It started out just like so many of our previous girls’ weekends.
My best friend and I have been meeting each spring for nearly 15 years for a weekend away from the grind of careers, housework and family demands.
In our past experiences, we have explored many communities with populations of 10,000 or less and found the small-town atmosphere laid back, relaxing and friendly – just the thing for a weekend escape.
This year, we opted to meet in Sauk Centre, where I had lived for 12 years during my first employment venture as a reporter for the weekly community newspaper there some 20 years ago.
I made reservations at the famous – and maybe infamous – locally owned and operated Palmer House Hotel, a more-than-100-year-old national historic building where Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis was known to have written some of his prose while he clerked the night desk.
The hotel was exquisitely refurbished in the 1980s to its original state – beautiful oak banisters and stairs, tin ceilings, period decor.
Once we met up, checked into Room 11 and set down our bags, I proceeded to tell my friend of some of my favorite local haunts so we could plan our weekend. Little did I know of the haunts we were to encounter. Most everything was within walking distance – shops, the movie theater, restaurants, entertainment.
Because we hadn’t seen each other since the Christmas holidays, we sat across from each other, she on the bed, me on the only chair in the room so we could catch up on the latest news.
“It’s rather cold in here,” I said. “Do you feel a draft?”
My friend then turned up the thermostat before we left for the evening so the room would be warmer upon our return.
Sometime during the course of the evening, one of her teenage boys texted to tell us “Did we know the Palmer House was haunted? I think the worst room is Room 13.”
Being rational- minded, intelligent women, we shrugged it off with a quick joke.
It was raining when we left the theater, but we had only a short block to walk back to the hotel. Upon returning, we retired for the night as both of us had been up since 5 a.m. We were exhausted from work and our drive to meet.
During the middle of the night, each of us at one time or another got up to use the restroom and my friend laughingly said, “Old ladies and their bladders.”
When we came down for breakfast the next morning, the desk clerk asked if we’d seen any ghosts in our room and then proceeded to tell us Room 11 is the most haunted room in the hotel. She then recounted several stories the employees and guests have told throughout the years of seeing a male apparition dressed in a 1920s pinstripe suit with a derby hat who’s been seen at the window (near the chair I sat on) numerous times and by various people in Room 11; a pregnant woman who “tucks” people in during the night in that same room; and a young boy who bounces a ball down the hallway of the second floor during the night. (It’s documented that a young boy died of fever in the hotel in the early 1900s.)
We were told no matter what the temperature is outside, Room 11 is always heated because the room temperature fluctuates so drastically (sometimes it’s so cold you can see your breath) – a sure sign of ghosts.
She then told about her personal experiences as an employee when she would set up the silverware at each place-setting in the dining room for the next day’s guests and come back a few hours later to find everything in disarray. And about how one day after making the beds in the hotel, she found the ball the little “ghost” boy bounces sitting smack dab in the middle of one of the beds she’d recently made up, and she was the only one in the building.
Another employee told us she’d been in the wine cellar and had encountered ghost dogs that watch her and even bark at her at times when she goes to retrieve supplies. Another told of slamming doors, even some which have to be physically pushed over rugs that prevent them from shutting.
A three-ring binder of several hundreds of personal accounts from guests and employees is kept in the lobby for all to read. Several psychics and television-show hosts have documented paranormal activity in the Palmer House, and most agree it is one of the most haunted places in Minnesota.
Probably the most disconcerting encounter is of a former night clerk who, after locking all the doors and double-checking the locks repeatedly, walked into the bar area around 2 a.m. and found a gentleman standing at the end of the bar who asked if she would sell him a beer. Even though she was startled, she found him a beer. He asked her how much he owed her and she said $2. He then proceeded to give her a $20 but she said she had no change, so he dug into his pocket and found five quarters. She said it was his lucky day as she’d sell the beer to him for $1.25. He then walked to the lobby and up the staircase. She was relieved to know he was a paying guest. The next morning, she recounted the episode to the owner who gave her a funny look and asked which room he said he was staying in. She said she hadn’t thought to ask but said they could figure it out because there would be a beer bottle in the one he stayed in. The owner then said no one was registered to stay in the hotel the previous night. And no beer bottle was ever found.
At the Palmer House, my friend and I did not experience any close encounters while we were there, and even though those who recounted the ghost tales reassured us the apparitions are harmless, my friend and I each slept the next night with one eye open.