"Stop pointing," my walking companion said, shooing my index finger down.
"It's just a house — it doesn't have feelings," I said.
"The people who live there do."
My companion wanted me to be discreet as we passed the residence of someone who had been in the news, drawing protesters and unwanted attention to his property and neighbors. My reaction was not unique. Other passersby sped up, slowed down or generally behaved oddly near the house, as if the structure were a black hole exerting invisible but powerful energy.
Many neighborhoods have residences that are noteworthy — or notorious — because of something that happened in them or the people who stayed there. Some places get a rep because of a celebrity association. Other houses have darker histories, including as sites of molestation, abuse or murder.
"Everything happens in houses — births, weddings, divorces, deaths, all the important events of people's lives," said veteran real estate agent Bruce Birkeland, Coldwell Banker. "That cuts across all classes. And you usually can feel the karma, or if you're religious, spirit, in the place. Houses have essences, and those can usually be changed by opening them up with windows and light."
Birkeland, who has sold over a billion dollars' worth of real estate in the Twin Cities in his 30-plus years in the industry, said that people believe strongly that houses can be haunted by ghosts. That can influence their decisions in unexpected ways.
"I once had someone back out of a sale after the seller said, 'The house has a wonderful spirit,' " he recalled. "She got as white as printer paper. She took it that he meant there was a ghost in there, and wouldn't buy the house."
Some houses where disturbing things have happened have been renovated. Some murder houses in the Upper Midwest — places where killings have occurred — are demolished. The same for the killers' places.
The Barron, Wis., property where 13-year-old Jayme Closs was abducted after her kidnapper slaughtered her parents met the wrecking ball. Ditto for the Annandale, Minn., house of the pedophile who confessed to killing Jacob Wetterling and the Fargo house of cop-shooter Marcus Schumacher.
And if such notorious places survive, their histories should be disclosed when they hit the market.
"It's the ethical thing to do," Birkeland said. "I once sold a real expensive house in my own distant family where something like that happened. And you could feel the death in there."
The buyers of murder houses are understandably loath to talk.
When reached, the new owners of a south suburban metro place where two people were slain before the killer committed suicide said they did not want to glorify that history.
The most famous murder house in Minnesota is also a huge tourist attraction. Glensheen, the 27,000-square-foot Duluth estate of mining magnate Chester Congdon, was the site of the 1977 double murder of his daughter, Elisabeth Congdon, and nurse Velma Pietila.
The younger Congdon was suffocated with a satin pillow in her bed. Pietila died after being beaten with a candlestick. Congdon's adopted daughter, Marjorie Caldwell, and her husband, Roger, were arrested for the murders, a gruesome story that became the subject of a popular 2015 musical by composer Chan Poling and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher.
"The house itself was morbid and macabre in a tragicomic kind of way," said Poling, who toured Glensheen twice in preparation for writing music for the show. "I found I had a strange fascination with the place."
So strange in fact that after he bought a new (old) house in St. Paul a few years ago, he was surprised to discover that the architect was Clarence H. Johnston, the same man who designed Glensheen.
"The hair stood up on my neck," Poling said. "I love my cozy house, but I didn't realize the connection was that deep."
Johnston also designed the row houses on Summit Avenue where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote.
Some houses have historic star auras attached. That's true of the Duluth and Hibbing childhood homes of Bob Dylan. Paisley Park, the Chanhassen home of Prince, has become a pilgrimage destination for fans of the late icon who travel from as far away as Europe and Asia to pay tribute.
There also are places where the filmmaking Coen brothers lived in St. Louis Park.
Surprisingly, one of the most famous houses in the Twin Cities did not follow the fame of a real person. The Mary Tyler Moore house in Minneapolis draws people who come to re-create the TV character's moves, including tossing a hat in the air and recording that tribute for Instagram or social media posterity.
Jane and Patrick Thiele sort of expected gawkers when they bought the Stillwater house where actors Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard lived for nine years. They didn't expect tourist trolleys making it a regular stop.
"But you just go on with your life," Jane Thiele said.
The Thieles — Patrick is the retired president and CEO of a Bermuda-based reinsurance concern — made changes to the property, taking down a high privacy fence in favor of a modest picket one. They also found undeveloped features in the backyard that they finished. And they have done some small renovations, discovering traces of the previous owners.
"When we were doing this remodel, we found this great big piece in the ceiling by the front door that had all their family initials in very elaborate calligraphy," Jane Thiele said. "It was like 8 feet long. So I e-mailed her [Lange] and said, 'Do you want it?' She said yes."
Thiele said she took it to UPS to ship. The cost?
"$600 to ship that thing," Thiele said. "Being the nice person I am, I did it. Then I contacted her. And she said, 'Well, next time I'll pay for shipping costs.' "
Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, a noted surgeon who bought the Edina house where Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett lived, did not have any hiccups with the sellers. In fact, Ibrahim said that he grew in appreciation for the Puckett family.
"The design and construction are top-notch," Ibrahim said. "What I love about this place is the privacy and the big front yard and all the details. You do get occasional gawkers, but it's not a regular thing because of the location."
The house, in Edina's Indian Hills neighborhood, is now on the market because Ibrahim, whose Somali-refugee-turned-top-doc story is worthy of a feature film, is relocating for work and family to Dallas.
Some famous houses, and the memories that were made in them, are gone. Where they once stood is nothing but wind and ghosts.
Music producer "Jimmy Jam" Harris' Lake Minnetonka mansion, where A-listers such as Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey partied, met the wrecking ball last year.
Southways, the Pillsbury estate on Lake Minnetonka's Bracketts Point where President George W. Bush attended a fundraiser in 2006, was demolished in 2018 after the lot was subdivided for multiple homes.
"That place was so formal that it required a butler and an ascot, but it was a grand dame of houses, and it's a shame it's gone," Birkeland said. "But that's the way of the world. People have huge events that define their lives, and houses do, too."