I'm a skeptic
when it comes to ghost stories so I am reluctant to relay my own. I have, however, seen things that I cannot explain and for which no rational explanation has been offered. The most dramatic episodes of supernatural
activity that I've witnessed have gone unreported, more from selfishness
than a fear of sounding loony. When the episodes are reduced to words they are lessened.
Most of my experience with ghosts happened in the same building over a two and a half-year period in the mid-1980s. The specific events numbered in the hundreds and became so commonplace that they often passed without remark.
I began to pay close attention to the odd occurrences and immediately found patterns of apparently supernatural activity that were predictable and routine. The skeptic in me quietly investigated each instance, in the hopes of finding a prankster at the other end of the phenomena but none was ever discovered.
Nicollet Island is a 48-acre strip of land in the Mississippi River
just above St. Anthony Falls
, in downtown Minneapolis
. Only two structures exist from the original building boom in the 1890's and one of these was the Island Sash and Door Company. The building was constructed in 1893 of massive blocks
of rough-hewn, Minnesota
, quarried from that very site. That same year a disastrous Minneapolis fire made quick work of most of the rest of the buildings on the island but left the stone edifice intact.
In 1913 the building was purchased by the Salvation Army and converted into a homeless shelter for men, which operated for nearly 60 years. By the early 1970's the neglected Nicollet Island had earned a reputation as a haven for transients, hippies and winos. It was, by all accounts, a roguish scene and rumor had it that the police only visited for the occasional corpse removal and never did so after dark. The island was a magnet for the city's wretched refuse and the crumbling shell of the old limestone building had become a squatter's nest.
Limestone is little more than compressed calcium carbonate, the remains of ancient sea creatures, so the building itself was actually made of old bones. Those walls contained the last breath of scores of desperate men and it is little wonder that a restless soul might linger.
As part of the city's gentrification of its riverfront in the mid-1970s, the building was sold to a developer for one dollar. The property was to be refurbished as an upscale hotel and restaurant. Millions of dollars were devoted to the hotel project and millions more on the island as a whole and the results were stunning. The derelict building where winos had gone to die was transformed into an elegant neo-Victorian Inn.
I began work as the hotel desk clerk and barman in the pub a year or two after their grand opening.
moved daily through the Inn and their machinations
were obvious to anyone who paid attention. Any single incident would be summarily dismissed as a freak occurrence by the casual observer but the activity I chronicled over the course of two years made a believer out of me.
The hotel had twenty-four guestrooms and every room was decorated differently, each with a separate personality and feel. The ghost showed a definite preference for rooms 216 and 316, as these rooms were the focal point of most of his activity. In a typical episode a guest would return to the front desk after check-in and report that their room seemed to be locked from the inside.
Each room had a deadbolt lock operated by a lever on the inside of the room. There was no key for the deadbolt and so there was no keyhole on the outside of the door. The bolt could only be thrown from inside of the room. The first time it happened to room 216 and we considered calling the police for fear someone had thrown the deadbolt and died in bed. The host went outside and scaled the limestone wall in his evening clothes, jiggled open the window and gained entrance. The room was immaculate and empty and locked from the inside.
The next time it happened, the host scaled the building more adeptly for having practiced but when he made it to the window he found it locked as well. He broke through the flimsy window lock and climbed in the window to unlock the door. There were no adjoining rooms or secret trap doors and the walls were three feet of solid limestone. Whoever or whatever locked both the door and the window from the inside exited through non-conventional means.
The locks were changed on every room on the second floor so that the deadbolt could be thrown with a master key from outside the room. Shortly after solving our mysterious problem a guest returned to the front desk complaining that room 316 seemed to be locked from the inside. I looked at the host and he looked right back at me.
"If you think I'm climbing the outside of this building to the third floor you're nuts...this is a brand new suit pal, call a flippin’ locksmith."
The guest was getting snippy by the time the locksmith arrived two hours later so we comped her room and changed all of the locks on the third floor as well.
Rooms 216 and 316 continued to be locked from the inside intermittently but since we now had the key it became only a minor nuisance. Both rooms were still the source of dozens of complaints about everything from extreme spontaneous temperature swings to the guest in 316 who reported that she awoke to find both previously locked windows wide open.
Otherwise rational hotel guests began to request rooms on the opposite end of the hotel.
