What good is it to claim that you are the Halloween Capital of the World if you don't have the spooky stuff to back it up? Anoka has the spooky stuff, folks.
This week we will look at two of the most haunted places in Anoka; Colonial Hall (now known as The Big White House) and the Jackson Hotel (now known as Billy's Bar and Grill).
As always many, many thanks to Rebecca Desens and the staff at the Anoka County Historical Society for their assistance with this project.
Hauntings of Anoka, Minnesota.
So, now we know how Anoka became the Halloween Capital of the world. What started off as a way to keep kids from pulling increasingly dangerous pranks, became a destination event. People from all over the country, nee all over the world travel to Anoka this time of year to partake in the festivities of parades and events celebrating All Hallows Eve.
But, honestly, how can you call yourself the Halloween Capital of the World, if you don’t have the spooky to back it up? That would be like feeling unsatisfied after you ate a Snicker’s bar. Lucky for us, the City of Anoka has plenty of spooky, one might even say, haunted places to back it’s claim of being the Halloween Capital of the World.
In this episode and the following one next week we’re going to take a look at some of the most interesting ones. So buckle up, pull the covers over your head and let’s get into it.
Let’s start with Colonial Hall. This grand building was built in 1904 on the corner of Third and Monroe. It is a Greek revival style building with impressive pillars framing the front entrance. When it was originally built it was the home and office of Alanson and Flora Aldrich. The couple was originally from New York and Massachusetts, respectively. They were married in 1879 when Flora was seventeen and came to Anoka on their honeymoon to visit friends. Here, they fell in love with the city and decided to relocate. Once settled in Anoka, Flora decided to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor herself. Alanson was already a Doctor with a thriving practice in Minneapolis, to which he commuted daily.
Flora attended the University of Minnesota College of Medicine and earned her degree in 1887 at the age of twenty-one. She would become the first woman Doctor from Anoka. She used a three-room suite on the upper level of the home for her own practice and treated mostly women and children.
One day in February of 1916 Dr. Alanson Aldrich was commuting home from his office in Minneapolis. The temperature that day was 20 degrees below zero and the trolley was horribly overcrowded. Being the gentleman he was, he decided to give up his seat to a young woman and walk the mile to his home where he arrived chilled to the bone and exhausted. In his weakened condition he became ill with pneumonia that aggravated a heart condition and within 10 days, February 19, 1916, he died at the age of 59.
Dr. Flora Aldrich passed away five years later in March of 1921 after a short illness at the age of 55. The Doctors Aldrich left behind no children, but several hunting dogs.
Since there were no heirs to the property the City of Anoka took over the deed and allowed the local Masonic Lodge to be attached to the house. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the house was used as the offices of the Anoka County Historical Society. When the Historical Society grew and needed more room, the moved to a new building. Afterwards, Colonial Hall housed a few different retail shops, including its current incarnation as The Big White House, a three-level shop of antiques, collectibles and furniture.
Plenty of people alive today have seen strange goings on in Colonial Hall. Since both Dr.’s Aldrich passed away here, it’s probably not surprising. Some people have claimed to see the figure of a woman looking down on them from a second floor window overlooking the front entrance to the house.
There are numerous stories from Employees and Customers alike of experiencing the feeling of someone brushing up against them or touching their arm when nobody else is around. Also, a sense that you are being followed on the upper levels where Dr. Flora had her clinic is not uncommon.
Dr. Alanson was a cigar aficionado and visitors, and employees have both mentioned smelling cigar smoke, despite the fact that the space has been non-smoking for decades.
In addition to human spirits, one might catch a fleeting vision out of the corner of your eye which can only be described as looking like a dog. Yes, it seems that the Aldrich hunting dogs still reside here, too.
But unexplained things aren’t just happening at Colonial Hall. The Masonic lodge that is attached to the former Aldrich home also has it’s share of unexplainable events. There are many stories about orbs showing up in photographs, strange knockings and a ghostly voice saying, “Are you working yet?”. The best known, though is the story of a cook who was cleaning up, alone in the downstairs kitchen, after a meeting. As she was ready to leave, she noticed an elderly man going down the hall to the bathroom. The cook watched him walk into the privy and waited for him to come out so that she could lock up, but he never came out. Fearing something had happened to the man, the cook checked the bathroom. Nobody was there. Who or whatever had gone in had simply vanished into thin air.
Legend has it, that the Jackson Hotel is also quite haunted. One may know it today as Billy’s Bar and Grill, but in 1870 it was built by Swedish immigrant Charles G. Jackson who called it the Anoka House. The name was changed in 1880 to The Jackson Hotel. Remember in my first episode in this series when I told you about the great fire in 1884 that destroyed much of downtown Anoka? Well, the Jackson Hotel sustained a LOT of damage from that fire, requiring extensive rebuilding which was completed in 1885. Oddly enough that was the same year that Anoka saw it’s very first murder and it happened right in front of the Jackson Hotel. Legend has it that a local man named Peter Gross was having a friendly conversation with his friend, W.F. Mirick. Unfortunately, Gross did not realize that Mirick had spent a good portion of that day drinking and had, at some point, returned home and retrieved a gun. Out of nowhere Mirick pulled his gun and began shooting. Gross tried to run but was shot in the back. He was taken into the Jackson by bystanders only to die twenty hours later in a second floor hotel room.
