by something “like a 200-pound pillow.”

The next thing he knew, he woke up in a ditch a half hour or so later with burns around his eyes. Both his wristwatch and dashboard clock had slowed by 14 minutes. His windshield and one of his headlights had been smashed and both of his car antennae were sharply bent out of place.

Now, the fact that this man was a deputy gives him plenty of credibility. He has no motivation to lie about something like this, however, the ensuing police investigation was inconclusive. Was it possible he had done this to himself to gain notoriety, or is there something bigger at play here?

2. A Cannibalistic Spirit Haunts The Wilderness
Minnesota is home to a large Native American population. One of the oldest monsters in Minnesota is the Wendigo, a cannibalistic spirit from Native American folklore.

Legend states that humans who resort to cannibalism out of desperation or dark rituals will be transformed into a 15-foot tall monster covered in hair, with glowing eyes, long fangs and a snake-like tongue. Ancient Native Americans in Minnesota were terrorized by this creature, and even some white settlers claimed to have encountered it.

What pulls this story into modern times is that as late as 1907, Wendigo hunter (yeah, that's a thing) Jack Fiddler claimed to have killed 14 beasts. His last victim was a Cree woman whose killing landed Jack and his son on trial. Their defense was that she was about to transform into a Wendigo and had to be killed to stop her. Whether this is the result of a deranged mind or a cultural truth, the story effectively sends chills down my spine.

3. Did the Vikings travel further West than previously believed?
Minnesota’s climate is quite similar to that of Scandinavia, resulting in the settlement of a large population of immigrants from the Nordic countries. In fact, the Minneapolis-based NFL team Minnesota Vikings is named for this.

In 1898, Swedish immigrant Olaf Ohman discovered what came to be known as the Kensington Runestone in the town of Solem, MN. It is fraught with controversy however, as the scholarly consensus maintains this is an elaborate hoax.

The 202-pound stone is covered in Norse runes that seemed to be carved by at least 2 people. It documents the story of Scandinavian explorers from Vinland in the mid-14th century who made camp, went fishing on a nearby lake and returned to find their campmates slaughtered, reportedly by natives. This legend comes with implications that could rewrite world history. Either there is a permanent Norse settlement, “Vinland;” or, travel to-and-from Vinland was common enough that Scandinavian sailors knew their way around this area of North America 300 years after Leif Erickson and 150 years before Columbus.

4. A Phantom Pickup Guards Ancient Native Burial Grounds
I am quite familiar with this legend, as I've heard personal accounts numerous times from those I am acquainted with. It's unexplainable; you'd think something like this happens in the smaller, more isolated towns instead of in the heart of a major metropolitan area.

Grey Cloud Island, just outside of Cottage Grove, hosts the largest number of Native American burial mounds in the United States. Named for a Sioux woman who became prominent in the local fur trade, the island has a number of spooky manifestations including the spirit of Grey Cloud herself.

The strangest haunting on the island is a ghostly white pickup truck that appears and chases strangers off, because Grey Cloud Island is considered sacred ground. Some witnesses claim the truck is driverless, while others claim the driver is equally creepy.

5. A Demonic Presence Haunts An Art Gallery
What makes this story so incredibly nerve-wracking is the inability to discern genius marketing from fact.

The Soap Factory in Minneapolis got its start as such - a soap factory. What stirs rumors of a haunting is that the fats of dead animals were used as a main ingredient for the soaps. Since this was in a time prior to regulation, it is believed questionable practices were at play and strays were murdered to continue production in times of scarcity. For a time, The Soap Factory also made artificial limbs for wounded Civil War veterans. Combine this with the deplorable working conditions, and the atmosphere is ripe for a haunting.

... at least, according to Twin Cities-area paranormal investigators.

In modern times, however, the building was transformed into an art gallery for local artisans to display their works. While a strong sense of community is enjoyed and talents are celebrated, skilled paranormal investigators lured by the building's dark history claim the basement is haunted by a demon.

The building's owners remain undeterred, opting instead to capitalize on such proclamations by converting the basement into an intense haunted house. You must sign a waiver to enter, and very few people finish the whole thing. I don't know how much of this is staged, but I also know I don't have any interest in seeing it for myself.

