The 1901 Palmer House Hotel is situated over the original Main Street in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, famously worked for a brief time at The Palmer House as a desk clerk in the summer of 1902. Main Street was essentially about one woman’s struggle trying to escape the small town. The story is that he was fired because he was writing and reading instead of performing his job duties.
Many, including the current owner, believe that Lewis continues to frequent The Palmer House even though he died in 1951. There has been a hot rumor circulating that concerns a possible lost Great American Novel authored by Sinclair that is hidden within the walls of the hotel. Will the spirit of Lewis ever reveal the location of the lost novel? Time will tell. So don’t go checking in with a bag of tools and some half-formed archaeological dig plans. There are other strange things afoot to explore within the hotel.
Today, The Palmer House Hotel retains many of its original details and it has a lot of charm. They even kept a display up in the lobby to honor the life of Sinclair Lewis.
First of all, whether or not you believe the modern media coverage of the paranormal events happening at The Palmer House Hotel, consider that one of the former owners (Al Tingley), wrote a book in 1984 that covered some of the paranormal experiences that were happening back then. I mention this fact, because I believe it lends a lot of credibility to the paranormal claims there. These aren’t stories that suddenly began circulating with the rise of popularity in the haunted hotel/paranormal travel industry. This is something that was documented and written about by a former owner during a time when hotel guests were not at all receptive to staying in a place that might be “haunted.”
My husband and I stayed on a Saturday night in April 2015 and joined in on the evening tour that took us to the basement.
Kelley Freese, one of the owners, conducted the tour. We began in the restaurant, and I got the sense that Kelley was about as real as real comes. She sat on the counter, and faced her audience, completely opening herself up to a random Q&A session from a room full of complete strangers. She answered everyone with thoughtful responses, and did not say anything to dodge questions or redirect the conversation. This is rare. Also, she did not tell us any “scary” story type of tales prior to leading us down into the basement for a mini ghost-hunting session.
We traipsed down a set of lit stairs and sat ourselves around a circle in the chairs that were already set-up for guests in one of the basement rooms. Kelley placed her K-II meter on the floor in the center of our circle, and the lights were turned off. It was blacker than black down there, and seemed to take an extraordinary amount of time for my eyes to adjust (possibly 30 minutes). There were times when the darkness appeared to grow even larger, and even darker still. The room suddenly grew colder and seemed to have a thickness to it. The hairs on my arms stood on end, but there was no air conditioning unit running in April in Minnesota, and no windows that could have been causing a gust or a chill in the air. There were no “hits” registered on the K-II meter in response to our many questions. There were no strange noises. We were just a group of people gathered together in a dark basement of a historic hotel in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
Later, when I returned home, I discovered Adrian Lee’s 2012 Mysterious Minnesota. At the time, I dismissed my experience as a simple trick that my eyes were playing on me. However, Mr. Lee talks about this same experience of the darkness growing darker. He explained the phenomena as a “Pukwudgie.” Essentially, the Pukwudgie is thought to be a Native American elemental that is associated with engulfing investigators in blackness (sometimes, so powerfully, that they cannot even be seen on a night vision camera).
Were my eyes playing tricks on me in the basement that night? Or was I in the presence of the Pukwudgie? I don’t know. But I am glad that I read Mr. Lee’s book after my trip, and not before I ventured down into the basement of The Palmer House Hotel.
Jamie Davis is the author of Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums, and the owner of IJD Paralegal Services, LLC. Her second book with Llewellyn Worldwide will be about haunted hotels and is slated to be released in October 2016. In the meantime, you can keep up with her through her website: http://jamiedaviswrites.com/
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