Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Haunted Grey Cloud Island

Like most places, Minnesota has its share of allegedly haunted locations. One of the most infamous of these is Grey Cloud Island, a three-square-mile island in the Mississippi River about twelve miles south of the state capital, Saint Paul. I've heard a lot of wild stories about the place over the years, and in my novel Arcana I wrote a scene there specifically because of the island's alleged spiritual energy.

City Pages has an article up today about a ghost hunting trip to the island. It's a good article, and the sort of thing it's nice to see make it into the media. Personally I have been to the island a few times, and while I have sensed some energies there that are kind of funky, I never have seen anything like an apparition or encountered anything that I found particularly scary. So even though the place does have an unusual spiritual presence, I think that a lot of the stories are probably exaggerated.

The St. Paul Park Police Department is aware of the area’s reputation. In a Facebook post from June, they attempt to address the “attention in the media lately about Grey Cloud Island being haunted,” reassuring everyone that “they have never encountered these ghosts, poltergeists, spirits, or weird happenings.” They go on to warn visitors that “unless you want to explain to a Washington County Judge... why you were running around a cemetery in the dark looking for ghosts at you’re [sic] hearing1 [sic] please stay home.”

Despite these warnings, I’m intrigued. This was two years ago, around Halloween of 2017. I email a local historian, asking if it would be possible to photograph Grey Cloud Cemetery and chat about its history and hauntings. “I would be glad to show you around!” he responds jovially later that day, sending along a map with the precise geolocation of the cemetery. The following day, I ask when he’ll be free to show me around. No response. The day after, I follow up. Nothing.

Several days later, I receive a clipped response. “They do not allow investigations of their cemetery,” he writes. “There are insubstantial rumors about the cemetery. [The Grey Cloud Township Officer] is fearful of what might happen later.” I assure him that the piece I was considering writing would be purely informational, not exploitative in any way. “I only wish I could do this,” he responds in his final communication to me, “but my Grey Cloud friends would never forgive me.”

I’m not the first person to write about Grey Cloud. Jeff Morris, author of Twin Cities Haunted Handbook: 100 Ghostly Places You Can Visit In and Around Minneapolis & St. Paul , claims that the Twin Cities has “one of the most diverse collections of ghosts that I have experienced.” That includes Grey Cloud, which boasts “strange balls of light floating around,” an apparition “in full Dakota dress,” and a motorcyclist (“the rider and bike are both translucent”).

The book also covers Grey Cloud Cemetery. “The cemetery closes at dusk,” he writes. “There seems to be at least one spirit who enforces this rule.” The spirit apparently smokes a cigarette before dissipating into the night. Some have also witnessed a daytime apparition of a grieving mother draped over a headstone.

Oddly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, in the four pages dedicated to Grey Cloud Island and its cemetery, Morris mentions such things as “private property,” “denial of residents,” and “do not do anything to disturb the island’s residents” nine different times. Another kind of neat/creepy fact: According to a 2007 post on the Pioneer Press’ site, Grey Cloud Island is “quiet living on the mighty Mississippi River... [and] features the largest concentration of American Indian burial mounds in Washington County.”

If there really are some spots on the island that visible spirits frequent, that alone is enough to make me want to take another trip. I haven't been down there in years, and I could always see about sweeping it with modern ghost-hunting gear. That I never have actually done. It's possible that it's all folklore, true, but at the same time it's so close to home that it makes for a pretty low-effort outing. And who knows? Maybe we'll find something.

If you happen to be in the Twin Cities and are interested in doing the local "Ghost tour," check out Grey Cloud Island. It sounds like at the very least the cemetery is a good place to check out for spooky activity. If you visit and do run into something, feel free to let me know. More stories are always fun, plus it seems like you can never get enough reliable data on the paranormal.

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