Ghost hunter: Chad Lewis tracks down legends and reports of paranormal activityOctober is a busy month for Chad Lewis as he travels the Upper Midwest, talking about the “haunted locations” he’s investigated. He recently gave such programs in Worthington, Tracy and Fulda, and he has another one scheduled tonight in Adrian.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
October is a busy month for Chad Lewis as he travels the Upper Midwest, talking about the “haunted locations” he’s investigated. He recently gave such programs in Worthington, Tracy and Fulda, and he has another one scheduled tonight in Adrian.
“This is the time of year when I’m doing a lot more presentations,” he noted, “but in terms of people interested in the paranormal, it’s become a year-round phenomenon.”
A researcher and author, Lewis has authored and co-authored a number of books about paranormal experiences, including “The Minnesota Road Guide to Haunted Locations.” Lewis’ interest in the “unexplained” is rooted in his childhood.
“I blame it on my home state of Wisconsin,” said Lewis, who now lives in the Twin Cities. “I grew up not too far from one of the three UFO capitals of the world we have in our state. I was always curious why people believed in the paranormal or why they didn’t, so I started investigating the UFO sightings. When I went to college, I studied psychology and carried that interest into why people believed or didn’t believe.”
The more Lewis investigated paranormal activity, the more stories he heard and the more his interest was piqued.
“I’d present my findings, and people would approach me and tell me that when they were young their home was haunted, or there was something in the woods they couldn’t explain,” he said. “They wanted me to help them investigate, and it spiraled from there.”
After he completed graduate school, Lewis had a “real job” for a while, but eventually his time became overwhelmed by the demand for presentations and traveling for research. Along the way, he began collaborating with Terry Fisk.
“I was doing a presentation in Wisconsin, in Eau Claire at this big conference that we have, and he brought in a photograph of a grave site of a relative,” Lewis recounted. “He couldn’t explain this weird fog or mist. He’d been doing research on the religious and spiritual side of it, and at that point I was doing more of the scientific type of research, so we ventured out from there.”
Together, the two men developed the “road guide” approach that they use in their books.
“We started going to these alleged haunted places for our website, and so many had terrible directions, and so many were exaggerated or made up,” Lewis explained. “There wasn’t a guide that really told people how to get to these places, so we decided to do it. But we also struggled with publishers, because they wanted to turn it into more of a traditional ghost story book and leave the location vague. We wanted to stick to having a road guide. We knew people would love to go to these places, because we did.
“We’ve now investigated 30-some states, and we’ve done books on eight right now,” he continued. “The trouble with our books is that every place we write about we actually visit. In the Minnesota book, we’ve probably got 60 or 70 places listed, and we went to 300 to narrow that down. It takes quite a while to visit all these places, but we’re trying to get them out as fast as we can.”
Television programs such as “Ghost Adventures” and “Ghost Hunters” have helped to propel interest in supernatural phenomenon, Lewis noted, and of course increased interest in his books.
“But I also think people are seeking adventure,” he said. “When you travel, every town you go to looks the same; you go to the same restaurants, the same places to stay. I think people are looking for something offbeat and odd. And whether something happens or doesn’t happen to you, you’re going to have an adventure. You can see odd things, meet weird people, take back roads, and you never know what you might find.”
Popular culture has made some facets of paranormal research trendy.
“When I first got into this, UFOs were huge,” perhaps fueled by the “X Files” TV show and other science fiction programs, Lewis said. “Now, it’s shifting from ghosts to monsters, and vampires and werewolves, of course, because of the ‘Twilight’ movies.”
Lewis’ own interests have broadened, and he has traveled the world in search of vampires, the Loch Ness monster and the chupacabra, a mythical creature that is purported to suck the blood from livestock.
“In Transylvania, when I was searching for vampires and lore, the way they perceive vampires is very different from what we perceive,” based on the “Twilight” books and movies and others such as “Interview with a Vampire.” “They are much more gruesome creatures over there. Most can’t talk, and they’re disfigured — half monster, half human-type creatures that you want nothing to do with, certainly not a romantic relationship.”
Through Puerto Rico and Belize, Lewis chased reports of a chupacabra.
“We’d always be just behind it,” he said. “There would be stories that it had been seen a week before I got to town. The people would be upset because it was killing their livestock. They just want it to end; they just want the attacks to stop.”
While he’s enjoyed such worldly adventures, Lewis emphasizes that people can uncover unexplained phenomenon much closer to home.
“The whole world has their own legends, but the best legends are the ones in your own backyard,” he said. “Yes, you can trek over to Loch Ness and look for Nessie, but you can dig up a lot in your own backyard. There are some unique things in your own area. You just have to dig a little.”
Minnesota seems to have a good share of ghostly tales from which to draw material.
“What it may be is that Minnesota is more haunted than anywhere else, or it may be that Minnesota people feel more comfortable talking about it, or it could be that a single state has a lot more investigators digging up these stories” Lewis theorized. “What I’ve found is that a lot of these stories remain hidden and are passed along to generation to generation in these little communities. It could just be that we’re better at digging them up. Of course, it could just be that there’s something odd about Minnesota.”
During his presentations, Lewis has several favorite stories that emanate from the southern part of the state.
“The Lamberton cemetery is one of my favorites,” he said. “It’s thought to be haunted by a young girl who is thought to be buried alive. If you go there, you can supposedly hear her faint cries for help. When we went there to check it out, some people said you could hear it if you were real quiet, or if you put your ear to the ground. Others said that on a good night, you could hear the cries of this young woman three or four miles away. Some said it’s not a girl, but a young baby crying for help.
“People did get buried alive, and there was a big fear of that,” Lewis added about the early days of Minnesota settlement. “People would go into diabetic shock or something, and people would think they were dead.”
Lewis’ presentation, which he bills as a “fun, scary romp through Minnesota,” also includes the story of a doll — a figure of a young boy — that has inhabited the upper window of a house in Janesville for decades.
“Legend has swirled that the young boy that lived there took his own life and transferred his soul into the doll,” repeated Lewis about one of the theories. “Thousands of people drive by, and supposedly if you’re brave or foolish enough to look at it and the doll moves, you’ll be cursed with bad luck.”
Many of the people who attend his programs are skeptical of what he’s presenting, but they want to “check it out and decide” for themselves.
“But when I ask people how many have had an experience or know someone who has, the majority of hands go up,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of cases I get are people who believe a loved one has come back. They smell grandma’s perfume on the anniversary of her death, or something like that. A lot of the stories I get are people who take comfort or solace that a loved one has come back to tell them they’re OK and have moved on. Of course, it’s a better story when things are scarier.”
Although he’s been researching “unexplained” occurrences for quite some time, Lewis has never had his own encounter with a paranormal phenomenon. But he’s waiting for it to happen.
“I’ve never seen anything myself in the 15 years I’ve been doing this,” he said. “It’s always the little things I see — balls of light on film, weird voices on audio. But I’ve talked to too many credible, rational people who believe something’s happening, and I think they’re telling the truth. I’m left with more questions than answers after 15 years, which is frustrating. Every time I think I have a theory, I get a new case, and it brings me right back to square one.”
Chad Lewis will present “Minnesota’s Most Haunted Locations” at 7 p.m. today at Adrian Elementary School, 515 Oklahoma Ave., Adrian. Sponsored by the Adrian Branch Library, the program is geared for sixth-graders through adults and is not recommended for younger children.
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