Haunted Hotel: The Many ‘Unregistered Guests’ at Sauk Center’s Historic Palmer House – WCCO


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – With Halloween just around the corner, here’s your annual reminder that Minnesota is full of great haunts and that a hotel in central Minnesota has become the subject of many paranormal studies over the years.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to the Palmer House in Sauk Center, to take a closer look at the hotel’s “unregistered guests”.

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Every town in Minnesota has a main street, but not all main streets have had a book written about it. Before Sinclair Lewis became a Nobel Prize winning author of the Sauk Center, he was a night clerk at the Palmer House Hotel and Restaurant.

“He was actually hired and fired a number of times before graduating from high school and continuing his education at university,” said owner Kelley Freese.

Is Lewis one of the spirits still residing at the hotel?

“Well, we’ve had observations,” Freese said.

And too many to count. Ralph Palmer built the hotel in 1901 after the Sauk Center Hotel burned down. It was one of the first businesses outside the Twin Cities to have running water and electricity. For 120 years, weary travelers and tourists have come and gone. But these days, a lot of them are looking for a more lively stay.

“People will come from all over to investigate and hope for an experience,” Freese said.

Cathy Vanderhoff is a guide and paranormal researcher.

“This is Raymond’s room and he’s one of our ‘unregistered guests’,” Vanderhoff said.

Raymond basically ran a top-floor brothel a century ago. Nowadays, it is believed that his ghost haunts a room on the top floor. On the other side of the hotel, a children’s playroom may be responsible for dens of minors. Some say Palmer’s son Carlisle is to blame. This is a common complaint among customers.

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(credit: CBS)

“They might give you praise and then add, ‘You know, someone let their kids play in the hallway all night. “Then that’s when you have to tell them there were no kids at the hotel,” Freese said.

A staff member said they had a conversation with a woman who looks like Palmer’s daughter, Hazel, before the woman simply disappeared. Among Palmer House’s paranormal believers is lawyer-turned-author Natalie Fowler.

“I don’t think I’ve been here before and haven’t had a meeting,” Fowler said.

She did a lot of her own historical research on the hotel. And while there were no suspicious deaths, it appears some guests checked in and never really left – at least not spiritually.

“You know these walls are trying to talk to you when you’re sitting here,” Fowler said. “I saw a black shadow coming and going through the door to the basement.”

The basement is a place where lights flicker for no reason. Some researchers consider a basement hallway to be the most haunted part of the hotel. In another room, a snowman decoration is known to dance for guests even when not plugged in.

From footsteps in the hallways to shadows in the lobby, there is a haunted story here. The staff embrace the spirits. They have to, because it doesn’t look like they’re leaving anytime soon.

“I always tell people they choose what they want to call it,” Freese said. “I tell people there’s stuff going on here all the time that I can’t explain.”

The Palmer House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and just celebrated its 120th anniversary.

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