It wasn't the allure of Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis that brought us to his hometown of Sauk Centre, Minn. It was ghosts.
The Palmer House Hotel, at Sinclair Lewis Avenue and Main Street in downtown Sauk Centre, is haunted -- at least according to its website and its owner, Kelley Freese, who bought the hotel with her husband about 10 years ago.
Website testimonials from guests and employees mention hearing the sound of children playing in the hallway, even though no children were staying at the hotel at the time; furniture being moved around in the rooms above, even when the room was on the top floor; unexplained temperature changes; things going missing only to be returned or never seen again; and ghost
Freese, who says she didn't believe in ghosts until she bought the hotel, has had several encounters. After a stranger told her about a dream that directed her to the spot, Freese says she dug up what looked like rib bones in the basement. She put them in a box, but when she returned for them, the box had -- you guessed it -- disappeared.
Then there was the woman wearing a red turban and flowing scarf who walked out of the bar into the lobby one New Year's Day. Freese says she was talking to hotel guests, who saw the woman, too. But when she turned to ask the woman how she could be of service, the woman -- you guessed it -- had disappeared.
According to Freese, there doesn't seem to be any pattern to the manifestations.She recorded experiences in a journal for a time, but the only similarities she noted were the lack of expression on the apparitions' faces.
She does point to the possibility that a fire that destroyed the hotel previous to the Palmer House, which was built in 1901 on the same site, may have something to do with the hauntings. However, there reportedly were no fatalities in the fire, and everybody knows dead people are the key ingredient for ghosts.
The Palmer House Hotel has been the site of many paranormal investigations, including a visit from the "Ghost Adventures" crew. The Travel Channel show is most famous for the "lockdowns" that Zak Bagans, lead investigator, and the gang undergo.
On the Oct. 5 premiere -- clips from which can be seen on the hotel website,thepalmerhousehotel.com, or travelchannel.com -- the Palmer House was featured. Bagans, et al., spent the majority of the show in the basement, where owner Freese reportedly found the bones -- and a demon dog with glowing red eyes, which she neglected to mention during our conversation -- and in Room 17, experiencing many "EVPs," electronic
The hotel website has more video and photos from other investigations, including a woman who claims to have been possessed by a spirit while she was in the basement (she's also featured on the "Ghost Adventures" episode) and video of the door of Room 17 closing by itself while investigators watch.
Also on the website are comments from guests and employees who allegedly came into contact with the spirit world. My favorite is from a night clerk who reportedly served beer to a ghost.
It wasn't dark and stormy when my husband and I arrived at the Palmer House that day in November last year, but it was gloomy. The wind had kicked up, leaves skittered and the light was fading fast.
Alas, no woman wearing a red turban greeted us in the lobby as we checked in, only people staring from historical photographs. A player piano stood in the corner, a gigantic clock hung over the front desk. Neither a bar glimpsed through a pair of French doors nor a restaurant ahead of us would be available that evening because a wedding reception for one of the employees was being held.
We stayed in Room 11. It and Room 17 are considered particularly "active," according to the website, although I learned from Freese later that "if they are going to play," spirits will appear anywhere in the hotel.
As we checked in, we were told that Room 11 was sometimes colder than the rest of the rooms, and that some guests had reported the sensation of a cat
A ghost cat didn't sound so bad, but I was feeling a little creeped out. Staying at the Palmer House was my idea. I had thought it would be fun to celebrate our 13th anniversary in a haunted hotel. Ghosts seemed more appropriate than lace, the traditional 13th anniversary gift. But in May our anniversary arrived, and I chickened out. I guess my birthday gave me courage.
Room 11 was at the far end of the hotel. One of the room's two windows looked out over Main Street, and through the other, we could see the parking lot at the back of the hotel. Near the door was a desk. The bathroom had a curtain for a door. A bed and a TV were the only other items in the room.
We left our bags and went across the street to a restaurant called the Sauk Hop. Get it? Sadly, the Sauk Hop has since changed ownership and is now called Nic's Diner. An injection of malt shop decor, 1950s memorabilia, Elvis Presley tunes, a cheeseburger and a milkshake later, we found ourselves walking around Sauk Centre, finally stopping for a game of pool at the Red Carpet Bar and Grill next door to the Palmer House.
After that, there was nothing left to do but go back to the room.
As so often happens when we stay in hotels with cable TV -- we don't have it at home -- there was nothing worth watching, and we settled on "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel (coincidence?). Next was a little "Saturday Night Live" and then it was time for bed.
I couldn't sleep.
My husband went to sleep immediately.
I lay, tense, waiting for something to happen. I could hear the wedding reception still going strong in the lobby, but eventually that ended, and it was just me, staring into the darkness.
I must have fallen asleep because the sound of a cat meowing woke me up.
A cat meowing? A cat meowing!
My eyes flew open. I strained to hear more, but all was quiet -- except for the hammering of my heart, of course.
It took a while to fall asleep again, but I did, after a long inner dialogue about what a cat could reasonably be doing wandering the halls of a hotel in the middle of the night.
At 3 a.m., a loud thud, as if someone from the floor above had dropped, from waist height, a big suitcase stuffed with clothes or something heavier, woke me. My husband continued to sleep, but that was it for me. I lay awake until the sun came up.
As we checked out the next day, I thought about asking whether guests had been staying in the room above us or whether a cat had free rein of the hotel at night, but I couldn't do it. When it came right down to it, I just didn't want to know. And still don't.
IF YOU GO
Sauk Centre, Minn., is about two hours northwest of the Twin Cities by way of Interstate 94. The Palmer House Hotel is at 500 Sinclair Lewis Ave. and can be reached by calling 320-351-9100 or toll-free at 866-834-9100.
The hotel has 20 rooms, four of which are jacuzzi suites. Prices range from $69 to $179.
For more information about the hotel, go to thepalmerhousehotel.com.
ABOUT SINCLAIR LEWIS
Sinclair Lewis was born in Sauk Centre in 1885. He wrote many novels, but arguably the most famous is "Main Street," published in 1920. The book satirized life in a small town. Because many of the characters were thinly disguised residents of Sauk Centre, the townfolk weren't amused. Apparently, Sauk Centre has a forgiving nature. Visitors to the city of 4,317 can take in the Sinclair Lewis Interpretative Center or tour the author's boyhood home, at least in the summer months. Also in the summer, Sinclair Lewis Days are held. And Lewis has his own connection to the Palmer House Hotel: As a young man, he worked there as a night clerk.