Other hauntings:
-The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, home to Garrison Keillor's famous radio show A Prairie Home Companion, is haunted by a ghostly stagehand named Ben.
-St. Louis County is hotbed of Big Foot Sightings
-The spirit of author Sinclair Lewis is attached to the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre, MN (where he grew up), which is rumored to be very haunted and was featured on an episode of Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures.

Happy Halloween!

There's Always A Quilt Square

Dear Diary,
Often on our travels, we pass a weathered barn with a colorful quilt square emblazoned upon its side. It seemed random despite its obvious skill, and I became curious about what the story was.

(source - this particular one is located in Ohio.)
So I asked Google. Apparently this is a bit of a tourism draw, and North America has quilt trails in 43 states of the U.S. and 3 Canadian provinces.
The first official quilt trail began in 2001 in Adams County, Ohio. A woman wanted to honor her mother, an avid quilter, by painting a quilt square on her family's barn. This, coupled with the previously revealed Ohio Star barn quilt that was unveiled prior, became part of a "trail" that soon grew to 20. And today, though this is still emerging, these barn quilts are spreading rapidly.
I must admit, their colors and unexpected appearances as we pass Midwestern farms do help break up the drive.
It used to be that local artists were hired by an appointed committee to paint these quilts, but it became too time-consuming. Now, 8x8' wooden squares are created and hung on the side of familial barns. Such trails typically make up a single county, and while some you can walk to, most require a drive. And while only the community-driven projects are placed on the official maps, every quilt is considered to be part of the network.
Most of the squares too are meaningful to the barn owner, whether it's pulled from an heirloom quilt or done so to honor a loved one.
From my seat in the car however, as we continue down the lonely road, it's kind of reassuring to see them along for the ride.
More information: Barn Quilt Info

Fall Break at the Farm

Dear Diary,
The kids' enjoyed a 4-day weekend for MEA, and we took advantage of the break in our schedules. My in-laws live on a small slice of heaven and raise farm animals, where the kids spent the majority of their time outdoors. Perhaps the pictures can provide a better recap -

They learned how to ride their Christmas present, which we've brought home so they can tear up the trails. Like their new helmets? They realized something was up when we took them to the store to size and make the purchase. Another kid was eye-balling Landen's pretty hard ...

This barn cat came very close to being kidnapped, as Landen befriended her.

Landen helped his grandfather do some farm work.

Whereas Madelyn made it her job to snuggle the dogs and cats.

Two of the 3 calves are named for their destiny - Burger and T-bone.

Landen with his buddy.

And the fluffiest snuggler to ever snuggle!

Landen's reaction - but whyyyyy can't we just keep him?!

Helping Grandpa release the herd ...

I assure you, Landen will have no trouble passing his driver's test in a few years.

It was a fun, full weekend!

Fall Clean-Up

Dear Diary,
I don't think I can call "full color" on the property just yet.
But after some strong winds, we certainly had a mess.

The boxelder bugs sought warmth on sun-soaked sides of the house.

And Madelyn found a ladybug.

There is a special kind of magic that happens when Fall arrives.

Fall Youth Sports Review

Dear Diary,
Our fall weekends were consumed with scheduled lacrosse and soccer games.

It's been fun to settle into a camp chair, camera in hand, cheering for the kids as they learn good sportsmanship, fundamentals and teamwork.

Both kids celebrated a few goals, a few wins and walked away feeling good about how they played. I've told them win or lose, make the other team remember they played you.

Soccer put an interesting twist on diabetes management, but we made it work with a packed cooler.

One thing Nick and I resolved, and especially since her diagnosis, is that we would never replace something the kids wanted to do with something else for selfish reasons. We hope Madelyn never feels held back by Diabetes, and we hope Landen feels just as empowered. We had a few interesting moments as Nick returned to flying this season (i.e., meals consumed in our car), but it was worth it to see their smiles at the end of each day.

Up next: Landen's involvement with MN Chill kicks off at the end of the month, and Madelyn hopes to resume swim.