Predominantly populated by people of German and Norwegian ancestry, North and South Dakota were carved out of the Dakota Territory in 1889. The two states share a common history, culture, and geography. South Dakota’s economy in particular relies on tourism to places like Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Deadwood, Sturgis, and Custer State Park. At Mysterious Heartland, we have found that both states are peppered with historic and fabled locations, which lend to a rich variety of folktales and ghost stories. Which place will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. San Haven Sanatorium
Dunseith, North Dakota
The San Haven Sanatorium was built in the Turtle Mountains, near Dunseith, not far from the Canadian border. It opened in 1912 and treated tuberculosis patients and the developmentally disabled until the 1980s, when it closed due to lack of financial support. At one time, the building housed up to 900 patients, and conditions were sketchy at best. In 1987, the last patients at San Haven were transferred to Grafton State School. It finally closed its doors in 1989. The property is currently owned by Chippewa Indians, who purchased it in the early 1990s, and has steadily deteriorated from neglect. As many as 1,000 people died at the hospital while it was in operation, but there have been more recent deaths as well. In October 2001, a 17-year-old fell to his death while exploring the abandoned building. There are rumours that San Haven is haunted, but they are vague. Apparitions have been reported in the windows and the sound of a baby crying has been heard. Never-the-less, it is a very creepy place.
9. Mount Marty College
Yankton, South Dakota
Located on bluffs overlooking the Missouri River, Mount Marty College is a Catholic, Benedictine liberal arts college founded in 1936. It is a small school with an 80-acre campus and a student population of around 1,100. Most of the ghost stories on campus centre on Whitby Hall. A residence hall that opened in 1955, Whitby is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a man in grey polyester pants, an amorphous white shape, and men in blue suits. According to Tom Ogden, author of the book Haunted Colleges and Universities, Room 200 was left empty for many years because it was plagued with paranormal activity. Additionally, the ghost of a young woman who mysteriously vanished is said to haunt the elevator in Corbey Hall.
8. Sage Hill Bed & Breakfast
Anamoose, North Dakota
Built in 1928 and known as White School, this building originally housed one of the first consolidated primary schools in rural North Dakota. The school was advanced for its time, offering hot showers, meals, and served as a “model school” in which progressive teaching methods could be practiced. At its height, the school served 100 students, but it closed in 1968. In 1996, a husband and wife purchased the building and converted it into a bed and breakfast called Sage Hill. As construction on the B&B started, workers reported hearing moans and smelling the scent of a cigar. According to Rich Newman, author of The Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide, guests continued to experience strange activity, including lights that turned off and on, disembodied voices, and phantom scents. It is believed that the ghost of a former schoolmaster haunts the building, but he is not a threatening presence.
7. Rough Riders Hotel
Medora, North Dakota
Built in 1884 and originally known as the Metropolitan, the Rough Riders Hotel is located in the heart of downtown Medora. It was renamed in 1903 to honour President Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, who served in the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt was the first US President to visit Medora. The hotel underwent significant renovation in 2008 and is currently operated by a nonprofit. For some unknown reason, over the last three decades guests at the hotel have reported encountering the ghost of a young boy on the top floor. They would be awakened by sounds of a child playing in the hallway, but upon further investigation, they could find no child. Disembodied laughter and the sound of toilets flushing is also reported. So far, no historical events have been found to explain this otherworldly presence.
6. Orpheum Theatre
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
A ghost named “Larry” reportedly haunts this historic, century-old theatre in Sioux Falls. The Orpheum Theatre was built in Beaux-Arts style and opened in 1913. It was purchased in 1954 by the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse, and strange things began to happen. Its new owners found an old, ornate casket in the boiler room. When they returned to clean the room, the casket had disappeared. In 1959, an actor named Ray Loftesness saw the figure of a man bathed in blue-green light pointing at him from the balcony. He felt an icy blast of air, and was later knocked unconscious by a falling sandbag—not just once, but twice! A dark shadow in the shape of a man has also appeared in a photograph of the balcony. Over the years, this ghost came to be called “Larry,” and there is much speculation about who he may have been. According to one strange tale, Larry was an actor who disappeared during dress rehearsal after a gunshot was heard in the light booth. His fellow actors discovered a pool of blood, but no body.
