Local, area ghost stories aboundThe spirit of Halloween is thriving locally and throughout the state, where chasing legends, lore and ghosts is increasingly popular.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The spirit of Halloween is thriving locally and throughout the state, where chasing legends, lore and ghosts is increasingly popular.
The Darkness Falls Paranormal Society, in Sioux Falls, is one of at least nine “ghostbuster” units in the state. The believers investigate reports of hauntings and videotape and post their findings on websites.
Locally, there are several verbal, printed and online accounts of ghosts and eerie sightings in and around Mitchell.
On the website www.ghostsofamerica.com, “Cody” submitted this tale from Mitchell:
“Some friends and I went for a ride on our motorcycles around the lake. We were approaching Cemetery Road from the north heading south. We came around the last turn and all of a sudden there was a person walking right on the side of the road. Older gentleman, white hair, brown coat, dress pants, walking with his head down like he didn’t even care that we were coming around the corner or didn’t hear us.
“My friends and I were [angry] because he almost caused two of us to wipe out on our bikes. So we decided to turn around and give him an earful, but when we got back there, he was nowhere to be found. We looked everywhere: The park. The road. Couldn’t find him.
“We all talked about it, and to this day we believe that we all saw a ghost. To this day I hear the same story from people that are driving around the lake at night. Creepy.”
One of the best-known ghost stories in Mitchell is the weeping ghost of the Masonic Temple.
Reportedly, people have heard the muffled sobs of a woman on the upper floor of the 87-year-old downtown landmark.
The book “The South Dakota Road Guide to Haunted Locations” has a pair of pages on the legend and Jim Taylor, a Mitchell lawyer, told The Daily Republic in 2006 the temple is “a spooky place after dark when you’re all alone.”
The book tells of people finding a skeleton hanging in a closet of the building, but that has been explained as possibly being a theatrical prop that was left behind.
There are several other ghost stories in Mitchell.
At Signatures in downtown Mitchell, some employees have reported seeing lights flickering off and on, items being moved and other strange events. The eerie events have happened in recent years, according to an employee.
There is a legend on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus as well. Graham Hall was the oldest building at DWU until it was torn down, and some say the spirit of a student who was killed in a fire on campus was seen there many times.
DWU Vice President of University Relations Lori Essig said the reports of the ghost of Graham Hall are many in number but are lacking in historical accuracy.
“That is what the rumor was. The problem is no one ever fell to their death from Graham Hall,” Essig said. “People would say they saw ghosts or felt a presence in Graham Hall. They called the ghost Nelson.”
Two students, neither with the name Nelson, did die in falls from Merrill Memorial Hall in a fire in 1888, she said. The building was located near where Smith Hall is today. Essig said she’s not sure if the ghosts moved to another building or what caused the stories to come to life.
Theater students and professors have often said Patten-Wing Theatre, located in Hughes Hall, which is now the oldest building on campus, evokes creepy feelings at times, she said.
Area legends and lore
Some people have ghost stories but don’t want to attach their names to them for fear of ridicule. “I don’t want people to think I’m nuts,” said one Mitchell woman who was interviewed for this story.
Some houses in town have stories of ghosts and other strange events, but the owners want the stories kept quiet.
The town of Howard has a wellknown ghostly legend, according to at least three websites that tell the story of the death of two children in an airplane accident.
Their ghosts, it is said, still haunt the small town.
Howard Librarian Irene Colling said the story is true, at least as far as the fatal accident. Colling said she doesn’t know anything about the ghosts.
“I just knew there was a tragic accident,” she said.
In late July 1930, Cecile and Clarence Erfman were given tickets to ride on a visiting airplane, The Eagle Rock.
It was piloted by J. Merle Perigo, a licensed pilot from Huron, and was giving people rides at Howard’s annual harvest festival, according to a story in a local newspaper on Aug. 1, 1930.
The plane left the ground as a thunderstorm grew close and at 600 feet it encountered “a miniature tornado,” according to the pilot.
Strong, turbulent winds turned the plane upside down and Cecile, 17, and Clarence, 8, fell to their death onto farmland. The children were in an open cockpit and had not been strapped in before the plane took to the air.