Luckily for the Jackson, this incident did not sully its reputation in the area. It is said by those who know that many folks from Minneapolis would make a day trip out of the 20 mile carriage ride to Anoka for an impressive dinner at the Jackson Hotel. In fact, the hotel enjoyed its good reputation well into the 20th Century. As well as the first year of the Anoka Halloween celebration, 1920 was also the first year of prohibition and the Jackson Hotel was a bootleggers’ haven.
Tommy Banks, a legendary Minnesota gangster used to use the Jackson as a place for his personal business. According top local legend Tommy wasn’t only running rum out of the hotel, but was engaged in a booming prostitution business, as well. Local legend has it that one of Tommy’s girls, known locally as The Red Headed Woman haunts the establishment to this day after meeting an unfortunate end at the hands of Tommy and his gang.
The allegedly murdered prostitute likes to make her presence known to guests and employees alike at the Jackson/Billy’s. Her story starts in Minneapolis. She, along with a few other “working girls” were brought up to Anoka by taxi cab at the request of Tommy for a few evenings worth of work. As the story goes, the red-headed woman caught the attention of the taxi driver who was a regular for Tommy and did many of these cover-of-the-night runs for him. Apparently this was not the first time this particular driver had noticed the red head. He thought she was quite beautiful and was looking forward to seeing her again, once her stint at the Jackson was finished.
A few nights later, Tommy Banks called upon the taxi driver to do a pick up at the hotel to bring the women back to Minneapolis-only this time there was no red headed woman. The other girls appeared to be quite shaken and upset as they got into the back of the cab.
Tommy Banks was a man who was used to having pull. If he wanted something, he got it. If he wanted something or someone to disappear, it disappeared. No body was ever found at the hotel during its many renovations, but it seems her spirit has remained there, in the basement of the bar.
Downstairs at Billy’s is a cement room with only one door. The room is used for liquor storage and is kept under lock and key until it needs to be accessed by a staff member. Legend has it that a Billy’s bartender was in the basement because he needed to restock the bar. As he went to open the heavy door to the storage room, he was unable to move the door. Out of desperation he recruited other staff to help him and once the door was opened they discovered that cases of beer had been stacked against the door from inside. If this had been a prank it would have been doomed to failure as there was no other way to exit the room and once the staff got the door open there was, in fact, nobody else in the room.
The ice machine for Billy’s is also located in the basement. It has been said that in the shiny stainless steel ice machine several staff member have seen the image of a red headed woman reflected back at them.
Although felt mostly in the basement, the Red Headed Woman sometimes strays up to the dining room at Billy’s, apparently. She is blamed for the fact that not a single picture on the walls in the dining room is straight. Every single one, images of Anoka’s past, is crooked. Originally staff would laugh and straighten the pictures out, but at this point they just let her have her way with them.
If you tend to feel bad for the Red Headed Woman spending eternity at Billy’s alone, don’t. Because she has company who tends to be much more helpful to the staff. Emma Walker Foster was an African American woman working as a kitchen manager at the Jackson Hotel a few years after the Red Headed Woman departed the earthly plane. Kitchen Manager was a high ranking position, which was rare for an African American, man or woman at this time, but she took her responsibilities very seriously and cared a great deal for the Hotel until her death in 1943.
As time wore on the Jackson Hotel fell out of favor for more popular locations in Minneapolis. It remained in operation until 1960. In the early 70’s, over a hundred years after it was opened as a premier Hotel and Restaurant destination, a woman named Mary Ellen Cutter-Delong opened a French Restaurant in the building after studying French cuisine. The baker at this new restaurant had a habit of laying out her dough for the breads and pastries the night before. As the stories would have it, the baker would come in early the next morning and start working on other essentials before turning her attention to the dough. On more than one occasion the dough had already been kneaded and prepared for her.
Sadly, the French restaurant did not go over well in meat and potatoes Anoka and closed down after a short run.
Now, however, Ms. Emma seems perfectly content helping out the staff at Billy’s which has been in the former Jackson Hotel for over two decades. At night after all the tables are cleared and cleaned, the staff puts the chairs on top of the tables for the night. In the morning workers come in to find tables already set, with chairs tucked neatly in around them. On some occasions staff has come in for the day to the smell of coffee already brewing.
Yes, Anoka has the haunted chops to back up it’s claim to Halloween Capital of the World, but these are just two examples of haunted places in Anoka. Next time we are going to look at a few more, including the Anoka State Hospital for the insane. Now known as the Metro Regional treatment center, this hospital opened in 1900. With its patients and underground tunnels, it has ghost stories written all over it. I look forward to telling you some of those stories next week.
Until we meet again, please feel free to support this podcast by clicking on the Buy Me A Coffee link on the website or just tell your friends about us. In the meantime, keep smiling. It will make people wonder what you’re up to.