Palmer House: The comfy hotel which has things go bump in the night

  SAUK CENTRE – The Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre has what every hotel desires to have — to be full every single night. Even on the dead weekends, The Palmer House is considered to be busy with activity no matter the time of the year, month, week or day. It’s the job of owner Kelley Freese — and her husband Brett — to cater to all of her guests of The Palmer House, albeit if they are in the alive form — or not. Being a guest in the Palmer House, one cannot be sure if they are sharing a room or not. In fact, you could be sharing a room with some of The Palmer House’s longtime residents and not know it. Or if they desire, letting you know it.   For example, if you’re room is the Jacuzzi suite of Room 17, your companion could be “Lucy”, who was a “woman of the night” at The Palmer House back in it’s infamous days. If she wants you to know it, you’ll be feeling more than a slight chill. Or, if you take Room 12, you may have your own personal maid named “Jaclyn”, who has been seen in the safe confides of that particular residence. Or, you can simply be awakened in the middle of the night from the sounds of a child bouncing a ball down the hallway. There are countless stories of these “guests” at The Palmer House, thus making the historical hotel, restaurant and pub as one of the most haunted places in the U.S. The Palmer House has appeared in several books about hauntings, including “The Minnesota Road Guide to Haunted Locations” and “The Nearly Departed.” Ever since Freese opened up the doors of The Palmer House to those interested in the hotel’s longtime guests, literally hundreds of paranormal investigative groups around the nation have investigated the old hotel and its 22 rooms, basement, lobby and all the nooks and crannies it provides. And in almost all the investigations, the results have harvested amazing evidence of the paranormal.  Even the most die hard skeptic will leave with hair raised on the back of their neck, proclaiming there are “unexplainable” things which happened last night. But one thing is for certain, Kelley Freese respects her other “unseen” guests as much as her paying customers. “You can call me the ‘Mother Hen’ here at The Palmer House,” Freese said. “It’s just about respect. You can ask questions of them, you can visit with them. But you will treat them with respect. “If you pay attention enough, this building, it will talk to you.”   Haunted history lends to ghostly stories Before it was called The Palmer House, it was the “Sauk Centre House” during the 1800’s. It was not exactly the family destination back then, since it housed unsavory characters attracted by its wild ways of booze, gambling and prostitution. But on June 26, 1900, the Sauk Centre House conveniently burnt to the ground. All which remained were the foundation rocks which are still present in the basement of The Palmer House. The residents of Sauk Centre didn’t shed many tears over the burning embers of the Sauk Centre House, for up with the smoke went the sins of what went on inside its walls. Or so they thought. In 1901, Ralph and Christena Palmer saw an opportunity with the empty lot which stood on main street of the central Minnesota community. They did not let expense hold them back, as they poured in some hefty funds to construct what turned out to be one of the most modernized hotels in the state of Minnesota during that time. The Palmer House boasted as the only hotel with indoor plumbing and electricity outside the Minneapolis area. The hotel attracted a bevy of well-known celebrities, such as Cole Younger, Lorne Greene, and several Minnesota governors. Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis referred to the hotel as the “Minniemashie House” in his 1920 novel, Main Street. “It was the destination to go back then,” Kelley Freese said of The Palmer House. The hotel also had all the amenities of a comfortable stay, including a pub and restaurant, along with a gorgeous high-ceiling lobby. Since Sauk Centre was also centralized in the state and a railroad running through the town, the hotel collected many railroad workers, migrants and visitors throughout the nation who were passing through. But as time passed on, The Palmer House started to age, as past owners let the building fall apart. Even for a period of time, The Palmer House sat empty. But in 1993, the hotel endured an ambitious makeover, as the renovation included restoring the beautiful hand-carved woodwork in the hotel and keeping its historical atmosphere intact. The renovation also included making the guest rooms larger, turning it from a 38-room hotel to 22 larger rooms. But by 2002, after going through three ownership’s, The Palmer House once again stood empty and this time, it was threatened to be condemned and torn down. That’s when Kelley and Brett (who is an optometrist in Sauk Centre) Freese stepped in, along with another group, bought The Palmer House. “It is a cornerstone of the community,” Kelley added. “Tearing it down was not an option.” Since the Freese’s were not originally from Sauk Centre, they didn’t know the details about the Palmer House’s history, but it’s ambiance it held was too much to pass up. So, after taking The Palmer House over in 2002, the Freese’s started the work to get it back in working condition. That’s when they were introduced to its already staying guests.   