I know it’s cliché to say that a haunted building is straight out of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but just look at the Recreation Building in the tiny northern Minnesota town of Eveleth. Can’t you see the little girls skipping rope on the sidewalk singing “1-2 Freddy’s coming for you…?” Well, try going inside! Except for a jovial and superbly bearded caretaker named Greg, the whole place is abandoned. The walls and floor are chipped, everything creeks like somebody’s playing a Halloween sounds CD, and there’s old cars and machinery everywhere. And how’s this for ominous: the toilets don’t work. All it needs is a stripe-shirted serial killing monster and a cheesy 80’s soundtrack to be complete.
First I should give you a little history on myself. I have been afraid of sharks, aliens, and ghosts my entire life. I admit it’s not the most rational laundry list of fears. For starters I live in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, which is not exactly a hotbed for shark activity. But in my crazy mind that’s 10,000 chances for the very first DNA mutated Lake-Shark to evolve and bite my leg off. The odds of running into an extraterrestrial are equally as slim, yet when nighttime hits, I’m convinced that a whole fleet of those bobble-headed sons-of-bitches are outside my window waiting to take my temperature. And ghosts are invisible. How creepy is that? God help me if the ghost of a space-shark is ever discovered. The real truth is, I’m 31 years old and I’m afraid of the dark. It’s not about those three individual fears, it’s what lies hidden in the dark corners of the room and my mind. Sharks, aliens, and ghosts represent the unknown and the unseen to me. Strangely enough, I am also fascinated by, and drawn to, what I’m afraid of. One of my biggest dreams is to swim with sharks. I would give anything to go cruising on a UFO even if it was terrifying. And ghosts? Well…
This summer myself and Scotty Roberts from Dead Reckoning were invited to check out the Rec Building by native Minnesotans and paranormal experts Joel Sturgis and Brian Leffler. Their stories of full-bodied apparitions, shadows, orbs seen with the naked eye, and general interactiveness both freaked me out and intrigued me. And then they played me an amazing EVP that Joel caught on the second floor. Brian and Joel swear to me that everybody was finishing up a break outside and were just starting to walk up the stairs when this was recorded. Nobody was in the room yet and the place was dead-silent. In the EVP you can hear the noise of machinery and voices saying “They’re coming up here. I’m playing a prank. I’m gonna change the batteries.” When they got back up, all the batteries were dead. Check out the EVP here: http://www.hauntingresearch.com/Theyre_Coming_Up_Here_JOEL.mp3
As far as the building goes, it was built in 1919 and designed to give locals the opportunity for hockey, curling, and other sports that appeal to pasty white people. Higher-scale folks used other rooms for smoking cigars and having Monopoly Man look-a-like competitions. The building flourished for years until the city erected a new arena across town with the frighteningly Mad Max-esque name of “The Hippodrome.” Shortly thereafter, the local minor-league hockey team was re-located to a small town called New York City, where they become known as the New York Rangers. True Story. After that the building changed owners and became a shirt factory. Even better true story: I learned about the shirt factory by email from a local Eveleth historian, who’s “R” button must have gotten stuck while typing “shirt”, because they typed something else.
This building was my chance to test myself. My goal, before the night was over, was to find the darkest, coldest, most remote and active part of the building and sit there alone for as long as I could. But which room should I pick in a building rife with haunted rooms? There’s the aforementioned cigar-room, where women were not allowed. It’s said that whenever a female enters this room, the ghosts act up and get uppity. That one wouldn’t work, unless I’ve got some Jamie Lee Curtis genes I’m unaware of. Then there’s the “Peekaboo” room, where a mysterious shadow of a head is supposed to peek around the corner. But I hate surprises and I’m not particularly good at Wack-A-Mole, so no dice on that one either. The garage is frequented by a kindly old caretaker named George and another shade, who specifically loves to hang around the old black El Camino that was his when he was alive. I drive a Ford Focus. Enough said. Then there was the basement. Stuffy, dusty, full of equipment, and empty cans of paint remover. And as the story goes, haunted by the most cantankerous old fart this side of Duluth. Jackpot. It was truly the most foreboding room in the building, old people hate me, and since there’s no windows, it was PITCH BLACK down there, and nobody would see me pee my pants. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Have you ever seen the movie Commando? When 20 minutes of the whole film is dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger putting all his weapons on? That’s what I felt like this night. I got loaded up with flashlights, EMF detectors, digital audio-recorders, a head-lamp, an Ovilus, and a shack-hack (see my previous article). Brian brought a Ouija Board (which I won’t go near). They even set up a motion detector light in the Peekaboo Room (it never went off). And of course, the most important resource on any ghost investigation:
There were about eight or nine of us in the building, but it was so large of a place that we all split up and didn’t even run into each other unless we wanted to. I paired up with a 20-something guy from a local paranormal group. According to him, he had been in an automobile accident, had a near-death experience, and could now see/feel ghosts. I know it’s not the most scientifically sound theory, but whenever I’m investigating I like to find a “psychic” person and just follow them around. Interesting things tend to happen and he seemed like an honest enough fellow to me. Incidentally, he also didn’t respond to my email request to use his name, so for this story he will be called “Jamiroquai.”
