The Gray Lady of Sims

Local legends say "The Gray Lady of Sims" haunts the old Lutheran church parsonage.

This story was originally published in The Bismarck Tribune on May 15, 1988.

She's called "The Gray Lady of Sims," but no ordinary spirit is she.

The ghost who haunts the empty parsonage at Sims Lutheran Church is the only resident of the abandoned Morton County town, which numbered 1,200 lively souls in its heyday before statehood.

According to people living in the area today, "The Gray Lady of Sims" has been in residence north of Almont for the past 75 years.

But by the time she laid claim to the second floor of the parsonage, Sims, founded in fits and starts after a coal mine opened in 1873, was in steep decline.

Fewer than a hundred people still lived there, Almont rancher Sig Peterson recalled.

A lot of the old Norwegians really believe in ghosts, Peterson said, and they take the story very seriously.

"I was a young boy," Peterson said of the time. "It was about 1912 or 13 I think and we lived across the road from the church and the parsonage when that minister lived there. They had two children about my age that I played with."

During their time of service to the parish, Peterson said, the minister's wife became ill. Her sister came from out of state to help the family, but the wife eventually died in the house. The minister married the sister and the family left North Dakota.

Peterson said the ghost didn't start haunting the place for many years. But by the mid-'30s, one preacher fled because of the ghost. At least one other minister was also "spirited" out of the parsonage.

"The ministers were out a lot and their wives were left home alone," said Peterson. "I think it bothered their wives more than anything and that's why they left."

The congregation was so concerned about the ghost that in 1938, a letter was sent to the area bishop, said Terri Nelson, whose family ranches on the old Sims townsite.

They advised him that there were unusual happenings and spirits about the place, and could he please do something about it?

There's no record of whether the bishop replied.

Stories have circulated in the Sims parish and nearby Almont that the second story windows of the parsonage opened and closed by themselves and the pump handle on the well also rose and fell of its own accord - or that of "The Gray Lady of Sims."

"There was even a guy who spoke to the ghost," Peterson said.

There are no details of the conversation and Peterson said it was "a one-time thing." But there is no doubt in his mind that it occurred or that the person who had the experience thought it occurred.

"He was a reliable Christian man," said Peterson. "He was a lay preacher so there was no reason not to believe him."

While "The Gray Lady of Sims" seemed to bother other women, "apparently she never bothered a bachelor who was the church and cemetery caretaker," Peterson said. "He lived in there for 20 or 30 years."

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