Minnesota's monsters: From "little people" to a haunted fair, state has its share of paranormal activity
MOORHEAD - No disrespect to the oddities of Sin City or the strange appreciation of bats in Austin, Texas, but Chad Lewis believes we live in the heartland of all things strange.
"It's always been my theory that the Midwest is the weirdest place in the country," Lewis says.
He would know. As a paranormal expert who studies everything from sasquatch sightings to haunted houses to reported alien abductions, Lewis lives a life that actively tries to encounter the "weird" events, instances and creatures we've all heard about - and probably laughed off as benign folklore.
While he doesn't claim to believe all the odd reports he investigates, Lewis doesn't ignore them either.
This Thursday evening he'll be reporting his findings on some of the strangest creatures in Minnesota lore: from a ghost pig that haunts that state's fairgrounds to a collection of little people in southern Minnesota that might have tried to steal his soul.
The children's cartoon "Scooby-Doo" led us to believe ghosts dressed like pirates or were demented spirits obsessed with the word "boo." Turns out they're also animals; at least, they are at the Minnesota State Fair.
Lewis says state legend tells of a phantom pig in the fairgrounds' old swine barn.
"Many people have contacted me because they think they see a pig ... but when they turn, it disappears," Lewis says. "Legend is you will not be able to take a photo of this phantom pig."
And that's just one of the fair's animal ghosts. Lewis says another is a crow or raven at the Ye Old Mill that might be a ghost or actual bird.
"It's thought to be a reincarnated spirit of a former worker there. When he passed away, the next year this bird appeared," Lewis says.
You can't go down a list of odd creature sightings without mentioning this mainstay of North American folklore that's been spotted from coast to coast.
In Minnesota, Lewis says most of the sightings come from the state's north woods. One, from Willow River, was reported by a man who saw two of them: a large one, 6 to 7 feet tall, and another about 5 feet tall.
Lewis says there's also a belief sasquatch aren't corporeal beings, that they're more spiritual in nature.
Lewis says reports of large and mysterious serpents in the lakes and rivers of Minnesota go as far back as the 1800s and were quite frequent until the 1930s, when they died off. But, reports are becoming more common these days.
The most notable, he says, might be from Lake Pepin, where the serpent "Pepie" has been reported since the 1800s.
"The creature is thought to be a killing monster," Lewis says. "Natives were afraid of it. White pioneers were afraid of it.
"The town of Lake City is so convinced it's there, or maybe so convinced you'll come look for it, that they're offering a $50,000 reward if you can find evidence of it."
You don't want to encounter a wendigo.
This is partly because they're human cannibals transformed into white, furry creatures from 8 to 15 feet tall. It's also because when you see a wendigo, someone dies.
At least, that's the legend around Ross, in the northern part of the state. Reports of the wendigo go back to 1886 in detailed journals by a white pioneer named Jake Nelson. He wrote that the natives believed when the creature would appear, then someone would die. Nelson was a skeptic, he wrote, until he saw the beast. The next day, someone died.
"The fact that people are still seeing it is pretty interesting," Lewis says.
These large, black dogs with glowing red or green eyes have been reported throughout history. According to some folklore, they do the devil's bidding.
In Minnesota, they apparently hate campers.
Lewis says campers in Forestville State Park, on the southern end of Minnesota, reported that a hellhound attacked them and nearly knocked over their mobile home.
Lewis says reports of these Australian marsupials in Minnesota aren't strange in a paranormal sense, just odd, period.
"In the Coon Rapids and Anoka areas, people have seen what the kids call 'big bunnies' or the adults will call kangaroos," Lewis says.
Chances are they're just escaped zoo animals or former pets, but you never know.
You don't want to tempt the witches of Loon Lake. If so, they'll get you one way or another.
Lewis says legend suggests that a trio of witches is buried in the Loon Lake Cemetery near Jackson, Minn. If people jump over the graves, they'll be cursed with bad luck or death.
"I get reports from people who went out there (and jumped the graves) and say they were in a car accident afterward," Lewis says.
One problem: The grave of Mary Jane, the head witch, was removed awhile back.
Still, people report being cursed by the fates of these witches.
Pipestone, in the southwest corner of the state, is a spiritual place of peace to Native Americans who used the stone there to make ceremonial pipes. It's also the home of some mischievous "little people."
"The elders won't talk about it," Lewis says. "They thought the creatures had supernatural powers, that they could take your sight, your hearing, even your life."
But he says people who carve stone in the quarry talk about seeing little people run past them from the corners of their eyes and of having their hair tugged or pulled from behind when no one else is there.
Lewis tempted the legends when he approached a supposed area of the little people. He left an offering of M&Ms, and suddenly something whizzed behind him and touched his hair.
"I looked around and saw nothing," he says. "Later I called out for them, and I got really drowsy. Part of the folklore is that these little people lull you to sleep and take you to their land, never to return."
If you go
* What: Chad Lewis talks about strange creatures in Minnesota
* When: 7 p.m. Thursday
* Where: Moorhead Library, 118 5th St. S.
* Info: Free
Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518