Jamiroquai and I started off in the garage. We checked out the El Camino without much success. No readings on the equipment, no psychic feelings. It just seemed like any other El Camino that you’d find on the front lawn in Kentucky. The only thing that stuck out was the wadded up jacket that was still on the passenger seat. It was a bit of a stark reminder that these people who may or may not be ghosts were in fact just that: People. Suddenly, across the garage we heard the distinct sound of plywood scraping across the floor. We paused and listen. We heard it again. And again. We followed the sound until we found the guilty plywood and it moved again right before our eyes. Jamiroquai and I didn’t know what to think. Something was moving it and we couldn’t explain it. We were inside. There was no wind that we could hear. Just then the (living) caretaker walked by. We told him about the plywood and he said that even though you sometimes can’t hear it, the wind makes the windows move, which then moves the plywood that is leaning up against it. “Happens all the time” he said. “I told you about it when you were loading up equipment.” Flash-back to an hour before: I’m ferociously stuffing my face with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups while the caretaker’s incredibly useful information flies right over my dumb head. Candy – the bane of my existence.
After shamefully asking the caretaker to remind me of any other helpful tips I might have missed, we set off to the cigar room. This was the room that no women were allowed in back in the day. Joel and Scotty were in there using the Ovilus and the shack-hack to communicate with spirits, but to no avail. For the first time in my life, I wished that I had a Bugs Bunny-esque drag outfit to wear. There actually was a woman investigator floating around the building somewhere, but that’s kind of a hard sell. “Hey, I know you’re a beginner and dudes in real life always cat-call you and harass you. But do you want to be bait for dead ones? It’ll be great, they’ll get really mad at you and maybe throw a top-hat at you. Let’s go!”
The night was off to a slow start, so Jamiroquai and I decided to go to the most infamous place in the building: the basement. I am a big scaredy-cat when I am alone, but if somebody’s with me I feel invulnerable. Maybe I think if some crazy toothless melonhead comes running at us I can push the other person toward him and run for the hills? That’s bravery, huh? All I know is that the basement was gnarly looking and if anything was going to happen, it was here. So we went to the far corner of the basement and turned off our head-lamps.
“I love the dark,” Jamiroquai said. “The shapes you can see in the blackness.”
“You can’t see them? There’s about four or five spirits down here with us right now.”
I kid you not, the moment he said that, in the adjoining room came a loud and distinctive “Mmmm-hmmmm-mmmmmm.” We both heard it immediately. Like a grumble. Like Sling Blade. I don’t know what that guy in the other room was, but I bet he liked French-fried taters. We walked into the room and temporarily turned our flashlights back on. That room was a dead-end. No windows. Just a room and some machinery that hasn’t worked in years.
After about ten minutes of nothing else happening in that room, we turned our flashlights back off and let the darkness surround us again. We started talking about general paranormal stuff. Experiences we had. His accident. I was rambling on about something that surely wasn’t that important when suddenly a yellow flash popped up to the left of me. I know this sounds crazy, but I didn’t see it with my eyes. It was in my mind. I know, my straight-jacket is already reserved. And with the light I had the incredible feeling that something just approached me and was about a foot away.
I stopped mid-sentence and said “Whoa, I just got the feeling like something just sidled up to me.”
“That’s because it did.”
I am fully aware that this could just be the imaginations of two people in a dark room that want to have a paranormal experience so badly that we subconsciously made it up. That very well could be the case. But it didn’t feel that way at the time. So of course, this can only be chalked up to personal experience, not evidence. But I’ve been around enough of this stuff now, and seen some pretty nutty things with multiple witnesses to at least know that it had that feel. Anybody who believes they have been near a ghost knows what I’m saying when I refer to that feel. You get that prickly, pins-and-needles sense like electricity. It’s the same feeling you get in everyday life when a friend walks up behind you and you turn around because you know they’re there.
We stayed down in that room for a long time, and not much else happened after that other than Jamiroquai occasionally saying, “There’s one over there.” It was still dark out, but getting to be early in the morning, and I still had to drive three hours back to the Twin Cities. As we started to walk back up the stairs, I told Jamiroquai to go on without me. I needed to confront my fear of being alone in the dark.
As I headed back down the stairs, I set my stop-watch to zero. I walked to the far corner of the room where we heard the skulky “Mmmm-hmmm-mmmm,”I hit the timer on my watch, turned off my head-lamp, and sat down. Some time passed. Then I got up and stood in the corner facing the wall like the Blair Witch Project for some reason. Then I ran as fast as I could up the stairs.
I made it one minute and 37 seconds.
(All professional-looking photos by Scotty Roberts. Everything else by Mike Brody. For more information on the Eveleth Recreation Building, check out Brian Leffler’s site www.hauntingresearch.com)