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Local ghost stories range from haunted ships to a ghost donkey

In the late 1980s, Stefan Nowaq used to make oxygen deliveries to Nopeming — which by then had transitioned from a sanitorium to a nursing home. One day, alone and curious, he wandered into the morgue area and opened the drawer to the refrigerator.

"I closed it and backed up a foot or two," he said.

He felt a tug on his hair, but when he turned around there was no one there.

"I slowly made my way, trying not to look afraid, and grabbed my paperwork," he said.

It wasn't the first time Nowaq, now an investigator with Twin Ports Paranormal, experienced something he couldn't explain. When he was a kid, a figure stood in the door of the bedroom he shared with his brother. It didn't move; it didn't feel evil, Nowaq said.

"But I was afraid of it," he added. "I'd just cover my head and go to sleep. If I went to sleep, everything was okay."

None of this would surprise Chad Lewis, an author-speaker who specializes in ghosts, UFOs and curious creatures.

"I think it's a hotbed of paranormal activity," said Lewis, who co-penned a series on haunted destinations in Midwestern states. "Oftentimes there are places where weird things seem to collide. Lake Superior is one of the places where I get reports of phantom ships, UFOs, balls of lights, people seeing a giant leviathan of the deep."

Lewis' favorite Duluth haunting is the story set in Oneota Cemetery.

"I love this because many people not only see the ghostly image of a man walking through the cemetery at night, but there are stories that he'll be walking a dog as well," he said.

In honor of the spookiest season, the News Tribune solicited stories from readers, friends, and acquaintances who just seemed like they would have a good ghost story. Here are the ghostly findings.

THE PAINTING

There are stories of Chris Allen, as a child, talking to spirits in his sleep. According to the family lore, his mother used to come into his room and listen. One time, a kid no one recognized showed up at Allen's birthday party.

All the guests played with him; Then the strange boy disappeared.

But Allen's favorite personal ghost tale is about a dream that took themes from the 1991 film "The Rapture," a painting by his sister, and the dead police officer who was trying to send him a message.

"I had a dream that this pearl appears in the corner of the bedroom I grew up in," said Allen, a morning DJ at KOOL 101.7-FM. "The pearl moves in front of me, then to the hallway."

Then it morphed into the silhouette of a police officer who said to him: "There are people trying to talk to you, but you're not listening."

Allen told his sister about the dream and she turned it into an award-winning painting. When their mother came to its showing at the Tweed Museum of Art, she first approached Allen and told him that, while using a ouija board, she had found her friend's husband Harold was trying to get ahold of him.

When his mom finally saw the painting, she was taken aback.

"Tell me about this painting," Allen recalled her asking, before telling him that Harold had been a police officer — that was him in the dream.

And it was true, other spirits were trying to talk to him.

THE PRICE OF ADMISSION

Back when JP Rennquist was the general manager at the NorShor Theatre in 2004-05, closing time meant checking the nooks and crannies for stragglers bent on ghost-hunting through the night.

"We'd have to do a sweep," he said. "They'd heard stories and wanted to spend the night at the NorShor."

One of the most popular stories was from a maintenance worker who would sweep up popcorn and take out the garbage at the end of the night.

"He would regularly find 50 cents balanced on an armrest," Rennquist said. "Speculation was that this was the 'ghost' playing for his ticket — which would have cost 50 cents during his or her lifetime."

While Rennquist never saw anything in the hundreds of hours he spent at the venue, he did feel like there were "invisible beings" around him.

"One time after a late concert and another long day (ahead), I was just going to sleep on the couch of the atrium, but I felt a powerful, cold presence sort of urging me to 'leave them alone.'"

He resisted it at first, but finally it was so strong that he left — "and never attempted to spend the night there again," he said.

Rennquist said his beliefs have progressed since his time at the theater. He doesn't believe in ghosts, he said, but he does believe in spirits — angels and demons.

"Do I think the place is haunted, as in ghosts? I don't believe in ghosts," he said. "I do think there are dark forces at work there sometimes."

And it concerns him when people go out looking for spirits.

"I just think people should be careful," he said.

GHOST SHIPS

The Duluth Experience's Dark History Tour takes curious visitors on a downtown route that includes the not-so sunny stories of the city. In addition to murder and mayhem, some of the featured tales are about the ghost ship sightings on Lake Superior — including the story of the Hudson, a steamer that sank in mid-September 1901.

Decades later, a tugboat captain encountered a rusty ship covered in slime on Lake Superior. He boarded and met the ghost of the lost Hudson captain who told him to get off the ship or he would be lost — like the ship's crew.

"He dove off, swam in the icy waters back to the tugboat and for years refused to talk about what happened," according to David Grandmaison, founder of the Duluth Experience. "There are a bunch of reported sightings of ships lost on Lake Superior — which is kind of creepy."

While Grandmaison has never had a ghostly encounter, he does like a good story.

AT THE STARDUSK

Eve Utyro, 5-years-old at the time, was running errands with her mom and they drove past what used to be the Stardusk Theater in the Village of Superior.

"I saw a man on a horse with a donkey and he waved at me with his hat," Utyro wrote in a message.

She looked away to tell her mother she had seen a horse, she wrote, but when she turned back the figures were gone. Utyro has never again seen anything like it.

"My friend Jenn likes to tell people that I saw a ghost donkey," she said. "And it's true."

THE OLD OAK CABINET

In the first two weeks Glensheen began offering flashlight tours, a group led by a relatively new guide moved into what was Edward Congdon's room on the third floor.

"Out of nowhere, a large oak cabinet just randomly opened up," said Dan Hartman, director at the historic Congdon mansion. "The tour (group) thought it was staged."

Some of the visitors poked around to figure out how it was rigged, but couldn't find an explanation. That guide never again led another flashlight tour.

Meanwhile, Hartman had his own experience more than a decade ago while playing a game at a house in the Central Hillside rented by college students.

He and his friends were playing the opposite of Hide-and-Seek. In Sardine, one person hides and everyone else looks for that person. Hartman was searching in a long closet.

"I heard a voice say 'Come here.' I thought I'd found the sardine, but there was no one there."

He might have heeded the words of the young child his friends encountered when moving into the house. "... A 7-year-old boy walked by, picked up a cigarette butt, smoked it and said 'Have fun in the haunted house,'" Hartman said.

THE CRUSHING

Nowaq was attacked. Twin Ports Paranormal visited an old farmstead south of Superior and had gotten recordings of a little girl saying "There's a fire." Members of the team wanted to return and perform a cleansing, said Nowaq, who is an ordained minister.

As soon as they crossed the threshold:

"Something grabbed my heart and was crushing it," he said. "It took me a couple breaths to get through a sentence."

But as soon as he finished the prayer, the force let go. He lit sage, but it went out and the crew's equipment indicated there was something near them.

"It almost felt like it was breathing on you," he said. "From that point on, I was rather disturbed by the situation. I started to get angry. I lit the sage — just torched it — and said 'Now I know where you're at."

They successfully cleansed the house.

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