Arctic winds howled through the day and by nightfall, the thermometer was on its slide to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Hardly a night when goose bumps would be in short supply or much less wanted, yet the Chippewa County-Montevideo Library was packed with people who wanted still more.
Some 170 people came Jan. 20 to hear Chad Lewis of Eau Claire, Wis., spin stories of the paranormal, including accounts of haunted houses and cemeteries in Montevideo.
"Amazing,'' said Library Director Dave Lauritsen. "It was the largest crowd we ever had packed in here for any program.''
"I think you will discover you live in one heck of a weird state,'' said Lewis before sending them back out into the cold at night's end.
Lewis is the author of "Most Haunted Locations of Minnesota,'' billed as a "roadside guide'' for visiting haunted sites in the state. He's also produced similar books on Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. Along with friend Terry Fisk, he's set up recording equipment in hopes of documenting the supernatural. He's also authored works on topics ranging from UFOs to snow creatures.
Minnesota is full of ghostly stories that send chills up your spine, and Lewis shared many.
Some of the best can be found close to home: Lewis suggests placing your ear to the ground of a cemetery near Sanborn where people report hearing the pleadings of a young girl. Legend tells of how she was accidentally buried alive there in a time when paralysis or a deep coma could result in your being mistaken for deceased, according to the author.
Fears that his own diabetic children could be mistakenly buried alive allegedly led Olof Swensson to construct pipes or small tunnels from their graves to the basement of his home, according to Lewis. He said Swensson supposedly would listen to the pipes at night, although no evidence for the pipes has ever been found.
The graves are still there, as is the home, preserved by the Chippewa County Historical Society at its rural location east of Montevideo. The house and large barn at the historic site tell the story of Swensson (1843-1923) and his immigrant experience, how he built a 22-room home complete with chapel, barn and grist mill, and served as a lay minister. He even ran for governor.
Others know the Swensson house for the paranormal stories that seem to abound about it.
Audience member C.J. Rathbun of Boyd had worked with the building's caretaker in the mid-1990s on a project to remodel an interior room. He said the two heard a screen door open and close, but saw no one. Later, they discovered Swensson's shotgun in the upstairs chapel, somehow having been moved from a downstairs wall.
There were more such incidents to follow, according to Rathbun, who said he used to get a "really cold, chilly feeling'' whenever he entered the house.
For his part, Lewis said he never could document the reports of lights flickering on and off in the house, or of blood oozing from a basement wall. Nor did he ever see any of the apparitions some have supposedly seen.
But Rathbun was hardly alone in reporting them: At presentation's end, a number of people came forward to tell Lewis stories of their experiences there. One woman produced photos she took, complete with fuzzy, apparition-like images.
One of the author's favorite ghost stories from the area has not made it into his book. The allegedly haunted house in Montevideo is occupied by a family, said Lewis, and he refused to identify it for that reason.
According to Lewis, a woman who had lived there told him that it was common for lights to flicker in the house. There were times when the family heard the noises of people talking, and smelled scents from flowers like roses in the middle of winter. Sometimes, they came home to find things in the house rearranged, but nothing missing. Once, she found herself shoved out of her bed in the middle of the night, he said.
There were other goose-bump raising stories told, and not all came from the author. Audience member Susan Schildt told of one man's experience of seeing a misty, man-like image on the road between Montevideo and Granite Falls one dark night.
The man - who asked not to be identified when contacted later- said he and a friend were returning from Minneapolis about eight years ago when both saw the mask-like face and image "floating'' along the side of the road. Both were spooked by what they saw. His companion refused his suggestion to turn the car around and take another look, he said.
The "ZeeBee Man'' is among many local legends that Lewis learned that night.
Other stories ranged from a statue that allegedly moves in a local cemetery to a radio station studio supposedly haunted by a former deejay.
Lewis has spent hours and hours at sites like these with sophisticated recording and sensing equipment, but told his audience he now prefers to visit the sites unencumbered by the gadgetry. He likes most the legends of the places, and the chance to be there experiencing it, he said.