WILLMAR - In 2011, the late Connie Wanner was volunteering at the Civil War encampment held at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society in Willmar. Wanner was assigned to look after the iconic Willmar landmark, the Sperry House, while members of the public walked around the grounds during the event.
She moved from the house's dining room to the kitchen and after returning to the dining room, Wanner noticed a drawer had been opened in the china hutch. Alone in the house, she had no idea who or what had opened the drawer. Wanner then told Jill Wohnoutka, director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, what happened.
"Connie wouldn't go back to the Sperry House again," Wohnoutka said. "She was too spooked out."
In April 2016, Wohnoutka attended the annual conference for Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums and saw that other local history museums were conducting paranormal investigations on historical landmarks in their areas. With Wanner's story in mind, Wohnoutka decided to give the Johnsdale Paranormal Group a call.
"I thought it would bring exposure to the Sperry House to people who wouldn't necessarily care otherwise but are interested in paranormal activity. When I can bring in new people and have the chance to introduce new people to the Historical Society or the Sperrys, I'll take that opportunity," she said.
The Sperry House was built by Albert H. Sperry in 1893. A pioneer settler, farmer and businessman, he died in 1917 in the home where he lived with his wife, Jennie. A teacher and housewife, Jennie Sperry lived at the house through the 1920s and eventually moved to other Willmar residences until her death in 1953. Multiple Sperry family members have lived and died in the historic Willmar landmark home. The Historical Society began maintaining the Sperry home after the youngest son, Bryan Sperry, died in the house in 1970.
The Johnsdale Paranormal Group came to the Sperry House in April and conducted an additional investigation in August. Co-founder Justin Miner said the team conducted their investigations based off the paranormal claims that the Historical Society gave them, including Wanner's experience in the Sperry House dining room. The team of three included Miner as well as his brother Brian Miner and team member William Hill.
The group, which has done more than 100 investigations throughout the United States, stayed overnight in the Sperry House and used infrared cameras to record in the dark. The cameras were set up in the dining room area near the china hutch.
"Paranormal activity doesn't necessarily mean ghosts - it's anything out of the realm of what we think is 'normal.' Paranormal activity may have a scientific explanation behind what we find, but we just haven't discovered how to identify it yet," Miner said.
And the Johnsdale group definitely found something they would categorize as "paranormal."
When looking back at the hours of footage, the group found an unusual figure that was not any of the three investigators.
"With an infrared camera, we appear white in the darkness. In the footage you saw all three of us walk past the camera to head into separate rooms. Whatever this thing was - was very, very dark. Almost like it didn't reflect any of the infrared light," Miner said.
Miner also mentioned that whenever one of the team members would walk, the floorboard would creak. But, when the figure appeared in the footage there was no noise.
"The actual movement of the figure was really odd. This thing had no gait. It's like it floated around the corner," he said.
The group additionally used a "spirit box" or a radio that scans through AM and FM radio waves, which is a typical paranormal investigation device. During the investigation, the group asked if any presence in the room could name one of the investigators there at the time. When there was no response, Miner said he asked if the presence could say their own name and the name "Sperry" was whispered through the spirit box.
"After the initial investigation, we went back again in August to make sure these things we found couldn't be debunked. We tried to imitate the walk of the figure and we couldn't do it," he said.
The Johnsdale Group later presented findings to a group of more than 70 community members in mid-August. Wohnoutka said she was not surprised when the investigators found signs of paranormal activity, even though she herself had never experienced anything out of the ordinary.
"If there are Sperry family members or paranormal activity, I don't think it's a bad thing at all. I take it as the Sperrys checking on their house. They built it after all," Wohnoutka said.
Miner said he still thinks there is more investigating to do at the Sperry House.
"I want more answers," Miner said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions and we definitely want to come back."