5. Devil’s Gulch
Garretson, South Dakota
According to local lore, in 1876 the outlaw Jesse James leapt this 18-foot gorge over Split Rock Creek on his horse while fleeing pursuit after a robbery. The jump has been called impossible, but some disagree. “I would think a horse could jump at least that far. I bet it would scare the hell out of you. But if the posse was coming hard, maybe you’d be scared already,” Dale Lewis, an expert on Western lore, told South Dakota Magazine. If the 60-foot drop itself isn’t frightening enough, parts of the creek below are believed to be “near bottomless.” But this quaint tale from the days of the Wild West isn’t the only unusual thing about Devil’s Gulch. According to Linda Moffitt, the gulch is haunted by the ghosts of two lovers who died in each other’s arms. Sometime in the 1800s, a white outlaw and a band of Indians kidnapped a woman named Nellie Harding and took her to the gorge, where her fiancé caught up with them. He managed to kill most of the kidnappers, but not before Nellie and he were mortally wounded. To this day, visitors report hearing moans and screams in the area, and have even seen an apparition of the two lovers.
4. Harvey Public Library
Harvey, North Dakota
On October 2, 1931, a woman named Sophia Eberlein-Bentz was tragically bludgeoned to death in bed by her husband. Her husband, Jacob Bentz, was arrested and convicted of the crime after Sophia’s daughter discovered blood in the room. Exactly 59 years after the murder, construction began on the Harvey Public Library, which was built over the location of the Bentz residence. Library staff began to move in on the anniversary of Sophia’s funeral. Strange activity soon followed, particularly in the librarian’s office, which is believed to sit approximately where Sophia’s bedroom was located. According to William Jackson, author of The Best of Dakota Mysteries and Oddities, “Librarians report that the library door mysteriously locks itself after they have opened it, that lights have blinked on and off in the library and that on one occasion one entryway light remained mysteriously on after the librarian flicked off the other lights.” The temperature in the librarian’s office is said to always be chilly, even in the summer, and unexplained computer glitches have also been reported.
3. Hotel Alex Johnson
Rapid City, South Dakota
Built by Alex Carlton Johnson and opened in 1928, the Hotel Alex Johnson was described as the “showplace of the West.” Its famous guests included President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Alex Johnson died in 1938, but according to some hotel employees, part of him never left. There are two rooms on the eighth floor that are widely believed to be haunted, so much so that the Hotel Alex Johnson offers a special “ghost adventure” guest package to stay there. The rooms are 802 and 812. According to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, a young couple staying in Room 802 had several hair-raising encounters. They described hearing music that did not seem to have a source, and both said they awoke to feel like they were being choked. Their pets also appeared agitated and behaved strangely. Room 812 is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a bride-to-be who jumped from the window on her wedding night. The windows in Room 812 have reportedly popped open on their own, and one guest got out of the shower to see the words “help me” written on the mirror.
2. Easton Castle
Aberdeen, South Dakota
The Easton Castle, so called, is a yellow brick home built in 1886 or 1889 by C.A. Bliss, owner of the Artesian Hotel. It was originally a 30-room, three story Queen Anne style mansion. In 1902, its new owner, Carroll Francis Easton, covered the exterior in yellow bricks. The Easton’s employed a young woman, who happened to be the niece of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, as a housekeeper. It is believed that Baum based the character of Dorothy on her. After Easton and his wife died, his son become a recluse and shut himself up in the home. It slowly deteriorated and locals began to whisper that it was haunted. According to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, the ghost of Baum’s niece is believed to haunt the third floor. The ghost of Mrs. Easton has also been spotted, and creaking footsteps have been heard throughout the house. Incredibly, at least one person claims to have been chased through the house by a knife-wielding phantom. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the owners of Easton Castle opened it for tours around Halloween, probably contributing to the legends.
1. Bullock Hotel
Deadwood, South Dakota
The historic Bullock Hotel, located at 633 Main Street in Deadwood, South Dakota, is one of the most famous haunted hotels in the United States. In 1992, it was featured on the TV program Unsolved Mysteries. It is reportedly haunted by none other than the ghost of its namesake, Seth Bullock, the first sheriff of Deadwood, as well as a host of other spirits. Whether it is the scent of his cigar, the sound of his boots in the hallway, or seeing his image in the mirror, many hotel patrons have reported feeling his presence. The Bullock Hotel was originally built between 1894 and 1896 and contained 60 luxury rooms. Seth’s Cellar Restaurant, located in the basement of the Bullock Hotel, is supposed to be one of the most haunted areas of the hotel. According to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, restaurant staff have heard the piano playing an old ragtime tune without the aid of human hands. Glasses, dishes, and other items fall or are tossed through the air without any explanation.