Accepting the ‘unexplainable’ For the first three to four months after the Freese’s owned The Palmer House, they had to do some renovations themselves. Kelley’s father, Howard, was the first resident to live in the hotel, since he was to become the maintenance worker. His room was on the end of the second-floor hallway and that’s when the noises started. “My dad lived in the hotel three to four months alone and before it opened,” Kelley said. “We didn’t know of any stories of it being haunted.” One morning, Kelley’s father asked her if they had rented any rooms out to guests already. “None,” Kelley replied. Another week passed, Howard finally told Kelley of what he was hearing. “He said, ‘Honey, every night I’ve heard someone roaming around upstairs (on the third floor),’” Kelley said. “It was right above him in rooms 18 and 19.” The noises were of feet shuffling and of someone pacing around, before they would sit on the bed. “Now, my dad does not believe in ghosts, so that was strange to hear that from him,” Kelley added. From then on, more events happened on a consistent basis, making it hard not to believe there was some kind of paranormal activity going on. “I really never given ghosts or paranormal stuff a thought, until I owned The Palmer House,” Kelley said. “I had local people walk into the restaurant or pub, not being surprised of the stories which were told (about the paranormal events). “Many already knew it was haunted, it was almost common knowledge in town.”   Career suicide or a chance to share with the public? After being convinced that she wasn’t alone in The Palmer House, even on nights during an empty hotel, Kelley had to make the decision to go public with it. It wasn’t an easy one, since if the word was out that a hotel was haunted, business could cease to exist. “I was talking with a friend about going public with it, and basically they said it was financial suicide,” Kelley stated. “But I was just more and more curious in what was happening and there is power in education.” So in 2006, Kelley included some of the haunting stories on The Palmer House website. “And it just evolved from there,” Kelley said. But this was not just some hoax to gain attention. There are a number of documented testimonials from guests in two bound volumes, which are available in the lobby of The Palmer House, along with pictures of potential entities, electronic voice phenomena recordings and evidence from paranormal investigations. “Yes, I have earned some new clientele who specifically stay here for the paranormal happenings, but I probably have lost some business, too,” Kelley added. “We have had guests leave in the middle of the night and not return, too.” The Palmer House isn’t advertised as a haunted location, but Kelley doesn’t hold that information back from guests, either. “I will never try and make anyone believe in what I believe,” she said. “I don’t intend to try and sway anyone about anything.”   The stories and evidence The Palmer House has hot spots of paranormal activity in basically every area of its three floors, basement, pub, lobby and restaurant. There have been plenty of investigations in all these areas the last three to four years by paranormal enthusiasts from all over the nation. “On average, I have one to two groups a week,” Kelley said. “And that’s just counting the legitimate groups who have the equipment and experience.” But Kelley doesn’t just let anyone come in without advance notice to conduct detailed investigations. First, she needs advance reservations and she doesn’t want any provoking of any kind. “I expect everyone to treat (the ghosts) with respect, I don’t want any provoking or showing disrespect of any kind,” she said. People who are interested in planning an investigation, can go to The Palmer House website at to set up reservations with Kelley. The staff of The Palmer House has had plenty of “unexplainable” experiences, as well. The first couple of years after owning The Palmer House, the crystal on the tables and wine glasses were being smashed, either against a wall or of them sliding down the bar and landing on the floor. “I was going through a lot of wine glasses and finally, Tiffany Thompson — a psychic I got to know — told me I have to have the power and lay down the law and don’t be afraid to do it.” So after hearing that, Kelley yelled out to “…knock this (stuff) off, you need to stop it!” It worked. The glasses and crystal stopped being broken. But in another instance, Kelley was introduced to a malevolent entity who was later called “Raymond.” On the third floor, where the laundry room was, Kelley was folding some towels. With her back to the door, she could feel someone walking up behind her. “It was like I could see somebody with a dark cape come up on me and in the next instant, I had a hard time swallowing,” Kelley recalled of the moment. “I just felt a choking sensation around my neck, but I kept saying out loud, ‘I’m not leaving, I’m not leaving.’” Obviously, the encounter rattled Kelley and she mentioned it to a friend, who was a psychic in Minneapolis. He told her that this entity, Raymond, was trying to get her attention and that he was very territorial of his room — which is Room No. 22. The employees of The Palmer House have had plenty of occurrences with the other side. Bryan Bellefeuille, who grew up in Frazee and was a 1978 graduate of FHS, but now works for Woltes Kluwers Financial Services in St. Cloud and is a part time bartender at The Palmer House, has seen first hand of what can happen. “Well, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I call them ‘unexplainable events,’” Bellefeuille said. The first “unexplainable event” happened two to three years ago after he closed the pub and was cleaning up. After locking