Editor's note: In the spirit of Halloween, we’ve assembled three of Prior Lake’s spookier bits of folklore - from haunted history to mistaken close encounters of the fourth kind to a real ghost story from a Prior Lake resident.
Ghosts of the past
All sorts of spirits may be roaming around on Halloween, but one of the biggest ghosts of Prior Lake’s history may be the Grainwood Hotel: once a cherished resort, today alive in name only.
The Grainwood Hotel began as the Grainwood House, opened by the Hull family on May 15, 1879. W.E. Hull made his fortune on grain and wood - hence the name of the hotel.
“It was basically the first resort of the lake - it established Prior Lake as a resort area,” said Theresa Norman of the Scott County Historical Society.
Hull died the same year the hotel was built, leaving a 16-foot sailboat named for his wife, Lulu. The Grainwood catered to wealthy socialites and could accommodate 150 guests along with several lakeside cabins, had its own railroad station and water tower, and provided endless lakeside activities.
That is, until it burned down in 1894.
It was immediately rebuilt, bigger and better, that same year. It became the Grainwood Hotel and came back with tennis courts, a bowling alley, concerts and dancing. Unfortunately, tourism was moving on, and patrons were favoring resorts further north.
In 1930, catastrophe struck again. The hotel burned to the ground. Then owner Van Slyke couldn’t say for sure where the fire came from, but suspected it originated in the kitchen, according to a April 10, 1930 edition of the Shakopee Argus. The article described the blaze in great detail:
“The lake bordering the resort property was aglow, and red as blood, a brilliant shade near the shore, fading to a delicate pink as the reflection stretched away to deeper water. ...One long, square, distorted figure raised itself calmly above the fire at its feet, bowed a little and collapsed a mass of brick and mortar. So was the passing of a landmark; only its memory remains.”
The Grainwood was never rebuilt. The surrounding cottages all survived the fire, but they were parceled out and sold as housing in the 1960s, Norman said. It was the beginning of residential Prior Lake as we know it.
But the hotel's memory remains in the names of streets, schools and even the proposed senior living complex coming to the Gateway Mall - a ghost of what it once was.
Identified flying object
On Aug. 29 of this year, ufohunters.com got a ping on its website. Someone had apparently spotted a UFO hovering in Prior Lake - an ethereal ring of lights suspended in the clouds.
That wasn’t the final word on the subject. The individual who posted the sighting later came back to say that some further investigation had revealed that the lights were not extraterrestrial, but commercial. They were the search lights beaming up from Mystic Lake Casino. Sheepishly, the poster asked readers to disregard the post and allow him or her to remain anonymous.
On a mitigating note, the poster may be embarrassed, but he or she is far from alone. The Mystic Lake Casino lights have been mistaken for a UFO on multiple occasions. A website for the National UFO Reporting Center (nuforc.org) lists a litany of circular lights spotted hovering, unmoving, in the metro area sky. A footnote confirms that an Aug. 9 entry was “definitely” from the Mystic Lake Casino lights. Sometimes, the explanation reads, on nights when the cloud deck is unusually high, the lights can be seen as a glowing ring from surprisingly far north.
A quick jaunt through Twitter will reveal entries about the Mystic Lake Casino lights and their striking resemblance to a UFO as far back as 2012. (This newspaper's editor even recalls mistaking the lights for something potentially supernatural when she first came to the area back in the mid-1990s.)
A true story
Della Klingberg of Prior Lake is coming up on her 94th birthday in November. She doesn’t care much for Halloween. She’d rather be celebrating Reformation Day on Oct. 31. But if you ask her, she’ll tell you the story of something ghostly that happened out in Fish Lake (near Lydia) when she was in her teens.
The following account is in her own words.
"It was around 1940. I was out at Effie Snell’s farm out in Fish Lake. I was 13 or 14 when I would go over there. They [the Snells] had people come there from all over because out in the cornfield, they had something that would just go up in the air and split apart. It would just rise up, and - whoosh - break apart, like that.
My folks had heard about it. My dad asked me, 'Are you going back to that place again?' I said I was. Then they would talk to each other in German about it. They knew German - we didn’t. They knew about the place.
The Snells - Effie and her husband - I don’t know what kind of problems they had. Like I said, my folks talked German. But people were saying it was a ghost rising up to punish them.
There were a lot of weird things going on at that time. About a half a mile from the Snell farm, a barn burned, and a streak of light went straight up into the sky. But my husband drove around the place and figured out that they were making moonshine and a barrel probably caught fire.
The first thing I noticed when I was at the Snell farm was when Ethel (their daughter) and I were playing ball in the field. Rocks would fly at us. Then Ethel’s grandpa said it was time to go in.
Ethel’s sister said, 'You might hear a noise later tonight.' They had a 2-by-4 board that they laid across the door to lock it. At 1 or 2 a.m., there was a commotion downstairs. There were dishes rattling and things banging. They said that this sort of thing was going on all the time. Every night.
Then one day, when they were going to sell the place, they had an open house 1 p.m. on a Sunday. We went over there around 12:30 p.m. We got in the house and noticed a stepladder leading into the attic. My sister said, 'I wonder what’s up there?' And she climbed up and stuck her head in.
Then, we heard something - whoosh - it made a big noise. We pulled out of there in a hurry.
Were we scared? You bet your boots. We never went back.
The way I understand it, the thing in the cornfield was some kind of gas. At that time, there were more of these gas balls in swamps. Sometimes there would be these big fireballs floating in the air. Now everything’s built up more, and you don’t have that stuff no more. They cut the corn and it quit.
But the noises - we never did find out what they were.
Read more about the "happening" in the Snell cornfield in this account found in the 1940 Jordan Independent: http://www.swnewsmedia.com/jordan_independent/news/entertainment/account-many-are-mystified-by-soil-blowing-in-fish-lake/article_262a0f6f-b699-553b-87e6-0e7a641cb7da.html