Cecile was impaled on a tree and Clarence landed in a field. Both were dead.
“The tragedy was witnessed by several hundred onlookers on the ground,” the newspaper story recounted.
A local panel investigated the accident and determined the pilot was not at fault.
But for many years, children and others who were looking for a local ghost story said the children’s ghosts were seen at the site of the tragic accident. The trees in the area glow with a strange, unexplained light, some said.
An area historian, Tom Kilian, recounts a very real Halloween horror in a book, Colling said. It occurred in the small community of Vilas in Miner County.
Blacksmith Anton Benesh and his family lived behind the town blacksmith shop, and Benesh grew weary of the pranks local kids played each year.
Youngsters who were doing mischief on Halloween night tipped over his outdoor privy on Oct. 31, 1930, and the smithy gave chase, a gun in his hand. He fired and one of the boys was struck in the head and died.
Benesh was arrested and jailed in Howard and later convicted of manslaughter. He received a 12½ year prison sentence, according to the book.
Mitchell doesn’t have much trouble on Halloween, according to Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg.
“It’s not a big problem for us, typically, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Overweg said.
Officers will be on patrol, he said, but the primary problem in past years has been smashed pumpkins. Once the holiday is over, most people plan to discard the orange orbs anyway, he said.
All about the candy
Halloween isn’t just a time for pondering ghosts, vampires and trick or treating.
It’s also a time for parties and festivals, especially this year, with the haunted holiday landing on Monday. That means much of the weekend will be devoted to Halloween celebrations, costume parties at bars and neighborhood gatherings.
Mitchell has dozens of Halloween displays in yards, on porches and in homes. Ghosts, either large and frightening, or small and cheery, line many sidewalks.
Samantha Beeson said she was a “lone ranger” in decorating her home last Halloween, but many more people in the 200 block of West 13th Avenue have joined in the spooky fun this year and have invested around $200 and a lot of time.
“We have some people acting in costumes and other props with music and strobe lights and fog machines to set the Halloween spirit,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Republic.
“We are giving out glow bracelets to the first 200 kids plus candy,” Beeson said. “My neighbors and I just enjoy Halloween and giving something to the community for them to enjoy.
“I have loved Halloween since I was little,” Beeson said. “My parents were members of the Jaycees when they ran the haunted house and us kids were always helping with it.
“My passion for Halloween really comes from the dressing up, carving pumpkins, spooky music, the individuality it gives people. I have spent approximately three weeks setting things up but the wind had taken some down and will have to put it back up again this weekend.”
Abbe and Michael Murdock, of 700 W. Seventh Ave. in Mitchell, put in several hours this month to make their house appeared haunted.
They will have bodies scattered across the lawn, some merely mannequins, others volunteers who will rise up and give chase to kids who are brave enough to approach their home. The Murdocks said they go to the effort and expense for one simple reason: They love Halloween.
In Pierre, Gov. Dennis Daugaard and first lady Linda Daugaard will give out 1,500 to 2,000 pieces of candy at the Governor’s Mansion from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, according to a release from the Governor’s Office.
“Linda and I look forward to having trick-or-treaters and their families come to our front door on Halloween,” Gov. Daugaard said. “We are extremely proud to continue this tradition that’s been carried from generation to generation in the Pierre community. We are expecting a few more trick-or-treaters than we usually got at the farm near Dell Rapids.”
For children, candy and costumes are the primary attractions.
“I like the candy,” said Kali Ann Milekovich, 5, a pre-kindergarten student at Longfellow Elementary School. Kali Ann plans to dress as Rapunzel on Halloween.
Meghan Beukelman, 10, a Longfellow fifth-grader, is more interested in clothes than candy.
“I really like dressing up in different costumes,” Meghan said. She plans to be a bumblebee Monday.
Fellow fifth-grader Jon Goldhammer, 10, said there’s only one thing he cares about: “Candy.”
Jon said he doesn’t care much about ghost stories or pumpkins or parties. He wants the treats and doesn’t care about the tricks. He’s not even planning to wear a costume Monday night.
“I’m just going to get candy,” he said.