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Legend of the 'Lion House'

DICKINSON, N.D. - Many area residents claim the house at 345 Sims St. in Dickinson is haunted, but to owner Becky Brunk, it's going to be her home. Brunk has owned the tan-colored house, otherwise known as "the lion house", for about 15 years and...

DICKINSON, N.D. - Many area residents claim the house at 345 Sims St. in Dickinson is haunted, but to owner Becky Brunk, it's going to be her home.

Brunk has owned the tan-colored house, otherwise known as "the lion house", for about 15 years and is renovating the inside of the house so she and her husband can live there.

While there isn't much inside the house except some of Brunk's belongings and some skeletons of interior walls, Brunk said she's excited to make the house into her home, although she originally planned on turning it into a bed and breakfast before she met her husband.

"We're just going to turn it into a house," Brunk said. "But we're just going to set it up so that there's a bedroom and bathroom on each floor."

The house, estimated to have been built in the 1890s by A.C. McGillivray, a Canadian native who immigrated to Chicago, has walls uniquely made out of rock, from the basement to the third floor.

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"It (the house) sits in the middle of two full city lots," Brunk said. "He bought one lot at one period of time and another lot at another period of time."

According to Dickinson Museum Center information, McGillivray, who was reportedly wealthy, relocated to North Dakota in 1882, but didn't make it to Dickinson until 1885.

Brunk said she is in the process of getting the house listed at the state historical society and the national register of historic places and has been researching the history of the house and its owners. So far, she knows that McGillivray died young, had his funeral in the house, and is buried in the Dickinson Cemetery. Brunk said she does know his widow lived in the house until the 1930s, after which it remained rental property until she purchased it. McGillivray had no children, she said.

"The wife Mr. McGillivray, brought with him from Chicago, died within a few years of their arrival," Brunk said. "He pursued the fancies of the daughter of a wealthy mercantile owner in Chicago, setting him up for the move to his own business here."

According to museum information, McGillivray owned a general store for awhile, acted as a forwarding agent for the Black Hills Freight Line, had hotel and bank interests, and owned a fruit farm in California as well as a ranch, known as "Indian Springs" in North Dakota. The ranch reportedly consisted of 32 sections and was about 18 miles northwest of Dickinson. It ran 485 riding horses and 1,650 head of cattle. Over time, McGillivray became a Stark County Commissioner, was part owner of the Lehigh Coal Co. and was elected to the state senate in 1900.

During the time it was rental property, things were changed in the house, including a moved stairway and an addition to the west side.

"It was sitting empty about five or six years before I bought it," Brunk said. "The house has an upstairs area and a full attic."

Through her restorations, she said she's fought birds and bats, among other obstacles.

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Brunk said she put the lions, a gift from relatives, outside the house about 10 years ago and affectionately calls them Alexander and Charles, paying tribute to McGillivray.

"They were bought and put here to change it from 'the haunted house' to 'the lion house,'" Brunk said with a laugh. "It kind of works because most people call it the lion house now."

As for the various rumors of hauntings and other spookiness said to have happened in the house, Brunk said they are just that -- rumors.

"It's like, everybody's grandmother says it's haunted. It doesn't matter if they're 12 or if they're 50," Brunk said. "I'm thinking that the only haunted part would be the guy who built it was so pissed when they totally butchered it up to make apartments. I think he was just mad, but now he's happy because it's going back to the way it used to be."

Brunk's home is featured in a brochure that lists stops on a downtown walking tour. Danielle Stuckle, director of the Dickinson Museum Center/Joachim Regional Museum, said she's aware of the rumors about the house, but said she's never found anything to substantiate them.

"I don't mind a good story, but we always want to make sure that -- if we could find any evidence of anything -- that would solidify what we actually tell people," Stuckle said. "I have heard a few rumors, but I don't personally promote them. I don't know of any rumors that have actually been substantiated."

For a few years, Brunk said she converted her home into a haunted house for residents to pass through.

While she's never spent a night in her house, she said she's not afraid to and said she only had one encounter where she felt something strange.

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"I would come over here at night just to paint because it was too hot, especially on the south side, during the day," Brunk said. "I was working, and you know you get that kind of weird feeling, so I just went home."

She said she doesn't hear any noises or see anything out of the ordinary.

Brunk said she and her husband currently live in an apartment in town until the house is restored.

Her future home has been vandalized and her lions knocked over since she's owned it, and she said it's unfortunate that it has to happen to something she's working hard to restore and take care of.

"It (the house) looked like a challenge," Brunk said. "It was empty and it needed somebody to take care of it."

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