The haunts of Hibbing High
By TRINA SEVERSON | International Falls Daily Journal Staff Writer
Nothing beats a good ghost story on Halloween, especially when its one that takes place close to home
In northern Minnesota, tucked into the small Iron Range town of Hibbing, is a ghost story that has made its way around the world, into books, onto Web sites, and into late night campfire storytelling.
It's the Hibbing High School auditorium, considered by ghost hunters to be among the world's most haunted places. Though stories of eerie events have circulated about the auditorium for decades, a handful of photographs taken with an old Polaroid camera in 2000 have been by far the most bizarre. The photographs, taken by the school's stage manager, show the apparition of a man sitting in seat J47, watching the theater shows. Many people believe the image to be the ghost of the old stage manager, who died in 1942.
The haunted auditorium
In early 1900s the town of North Hibbing sat above rich deposits of iron ore. As mining operations encroached, the town, renamed Hibbing, was rebuilt south of the previous site. The newly relocated town sought to build a 'castle in the woods.' The high school, surrounded by the thick northern forests and lakes, would promote the new Hibbing. The school was completed in 1922, and was often called 'the school with the golden door knobs,' referring to its shiny brass fixtures and railings. Polished marble steps and pillars lead students and visitors inside, where they are greeted by six large historic paintings. According to the school, there is no building quite like it in the nation.
Even today, the most eye-catching room of the school is the 1,800 seat auditorium, designed after the old Capitol Theater of New York. Considered the pride of the Hibbing community, its cut glass chandeliers from Czechoslovakia suspend from a high, hand molded ceiling constructed by Irish craftsmen. A Barton vaudeville organ ' one of only two left in the country ' still sits near the stage. The legendary folk singer Bob Dylan, known then as Robert Zimmerman, attended Hibbing High before going on to fame, fortune, and rock icon status. Dylan even performed in the auditorium in 1958 and 1959. Modern day ghost hunters consider the Hibbing High School auditorium to be one of the world's most haunted places.
Ghosts in the room
When stage manager Chuck Perry began working at the auditorium, he'd heard the stories of strange occurrences, such as the apparition of a costumed woman who appeared in dressing room No. 10.
'I never saw anything in there,' Perry said. 'But a lot of other people said they did. Once a girl was in there before a show and she said she saw someone to her right. When she looked up, the woman was gone.'
Perry says initially, he dismissed the stories as just that ' stories. 'I didn't think too much of it,' he said.
But then, odd things began happening while Perry was alone in the auditorium. Several times, he said, while constructing a set for a play, he would leave the stage and return moments later to find tools in places other than where he'd left them. 'It was just a little odd,' Perry admitted. 'I never saw any of them move or anything like that, but I'd come back and they wouldn't be were I'd left them.'
Perry tells of a bizarre occurrence: 'One day I was working on a set with a Skil saw. I left it plugged in. About 20 minutes later I came back and the saw was on the other side of the stage, unplugged. I noticed then that the cord had been damaged while I was using it and I hadn't known. It wasn't cut or ruined ' just damaged.'
Then, in the late 1990's, a young woman came into the auditorium to look around. A devoted Dylan fan, the woman was on campus attending the summer Dylan Festival. ' She had these crystals with her,' Perry said, 'and she told me she felt a presence ' and it was particularly strong in seat J47. I never got her name ' I just didn't think much of it at the time.'
But then Perry began noticing that after ushers would put the seats up following a performance, seat J47 would be back down. I'm somewhat reluctant to say I blew it off as odd events.'
Capturing an image
One night soon after the young woman had come, Perry saw a documentary on graveyard photography. He thought of seat J47 and, still a bit skeptical, decided to experiment.
'We had an old Polaroid Land camera backstage that we used as a prop in plays,' Perry said. 'It had film in it, so I took quite a few pictures, about 50 over a period of time. I peeled the backing from the photographs, and most of them were only blank images, some had strange spots on them. But six of them came out with something in them. It was a little bit shocking.'
When asked if he believes the image in his photographs show a ghost, Perry says simply, 'I don't know.' He notes that of the six photographs that show the image of a man, the majority were taken following a play practice or performance.
A paranormal investigation
The ghost of Hibbing High has its own following, attracting ghost hunters from all over. 'We've even had kids come on bus tours from Texas,' Perry says.
Brian Leffler of the northern Minnesota Paranormal Investigators, has visited the auditorium with his group on a couple different occasions. The group's Website even has a short video taken inside dressing room 10, where several occurrences are reported to have taken place. The video shows Leffler holding a crystal pendant as a dark shadow quickly floats across the lens.
'Leffler has a photo of an orb above the stage, too,' Perry says.
The NMPI had this to say about the haunting images in Perry's photographs: 'This picture, as well as the others, have only two possible explanations, everything else has been ruled out. Either they are a real ghost sitting in the auditorium or they are a double exposure.'
And Perry says his photos have received their share of skepticism.
'I've been told it's a double exposure or a hoax,' he says. Even Perry seems uncertain of how to describe it. 'Initially I thought someone tampered with camera,' he said. Several photographers have said that it is nearly impossible to get a double exposure on Polaroid film and Perry hardly seems the sort who would perpetrate a hoax. So just what is the explanation? 'I don't know,' Perry says. 'But I'm working on a documentary about it now.'
Those having a taste for more haunts may want to investigate these other ghostly area legends:
' The Haunted Tree of Mt. Iron: Somewhere off Highway 7 there is a tree where a man hung his two daughters and then himself. It has been reported that late at night the branches of the tree are tugged towards the earth and then spring back, shaking as if something has fallen from them...
' St. Julia's in Bemidji: Unexplained moaning noises emanate from the dark halls of the old asylum, and sometimes, a little girl appears at the second floor window, looking out from an empty room...
' Heritage Park House in Embarrass: In the house a small boy once drowned at the hands of his abusive father. To this day people have reported sightings of the boy by the bridge, and the house remains abandoned...
' Duluth International Airport: The ghost of a woman murdered on a nearby road haunts the airport to which her murderer fled. The ghost, seen by various security staff, causes doors to open and close, sounding alarms in empty secured areas.
' The Glensheen/Congdon Mansion in Duluth: The mansion is reportedly haunted by a maid and the female homeowner who was murdered there by her own children. Legend says Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse haunt the house they were murdered in...
' Charlie's Club at Spirit Valley in Duluth: In the western part of Duluth is a night club built in the late 1800's. The building, previously four stories tall, was reduced to a single story following a fire. Although no one was killed in the blaze, the bar has reports of quite a lot of paranormal activity. It was quite a colorful place back in the day, being a reported "house of commercial affection,' gin mill, speak easy, etc. There are a couple of ongoing events that are quite commonplace: Near the west doors are a couple of pool tables. Just off the far right corner there is a corner drink table where many people have reported being shoved, poked, brushed against or had their pool stick bumped. They then discover that there is no one there. Another occurrence frequently reported is of an old woman who appears only to men, mostly men who work there. Many staff members have heard the bathroom doors open and close, slam shut and swing open violently, and the back security door open and slam shut ' with no one being there. These events happen mostly after closing when only the staff are present.
Perimeter alarms have never been tripped during these occurrences