Haunted buildings, ghost stories staple of the season; What spooky stories are there in Grand Forks?
Halloween is nearly here, and houses are decorated with spooky decor: jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, witches and -- ghosts. Pop culture has rendered ghosts, spirits and phantoms in several ways. From "Casper the Friendly Ghost," to 1982's "Polterg...
Halloween is nearly here, and houses are decorated with spooky decor: jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, witches and - ghosts.
Pop culture has rendered ghosts, spirits and phantoms in several ways. From “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” to 1982’s “Poltergeist,” ghosts are both fun and fearful.
But off the TV screen, ghosts exist in local stories and legends of both believers and non-believers. While some people swap scary stories for the thrill of it, others insist they have experienced paranormal phenomena they can only attribute to ghosts or spirits.
“These are the sort of phenomena that reappear over and over again in different cultural contexts,” said Beatrice Marovich, assistant professor of religion at UND. “There are different ways of making sense of them. Christians may not necessarily believe in the ghosts who haunt haunted houses, but they might believe in the Holy Spirit.”
Marovich said it’s interesting the term “Holy Ghost” tended to fall out of favor in modern culture and be replaced with “Spirit.”
Outside of organized religion, Marovich thinks part of pop culture’s fascination with ghosts stems from secular interest in using science to find evidence supporting an afterlife of some sort.
“I do think the way that we make sense of spirits, specters, phantoms and ghosts has a lot to do with our cultural context and whether or not our religious traditions give us instructions about which spirits are real and which ones aren’t,” she said. “I think it’s probably enticing for people who are into the paranormal to find some sort of scientific justification to validate spirits from the afterlife.”
Phantom of the opera
One of the most prominent buildings in the community with a “haunted” reputation is The Empire Arts Center, which was built in 1919.
In recent years, the Empire has brought in a paranormal group to do a “sweep” for paranormal presences in order to help promote the theater’s showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Becca Grandstrand, development and communications coordinator for the center, said the last paranormal group that visited claimed to identify three spirits or ghosts in the building. They were presented to the audience at The Rocky Horror Picture Show prior to the play.
“The last people that were here said that (one of) the ghost’s name is Lester and he lives in or around the auditorium,” Grandstand said.
Amanda Schneider of the Unveiled Paranormal Research Society of Grand Forks is familiar with paranormal investigations, and she explained how such ghosts or spirits are detected. She said the Empire Arts Center’s draw for the paranormal has to do with its high quantity of both space and electronics, which produce electromagnetic fields.
“It’s just loaded with (electromagnetic fields) from sound boards and that kind of stuff,” she said. “That can act as paranormal fuel,” which Schneider said is what ghosts or spirits use to manifest themselves in everything from doors opening to full apparitions.
Emily Burkland, executive director of the Empire Arts Center, said she has never encountered any of the ghosts or spirits in the theater, but still enjoys hearing people’s experiences.
“I spend the most time in the Empire out of anyone I know and I’ve never had any experiences with ghosts or any paranormal experiences,” she said. “But it’s fun to hear the stories of other people who say they’ve seen a light flicker or gotten a creepy crawly feeling under their skin.”
Burkland added she doesn’t mind the haunted rumors surrounding the theater.
“I think it’s totally fun,” she said. “If I were to believe in ghosts, and that the Empire was haunted, I have a feeling that any ghost that haunted the Empire would haunt it because they love the building and have a special connection to it.”
While Burkland hasn’t experienced anything paranormal at the Empire, students have circulated ghost stories at UND for years.
Lights flickering and other phenomena in residence halls could be caused by electrical glitches or other scientific means. But one student shared an experience she and her friends claim can’t be explained by anything other than a ghost.
Kaylen Knutson, a senior at UND, lived in John C. West Hall her senior year. According to a number of websites that list haunted places, the hall is inhabited by the ghost of a girl who haunts the underground tunnels connecting it to other buildings.
Knutson said she and her suitemates returned to their locked, empty suite one night, and when they turned the light off, they saw a smiley face drawn on the wall in glow-in-the-dark ink.
They thought someone had broken in, so they reported it to hall staff, but no culprit was ever found.
“Then it happened again a week later and that time it said “hi” on the wall,” Knutson said. “We were pretty freaked out and to this day we don’t know what happened.”
When asked if she believes in ghosts, Knutson said she did, although she wasn’t afraid of them.
“I’ve heard multiple things, especially about West,” she said. “People say stuff all the time but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. I think it’s definitely a thing that happens.”
In addition to campus halls and the Empire Arts Center, other stories of haunted places in and around Grand Forks have been reported by The Herald in the past.
In 1996, Herald reporter Steve Foss investigated the rumored existence of a ghost referred to as “the Hitchhiker” or the “Ghost of Sherack,” which allegedly roams Polk County Highway 21 near Sherack, Minn., during bad weather.
According to legend, a man in a long coat appears on the side of the road and can get into a car without opening the door. After a short drive down the road, it will pull the car over automatically and then disappear.
However, Foss spent a night sleeping in his car in an abandoned cemetery off the highway and found no such evidence, although he didn’t discount the stories he’d heard about it, writing “Who can plumb the thoughts of ghosts? Happy Halloween.”