North Shore Haunts

As October draws to its close,the North Shore reveals its true colors. Yes, the reds and oranges were beautiful, but the patchy golds and bare browns seem to lend themselves perfectly to the haunted feel of the season. Jack O’ Lanterns pop up in windows, witches huddle in the corners of yards, and fun-size candy bars appear on every store shelf…only to disappear seconds later!

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday. Sure, Christmas has presents, but Halloween has tales of ghosts. When this time of year rolls around, it seems like people lose that chip on their shoulder; they want to be scared. They want to believe in the supernatural, even for just a few weeks.

I’m a superfan of the paranormal (shocker) and the North Shore is perfect place to tap into Minnesota’s spooky pipeline. Think about it: you have the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth–mansions are always haunted, right?–then miles and miles of small towns and old ports, downtown Lutsen which just screams pioneer days, and then Grand Marais, a quaint li’l town with decades of history literally carved into the rocks in the harbor. Pick a house in Grand Marais. Chances are it’s over a hundred years old. Some of them have to be haunted, right? I mean, that’s just simple mathematics.

Okay, okay, maybe I’m taking the ghost thing a little too seriously, but it’s in my nature. About this time of year 8 years ago, my buddy, Kell, and I decided we were going to clear up the rumors regarding a haunted building on our college campus. As a writer and photographer for the university newspaper, we owed it to the student body to get to the bottom of this mystery. So we got special permission to stay over in the supposedly haunted Riverview Hall.

Let’s just say we got results. Big time. And ever since then I can’t help but root out ghost stories in every town–nay, every house–I visit.

So I had to wonder: just what is this area hiding, ghost-wise?

If you do a simple Google search for hauntings in the area, you get next to nothing. You might stumble on the clearly very credible The few stories shared there seem to point to the Maple Hill Cemetery as Grand Marais’ spook central. Believe it or not, I don’t make a habit of snooping around graveyards, but admittedly, I’ve done more than one double take as I come over the hill into town at the end of a late shift, thinking I see a flash of light or hazy glow.

But when it comes to ghost stories, website fodder is kid stuff. If you want to know where the ghosts are hiding, you gotta shake up the locals.

So I shook.

The first thing I noticed was nobody had a spooky story that happened to them, but redirected me to a friend or acquaintance. Odd.

Come on, guys, it’s Halloween, I thought. Live a little.

I kept digging. Something spooky had to have happened to somebody in this town, right?! Otherwise about a billion horror movies set in remote locations have been lying to me.

A fellow coworker told me about the Grand Marais Art Colony, easily one of the oldest institutions in the “Big Marsh.” Once upon a time, this friend of mine experienced a phenomena ranging from the feeling of “not being alone” to wildly spinning clock hands. This was the good stuff. This is what I wanted to hear.

The Art Colony building was once a church, built in 1916. I wouldn’t be surprised at all with a history like that, that it might have a paranormal presence or two. Just the age alone would almost guarantee that.

But what about a building that wasn’t so old?

While discussing the Art Colony incidents, another coworker told me snippets of another story from the area, one far more recent–of course, it didn’t happen to him.


So, I tracked down the source of the new story, a real skeptic that I’ll call “Sam.”

Hey, this ain’t a newspaper, I’ll use all the aliases I want, buddy!

As I sat down with my trusted notepad, Sam made it clear he didn’t really believe in this crap–he just…experienced something.

Yeah, yeah, got it. Get to the ghosts already!

Sam was setting up for the Lutsen Fire Dept’s annual pancake breakfast fundraiser around 6 a.m. The Lutsen Fire Hall was recently expanded–there’s an old section and a new. Once upon a time, it was a very small schoolhouse. Anyway, Sam was getting the coffee ready in the newer section of the hall when he heard something. A commotion, he described it. Coming from the older section of the building.

Sam assumed it was a female volunteer that is usually the first person in every year. He would assume this all the way up until the very end of his experience that morning.

Though Sam thought it strange that this volunteer would be in the old part of the building, it was far from impossible. Blocked by towering firetrucks, he couldn’t actually see who was over there.

Then, a heavy door clicks shut audibly. She must’ve left, Sam figures.

Shortly thereafter, a sound Sam could only describe as ‘a large piece of furniture moving’ erupts from the old section. Surely the volunteer has returned, and apparently doing some heavy rearranging for the event. Finally, Sam investigates the old building.

He finds it empty. The door is open. The light is on. Weird, sure, but possible. Sam instinctively shuts the open door. The second the latch clicks, an impossibly close voice whispers directly into his ear:


When I asked Sam if it was the woman’s voice, he shook his head. Definitely a man’s voice. Deep.


For a moment, everyone in Mogul’s tap room listening to this tale is struck silent. Goose bumps run the length of our arms and eventually we all laugh away the moment, shaking away the shivers.

After that, the proverbial fingers really start to point. Suddenly, everybody has a story. Most of them have to do with another former church-turned-art-studio down the street from my place. So I start digging.

That’s when the stories really start flowing…

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