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Spooky childhood

St. Cloud man recalls living in ‘haunted house’

By Bill Vossler

What would you do if you were in bed at 12 years old and heard heavy boots walking back and forth on the oak floor in an upstairs room? And then heard footsteps on the carpet coming down stairs, the creak of the banister as someone put weight on it, and steps coming down the hall. To your room.

Dan and Julie Rethmeier at about the age when they moved into the house the family believed was haunted. Contributed photo

“That wasn’t the first paranormal incident that happened in that house,” said Dan Rethmeier of St. Cloud. The first occurred a couple of years earlier with everybody in bed about midnight after they’d all said good night, “like the Waltons,” Dan said. Then someone crashed an anvil on the floor somewhere in the house. “At least, we thought it was an anvil,” Dan said.

Dan’s father thought the furnace might have exploded. But after searching the house from top to bottom for an hour, found nothing out of order.

Other paranormal experiences occurred every six months or so, sometimes to the entire family, sometimes only one or two. That room, which the family called the “Dorm Room,” had sounds emanating from it quite regularly. “There was always something creepy about that upstairs bedroom. My mother always said it was the house settling.”

But there were unexplained happenings. A framed picture suddenly crashed to the floor in that upstairs room. One time everything on Dan’s bedside table was swept to the floor. “At first I thought it might have been me flailing around, but there was a fairly heavy model of a car that fell on all wheels, and I would have heard that.”

This all led to Dan’s experience with the sound of heavy boots coming down the hall and stopping in front of his open door. “There was a night light on, and I crawled to the end of my bed, and saw a figure standing in front of it.”

He wore a broad-brimmed stetson hat and a long farmer’s coat. “This being was looking around the corner at me, and I at him. I wasn’t really afraid, but I crawled under the covers and put them over my head,” he laughed.

To add to the puzzlement, the next day Dan found a footprint where this figure had stood watching him. “It was the impression of one of those square-toed cowboy boots on this soft deep wool carpet.”

Dan added that one time a relative stayed in that room, and when he came down to breakfast the next morning, he said he’d gotten up in the night to go to the bathroom and somebody was standing outside the door. And not a member of the Rethmeier family.

Dan found the experiences useful by telling stories around the campfire in the dark when with friends up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. “I guess I was believable enough that most people asked for me to tell those stories every time we went up there.”

He admitted there was one skeptic who kept saying, “Aw, come on, come on.”

Each family member had experiences. “My mother had knocking from inside the closet, tapping from inside the bedroom wall, saw people who went into the bathroom and never came out.”

Dan found out that their mother had told his sister Julie that those experiences bothered her.

Then there is the mysterious little girl who walked through the house wearing a blue sash and long 19th-century dress. “One night my parents were sitting in the breakfast nook as usual having a glass of wine, and mom was facing the hallway. She heard a person trooping lightly down the stairway. She told Julie to go back to bed.”

Julie yelled that she was in bed, and Dan’s mother saw this little girl of about eight years old in a blue sash and long 19th century dress. “I showed my mother a picture of my great aunt who died of meningitis when she was eight, and she said that was who she had seen. We did have her doll furniture upstairs.”

The other oddity was the Rethmeier dog, who appeared to love to play with the little girl. The dog went up to that “haunted” room, and ran around, sometimes standing on its hind legs with its front legs in position as though it had placed them on the shoulders of a small person.

Another strange occurrence happened one Christmas morning when everyone got up for breakfast to find a newly-lit candle in the middle of the kitchen table.

There’s a theory that this type of paranormal activity occurs when there are kids approaching puberty, Dan said, which is what he was doing when the odd things started happening.

Dan isn’t the only person who has been involved with paranormal activity. “In my ancestry, at least through my great-grandmother, they have seen ghosts and strange events and that stuff.”

One involved Dan’s grandmother who was at home when she had a premonition that her husband had died. And indeed he had. Boarders at this grandmother’s house in Little Falls complained about people moving around in the attic. “The rest of the story is that a man hung himself up there.”

Dan’s wife, Mary, comes from a background with people having paranormal experiences, including a couple of relatives who talked to each other in the old days without telephones or any electronic items.

One time during a thunderstorm Dan’s mother rushed upstairs to close windows in a bathroom, and saw a man standing in their bedroom, with his arms crossed.

Dan said people who are involved with paranormal activity are often thought to be hysterical. “My father was as excitable as Joe Friday, my mother was a good solid Lutheran, and my sister has been a high-level diplomat to presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, so that doesn’t hold true.”

One time Dan was in the “dorm room” as it was called, reading about paranormal activity. “I was trying to find something to put me to sleep, so I was reading a paperback about the spirit world. I got to a page where it said spirits like to play tricks on you to let you know they’re present.”

Just as he got to that section, an old shade on the window across the room went up and went flop flop flop. “That was the last thing that happened to me. I was about 22.”

Dan Rethmeier today. Contributed photo

Dan said the paranormal activities became pretty much normal to the family. “During our teenage years we’d go out to eat at Ivan’s or the Wagon Wheel, and we’d talk about these things that happened in our home. It was so normal that when my sister Julie went to college, she was surprised to find out that not everybody saw ghosts in their houses.“

Dan has given several talks on his family’s paranormal activities, and was surprised to find out that other people who lived in the same growing-up neighborhood as he did had also had paranormal experiences.

How did it all end? “Julie told me that she came home from college for the weekend, and nobody was home, and stuff started happening, noises, rustling silk, and she said she was tired of it. So she sat down and said, ‘I don’t know what you need to find peace, but whatever it is, I want you to go peaceably, and never come back.’”

And that was how it ended.

Though the Rethmeiers heard paranormal sounds, saw paranormal people, and had paranormal activities around them, none of the activities were violent.

After looking at a map of the north side of St. Cloud years ago, Dan figured people probably buried their dead in farmyards in those days, and those were the spirits who had come back.

It’s kind of like the Rethmeier family could live Halloween every day in their house in the northern part of St. Cloud.

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