WALKER, Minn. — A good ghost story is like a fine wine: The longer it sets in the dark (recesses of our minds) the better it becomes. Upon uncorking it, a colorful dialogue of strange events readily flows -- at times, disputing our scientific understanding and the laws of nature.
And as one can detect a vintage’s history from a single sip, those who experience a haunting, and get a taste of it for themselves, bear witness to a stamp in time -- a small piece of a bygone world.
For a select few visiting Chase on the Lake in Walker, they too get their own taste of the area’s past -- but deciphering fact from fiction in a small town is a challenge alone without Casper looking over your shoulder.
From creepy thumps and bumps to cold spots to the feeling of something climbing into your bed, claims of unexplained happenings at the Chase aren’t lacking, and a quick search of online guest reviews can attest.
As the story goes, the Chase’s bowling alley in the basement is a hotbed for activity, which is purportedly traced back to the Battle of Sugar Point in 1898 -- what is said to be the last military conflict between the U.S. Army and American Indians.
The hotel’s basement was reportedly used as a temporary morgue for the bodies of soldiers killed in the battle until they could be transported to Fort Snelling in St. Paul for burial.
While the bowling alley’s jukebox has supposedly been known to randomly power to life and play music on occasion, it’s unclear what other ghostly occurrences transpire down there.
However, some paranormal investigators have reportedly captured the voices of “a stable boy and aggressive characters from its lumberjack and Prohibition years,” according to Explore Minnesota.
Over the years, guests and employees are said to have also spotted ghostly children playing along corridors and have heard unplugged phones ringing.
A family affair
Sprawled along the shores of Leech Lake, the Chase is an entity unto itself where Tudor-style grandeur mingles with the rusticness of Northwoods lodging. Clean lines of faux timber run along its sage and eggshell exterior as does the occasional stone accent. And beginning at dusk, its retro crimson neon sign blazes like a beacon across the lake -- the colossal’s silent reminder to everyone that “Yes, I am here.”
It’s easy to see how such an imposing structure garners stories of the supernatural inside its walls. But with a little research, it’s also easy to see how much of the lore has the potential to be exaggerated.
Although the Chase’s ghost story doesn’t have an exact beginning, the arrival of T. B. Walker’s logging operations in what would become the town of Walker is a fair start.
When Lewis and Louisa Chase and their children arrived some 30 years later in 1898 -- likely lured to northern Minnesota by entrepreneurial opportunities for tourism -- they discovered a rough-and-tumble town catering mostly to railroad workers and lumbermen.
Shortly after their arrival, the Battle of Sugar Point did transpire, but the family was yet to own their first namesake hotel for another three years. The Pameda Hotel -- what would later become the original Hotel Chase -- did exist, but it was located on Walker’s Main Street, not the shores of Leech Lake.
The New Chase Hotel built next to Lake May Creek -- where Chase on the Lake is now located -- wasn’t debuted until 1922.
After changing hands several times, the hotel was given its current name and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But a fire in 1997 severely damaged the structure, and it remained vacant until it was razed 10 years later.
The present Chase on the Lake was opened in its place in 2008.
“The truth is out there”
About 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, according to a recent YouGov survey. And admittedly, I’m somewhere in that percentage.
In the spirit of Halloween and all things spooky this month, I visited the illustrious Chase on the Lake -- unsure if I would get Stephen King-style scares or a flub out of my trip.
But immediately after arriving, I noticed the hotel’s interior felt older somehow -- even the smell reminded me of an antique shop -- despite its 11-year age.
Upon chatting with the friendly front desk attendant, I was yet again reassured that the place was “really haunted.” And although he had never experienced anything himself, he told me numerous people have claimed the grand staircase and bowling alley are “super active.”
With a nervous laugh, he added: “I really try not to think too much about it.”
So, I went on my way through the maze of corridors and staircases to decide for myself.
The result: Who am I to say if it’s haunted?
At the time of my visit, I didn’t know too much about the Chase’s history -- besides what a basic Google search uncovers.
But now, after doing my research, I pose the question: If bodies were reportedly stored in the basement of the original Hotel Chase on Main Street, why would a hotel built over 100 years later in a different location take the brunt of its brother’s hauntings?
Your guess is as good as mine.
I can’t deny the compelling energy of Chase on the Lake and the rich history of the land on which it rests, however.
So, who knows? Perhaps, the ghosts at the Chase play shy at the sight of a nosy reporter, or maybe I was had by the power of persuasion.
But, I'll let you decide for yourselves: Spend a night at the Chase, and maybe you’ll have better luck than me.
A report belonging to the Minnesota Historical Society contributed to the telling of this article. (PDF)