Justin Miner has never been slimed.
And he doesn’t use a Proton Pack or an Ecto Containment Unit. Nor do he and his cohorts don khaki flightsuits while tearing around in a garishly adorned vintage ambulance.
But know this: They ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Well, except for that one time. In the “body chute.”
Unlike the Ghostbusters from the hit 1984 and 1989 movies of the same name, Miner’s Johnsdale Paranormal Group — named for a long-forgotten town (and site of much paranormal activity) near Onamia, Minn., where the four investigators grew up — take the non-pratfall, skeptical approach to investigating mysterious activities.
“We really scrutinize every piece of evidence that we get,” said Brian Miller, another of the group’s investigators. “We avoid putting stuff out there claiming to be evidence of the paranormal when there’s really an explanation for it.”
But sometimes there is no explanation.
Setting a spine-chilling mood for Halloween this week, group members on Saturday talked about investigations they’ve done close to home, including the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis and the old Mounds Theatre in St. Paul, to the Queen Mary ocean liner in California and the long-abandoned Waverly Hills Sanitorium near Louisville, Ky., where 63,000 tuberculosis patients are believed to have died within its made-for-Wes-Craven Gothic walls.
The talk, fittingly, took place in the Victorian front parlor of the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater — itself the site of tales of the paranormal, and of two investigations by Miner’s group. The house, the second-oldest in Minnesota, was built in 1853 and served as the living quarters for the first 13 wardens of the state prison until 1914.
There are two ghosts associated with the house, Miner said, and the team came to investigate a little over a year ago and earlier this month.
Warden Henry Wolfer was the last to live in the house. His daughter, Gertrude, or Trudy, also known as the “White Woman,” is at the center of many of the mysteries. While living near Mankato, she gave birth to a son, Winston, but she died shortly afterward of appendicitis. The baby was sent to live with his grandfather.
Ghostly stories at the house abound: A woman in a white dress standing at the window facing Main Street, holding her stomach; Winston’s cradle in the master bedroom, rocking by itself; footsteps wandering from room to room, as if Trudy is looking for her son.
The second ghost, Miner said, is said to be a male prisoner who was among the privileged chosen to tend to the horses at the carriage house behind the Warden’s House.
Investigators tried to interact with Trudy and Winston. When they asked Trudy how her stomach felt, a high-pitched wail can be briefly heard on high-tech recording gear. When they moved Winston’s potty chair from the bedroom to a hallway, a voice seems to protest.
Miner showed infrared video of unexplained white and green lights. “You’ve got to be skeptical when you look at these things, but you definitely see what look like facial features,” he said, when one frame of the video was magnified.
That night, Miner, fellow investigator Adam Swanson and Sean Pallas, who manages the site for the Washington County Historical Society, left the house. But video and audio recording equipment kept running. When Miner played back the video, it drew a gasp: The sound of footsteps and rustling was undeniable. “Kind of hard to miss, right?” Miner said. “It sounds like there’s a lot of things going on.”
Miner isn’t ready to declare the house haunted. But there is a lot of evidence, and the conditions seem right.
The only time Miner said he was ever terrified was when the team went to investigate the Kentucky sanitarium. “It’s one of the creepiest places I’ve ever been to in my life,” he said. “And I’ve seen a lot of things.”
Patients who died at the sanitarium were taken down a long, dank 400-foot tunnel from the tuberculosis wards to the highway, which became known as the “body chute.”
In pitch darkness, the investigators set up their equipment, and watched as a purplish-blue, undulating orb appeared, floating in the gaping chasm. A human-shaped shadow slipped across the view of the camera.
“That one really freaked me out,” he said. “I never had that feeling before, where I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.”