The Palmer House Hotel is considered a central Minnesota treasure … even if it is haunted.
The quaint town of Sauk Centre sits near the heart of Minnesota, located an hour and a half Northwest of the Twin Cities.
Sauk Centre might be small — population of 4,317 — but has a rich history.
Most famously, the town is known for being the hometown of Nobel Prize-winning author, Sinclair Lewis.
The town’s original Main Street (also a registered historic site) was featured in the author’s 1920 novel, “Main Street.” Lewis also based the book’s fictional hotel, “Minniemashie House,” on The Palmer House, where he worked in his younger days.
The Palmer House, originally called the Sauk Centre House, also has a history of being haunted. (By the way, the hotel was featured in Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” in 2012.)
The Sauk Centre House, built in 1863, burned to the ground at the turn of the century.
Ralph and Christena Palmer built the Palmer House a year later, 1901, with 24 rooms and one communal bathroom. Its location, next to the train, was a popular resting place for traveling salesmen.
Kelley Freese of Sauk Centre has owned the property for nearly two decades. Freese and her husband bought the Palmer House with another couple in 2002.
“This was my husband’s brain idea. I went kicking and screaming but I went along with it,” Freese joked.
Initially, Freese and her husband had decided to go in on purchasing the Palmer House to help the other couple. The plan was to have the other couple pay off the rest of the investment.
But the young couple had children. Any commitment other than family, especially a business, is a tough gig she said. It was more than what the family wanted at the time, so the Freese’s decided to buy out the property.
Oddly enough, Kelley was opposed to purchasing the property at first.
“But I completely fell in love with it.”
At the time of the purchase, Freese didn’t know the Palmer House was haunted.
“We had been here awhile and one of the locals had been in for lunch and asked me how it was going.”
Freese responded that it had been going ok but there were a few odd things happening around the hotel.
“She was completely deadpan,” Freese said. “‘Well, it’s haunted. The Palmer House is Haunted.’ That was the first time those words were ever spoken to me.”
Most of the Freese’s experiences were subtle at first. Keys moving to a different spot in the room, propped doors with a wedge slamming shut, unknown voices on a walkie talkie. But perhaps the most profound experience was seeing a full-body apparition in broad daylight. It happened in the lobby during lunch when Freese was walking from the pub in the hotel to the cafe.
“I turned toward this person walking. I was just smiling and then got closer. It was a woman’s face and it was somebody I didn’t recognize.”
She asked the woman if she was joining the Palmer House for a bite to eat. An employee behind Freese asked, “Kelley, who are you talking to?”
“I spun around and said ‘This woman!’”
As she Freese turned back to the woman, no one was there.
“You would have no reason to believe that they were anything but a living breathing person coming in for lunch.”
Freese believes that there are definitely “full-time” residents at the hotel.
“A friend, a very dear friend — a psychic medium — said The Palmer House is a revolving door of the spirit world because it has been around for 120 years,” Freese said. “It is a place where people come and go. There’s a lot of love and family and beautiful memories that have happened here.”
If you are planning on staying at the Palmer House, just don’t ask for the “most haunted room.”
“We don’t lock (the ghosts) in a room. They’re not your dog and pony show.”
The hotel is warm and inviting, so much so that there are guests (of the living kind) that reserve rooms at least once a month. A guest coined it the best, Freese said.
“It’s the Palmer House effect. There’s something about it. You come and you can’t leave. A little like ‘Hotel California,” Freese laughed.
Others, Freese said, are families that come in from around the area to sit down in the lobby to play board games.
“The Palmer House is the cornerstone of the community. She’s old enough and earned a place in history,” Freese said. “You don’t need to spend money to come here. Just please come and make it a space that you can use and enjoy.”