all the doors and making sure no one was in the building, he was walking through the kitchen and he heard his name “Bryan!” called out behind him. “I just kind of blew it off and kept walking,” Bellefeuille said. “I just was more aware of it if it was going to happen again.” It did. “I thought someone was pranking me, so I look around and no one was around,” he said. Two days later, after a busy night bar tending, Bellefeuille was having a drink with some of the staff and Kelley after closing time. Kelley was telling a story of hearing her name being called, not once, but twice, and no one being there. “I never told Kelley what happened to me just two days earlier, either,” Bellefeuille said. Just last October, Bellefeuille was again closing up for the evening. He started walking back through a hallway connected to the pub area when he saw a shadow, just walking ahead of him on the wall. “The shadow just stayed ahead of me, and there wasn’t any possibility of light coming through that hallway to cast my own shadow,” he said. In another “unexplainable happening”, which happened just a couple of weeks ago, Bellefeuille was walking through that same hallway’s entryway, when something dropped from the ceiling. Of course, he didn’t think anything of it, but when it happened two more times, he check the ceiling to see if there was a leak. There wasn’t, and there wasn’t any puddles or dampness on the floor where the drop was falling in front of him. “I told our cook about it a couple days later and she just looked at me and said the same thing happened to her,” Bellefeuille said. “It was a quick fall, not like dust or a bug or anything like that. It’s happened like five or six times to me and every time, there isn’t anything on the floor.” In another occurrence, Bellefeuille had a good friend visiting Sauk Centre and he wanted to reserve a table at The Palmer House for dinner with his family. “He had no preconceptions of the hotel, either,” Bellefeuille said. “The first thing which happened, was their six-year-old daughter asked her mom if she could go play with the little boy sitting on the steps going up to the second and third floors.” The couple waved their daughter’s request off. A little later, the mother asked if she could read one of the ghost story books, which were on display in the lobby. She opened up the book to the chapter on the Palmer House and was astounded to read about the little boy who haunted the hallways on the second and third floors. “She asked her daughter to describe what the boy looked like and the (daughter) described him to a tee as to what was described in the book,” Bellefeuille said. Later that day, a photo was taken of the mirror which is situated on the second floor, where it showed a refection of a little girl looking through the outside window directly across from the mirror. Some of the rooms have their permanent guests, who end up sharing with their short-term living ones. Room No. 17 has an entity named “Lucy” residing in it. In some instances, investigators or guests can ask Lucy to drop the temperature of the room. Two weeks ago, a paranormal investigative group from New York called Dark Force Paranormal (made up of Ashlee Scott, Jason Hoffman and Terrie Scott) were able to record temperatures starting from the base temp of 65 degrees to  negative-one — all in about a two-hour time span. Lucy also has been described by guests, who range from California to Minneapolis, as sitting in one of the two chairs in the room, smoking a cigarette with the left side of her face beat up. The right side of her head is hanging off, like her scalp overhanging off her skull. “She doesn’t like people sitting in both chairs, so it’s a good idea to leave one open for her,” Kelley said. A black maid has been seen wandering into room No. 12, an entity Kelley has named Jaclyn. In Room 4, EVP’s have captured someone asking for “Thomas”, while Room No. 11 belongs to “Annie”, who scared a recent guest by rubbing his leg while he was sleeping. The basement, which is the area for many entities, is a dark, dank large area — one which contains the possible kennels of the dogs the Palmer’s son took care of to the long, dark hallway where many investigators have had paranormal experiences and hearing dogs bark. Kelley said there could be 100’s of entities residing in The Palmer House, which could act like a vortex of some kind, which attracts them to its hallways. “We have a residual  (a haunting which isn’t intelligent, but just something repeating history) here walking around in one room, who drops one shoe and finishes getting ready for bed,” Kelley said. With all the hauntings and paranormal activity, there hasn’t been any injuries or harm done to anyone in The Palmer House. Instead, there are just a bunch of rattled nerves and hair standing on end as the end result — along with a new respect of the unexplained. But ever since Kelley has taken over The Palmer House, it’s become an important part of her life and has changed it for the good. “I am a Christian and I am incredibly spiritual and it’s not because I’m sitting in the front pew of church every Sunday,” Kelley stated. “If anything, this place has made me more spiritual.” The Palmer House has become more than just a destination for the living to enjoy what has been described as a “big bed and breakfast”. It is also the destination for entities who are from what is possibly “the other side”.  But even if you are a believer or skeptic in the paranormal, the historic Palmer House can tell you things of the unknown — that is, if you are willing to listen.

  • Brian W.