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Haunted Hotel: The Many 'Unregistered Guests' At Sauk Centre's Historic Palmer House

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- With Halloween right around the corner, this is your yearly reminder that Minnesota is full of good haunts, and 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 Centre, for a closer look at the hotel's "unregistered guests."

Every Minnesota town has a main street, but not every main street has had a book written about it. Before Sinclair Lewis became a Nobel Prize-winning author from Sauk Centre, he was a night clerk at the Palmer House Hotel and Restaurant.

"He was actually hired and fired several times before he eventually graduated from high school and went on to college," said owner Kelley Freese.

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

"Well, we've had sightings," Freese said.

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

"People will come from all over to investigate and hope to have an experience," said Freese.

Cathy Vanderhoff is a guide and paranormal researcher.

"This is Raymond's room and he's one of our 'unregistered guests,'" Vanderhoff said.

Raymond essentially ran a top-floor brothel a century ago. Nowadays, it's believed his ghost haunts a room on the top floor. On the other side of the hotel, a children's playroom may be responsible for juvenile haunts. Some say Palmer's son Carlisle is to blame. It's a common complaint among guests.

Palmer House Sauk Centre
(credit: CBS)

"They might give you some accolades and then add, 'You know, somebody let their kids play in the hallway all night long.' Then, that's when you have to tell them there were no children in the hotel," said Freese.

A staff member reported having a conversation with a lady that looks like Palmer's daughter Hazel, before the woman simply disappeared. Among the believers in the Palmer House paranormal is attorney-turned-author Natalie Fowler.

"I don't think that I've ever been here and not had an encounter," said Fowler.

She has done a lot of her own historical research on the hotel. And while there haven't been any suspicious deaths, it seems some guests checked in and never really left -- at least not spiritually.

"You know that these walls are trying to talk to you when you sit here," said Fowler. "I have seen a dark shadow that paces back and forth across the doorway down in the basement."

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

From footsteps in the hallways, to shadows in the foyer, there's a haunted history here. The staff embraces the spirits. They have to, because it doesn't seem like they're leaving anytime soon.

"I always tell people they get to choose what it is they want to call it," said Freese. "I tell people there's stuff that happens here all the time that I can't explain."

The Palmer House is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it just celebrated its 120th birthday.

Click here for reservations and tours.

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