This story was originally published in The Bismarck Tribune on October 31, 2013.
Halloween may be the main day to celebrate all things supernatural and spooky, but some North Dakotans choose to celebrate them all year long.
Just ask North Dakota natives Troy Larson and Terry “Rat” Hinnenkamp, who took the jump into North Dakota’s rich history and lore in 2003 for their morning radio show.
“We had the idea that our show could spend the night in an abandoned location for a morning broadcast,” Larson recalled. “That whole thing never happened, but we scouted some locations and in the process of scouting, we discovered we had this shared appreciation for history and ghost towns and the abandoned.”
That shared appreciation led the duo to roam the state for the past 10 years, looking for abandoned buildings and ghost towns to preserve their history and images.
They’ve collected the images and stories of more than 100 towns.
“We started doing it for fun and sharing the photos,” Larson said. Now their website, www.ghostsofnorthdakota.com, has had around 10 million hits and it is one of the most visited North Dakota destination sites, he said.
They’ve published a book, “Ghosts of North Dakota,” and are preparing for their second edition by Nov. 15.
The San Haven Sanatorium in Dunseith is their most asked-about and popular destination, Larson said.
“There’s a little bit of a haunted vibe to it (the sanatorium), and people are interested in that, too,” he said. “It’s the kind of place that fosters mystery and intrigue.”
The sanatorium was actually the North Dakota Tuberculosis Sanitarium (later sanatorium) that was opened in 1912 to care for those afflicted with tuberculosis, according to the North Dakota State Historical Society.
At least 1,000 people died at the sanatorium, with many buried on the property in unmarked graves, according to Lori Orser, author of “Spooky Creepy North Dakota.”
For Larson and Hinnenkamp, “Ghosts of North Dakota” is a tribute to those areas, buildings and stories that are disappearing and lost.
“Oftentimes, there’s nobody left to preserve the memory of those places,” Larson said. “That’s when they’re being lost. At the very least, if we have a photo of these places or have a place on the Internet where people can leave their comments and share their memories, in our small way we’re preserving the memory and spirit of these places that may not survive.”
Orser is more interested in documenting the history and experiences of the supernatural.
Her personal favorite North Dakota legend is that of the Gray Lady of Sims because it is one of the best documented histories of hauntings in the state.
Sims, a ghost town in Morton County, is still the home of its original Lutheran church and parsonage, which is said to be haunted by the presence of Bertha, the wife of one of the early pastors.
“No one remembers her name,” said Orser. “But Rev. Lars Dordal’s great niece, who just happens to be my best friend from college, told me the name and history.”
The parsonage and church were restored in 2006, and services are still held every other Sunday.
Many of the reported haunting activities in the state seem to be residual, not malicious, Orser said.
“I think there are some spots that might be legitimately haunted in North Dakota, but they’re more likely residual haunts where something tragic happened in the past,” Orser said. “It was imprinted and is, essentially, in a film loop playing over and over.”