Perhaps the most haunting
manifestation of the ghost, or ghosts happened in the Pub
, in the basement of the building. The memory visits me to this day and I am still left to wonder if the spirits weren't struggling to communicate with me. On the days I tended bar I noticed an odd arrangement of pens and small scraps of paper lying around when I arrived. Each day I'd collect the pens
and put them back in the cup next to the cash register and throw the scraps of paper in the trash.
I didn't think anything of it until the first time I closed and opened the bar on successive days. I was the one who cleaned the bar the previous night and I padlocked the doors when I left. Ten hours later when I returned to open the bar the padlocks were in place but the strange configuration of writing implements and scraps of paper were arranged along the entire length of the bar and the back bar. I examined the pieces of paper closely for the first time and each had only a small squiggle or an odd pencil mark with no discernable writing.
The pens, perhaps a dozen of them, were almost evenly spaced, some perpendicular and some running parallel to the line of the bar. One of the small scraps of paper lay between each pair of writing tools.
I asked the only other people with keys to the Pub and they hadn't a clue who might have been there in my absence. That night when I closed the bar I placed small pieces of Scotch tape along the seam of each door. I switched the padlock on the back door with the one from my locker just to be sure. When I returned ten hours later my padlock was locked, my Scotch tape was intact and the pens and paper were arranged almost exactly as they had been the day before.
In that moment my worldview shifted forever and I questioned my skepticism of everything from alien abductions to Santa Claus.
I was working at the front desk of the hotel the night the ghost showed its surlier side. It was about 9 o'clock on a Saturday night and the restaurant was packed. A buddy and I were leaning against the desk, watching the parade of thousand dollar suits and designer gowns go by when he nudged my arm and said, "What's the story with her?" He was pointing at the hotel guest who was descending the stairs into the middle of the crowded lobby, barefooted, wearing only her bathrobe. Her hair was a ragged mess and her face was frightfullly pale
She walked directly up to me and spoke with an eerie calm; "I was stepping into the bath when it happened, it wasn't supposed to kill me."
"Umm, what wasn't supposed to kill you, ma'am?"
She was impassive, oblivious to the murmuring crowd and apparently unaware that she was grotesquely underdressed. The woman was a calm, ghostly zombie speaking in a creepy monotone.
"The ceiling wasn't going to kill me at all. I barely had toe in the tub when it fell. It didn't even graze me."
"Ma'am, the ceiling fell in your room?"
"Yes, it did...just the part above the tub though."
"Thank God you weren't injured ma'am, I'll move you to another room immediately."
"That won't be necessary. I'm checking out in the morning and I can get by without the tub. I just thought I should let you know before someone else books the room that It's going to need quite a lot of work. And I wanted to give you this."
She handed me a three by five-inch card with the name and description of one of the guestrooms. Each of the rooms was named for a famous Minnesota settler and the cards had been placed in the rooms when the hotel first opened. Over the course of time it became a nuisance to make sure that the correct cards were in the corresponding room so the practice was abandoned years before.
"Oh, that's nothing ma'am, just a little biographical description of the famous settler your room is named for."
"But it's not the right card for my room, I'm in 316 and the card is supposed to be in room 216."
I didn't let on that both rooms were the font of great weirdness in the past and when I noticed that my buddy was about to I gave him an elbow to the ribcage.
"Just a little housekeeping oversight, ma'am, happens all the time. You're sure that there's nothing I can do for you?"
She spoke as though she was under hypnosis, "No, I'll be fine, goodnight."
My buddy grabbed the card from my hand as the woman turned and crossed the lobby toward the staircase. "Those are the hinky rooms, man, your ghost was trying to smush that nice lady." Now it was my friend who was oblivious to the curious stares of the restaurant goers. "There's somethin' about this card, man, did you see her she looked like a Stepford Wife; she was on a mission, man. She didn't have nuthin' on under that robe either."
I snatched the card back from him and scrutinized it for significant clues but found none. The name held no special meaning to me and the short biographical description of an early milling baron was unremarkable. The date of the man's death caught my eye because it was one of history's infamous milestones. "Hey look, the guy died on the same day as Julius Caesar, March fifteenth."
"Beware the Ides of March, dude."
It was the third week of February when the ghost sent us the sign and my friend and I agreed that I should be extra vigilant when the designated day rolled around. I remember taping the card next to the calendar in my apartment and putting a big red X on the fifteenth of March so I wouldn't miss it.
I wish I could fill you in on what went on in the hotel that day but I can't. The joint fell into bankruptcy on the fourteenth and the sheriff padlocked the doors the next morning.