Is Freeborn County courthouse haunted?

Published 10:41 am Monday, January 12, 2009

The Freeborn County Courthouse will soon be the feature of a documentary that includes an investigation into paranormal activity.

In action Tuesday during the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to allow the television show “Dead Reckoning” to come to Albert Lea and do a story about the Freeborn County Courthouse.

Warren Anderson, a cast member for the show, said the people involved with the show have heard for many years that there is paranormal activity that takes place in and around the courthouse and that it is possibly linked to a suicide from the 1930s.

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The suicide was discovered at about 8 a.m. on July 5, 1938, when a custodian went into the clock tower of the courthouse to reset the clock.

According to a Tribune article on Sept. 14, 1987, recounting the day from 1938, the custodian “pushed open the trap door in the uppermost floor of the tower and found the decomposed body of a middle-aged man hanging from a rafter.

“Authorities determined that the suicide was carefully planned. A noose around the man’s neck had reportedly been perfectly tied. A small ladder had been carried up into the tower and used to attach the rope to the rafter, plus provide a place for the final step off into space. And, to really confuse authorities, the man had carefully cut all the labels and laundry marks from his clothes and even eliminated the brand name from the case for his glasses, the only thing found in his pockets.”

The article went on to say that the coroner estimated that the unknown man had been in the tower for several weeks. It took nearly two hours to get the body from where it was hanging to the ground, as hundreds of people gathered in cars on South Broadway Avenue and on the lawn to watch. The identity of the man still is unknown.

The clock tower, a visual reminder of the death, was removed in 1953 because of extensive structural problems. A major addition to the courthouse was finished in 2005.

As part of the visit, Anderson said, his team would like to do a full story about the courthouse from the time it was built to the present and will try to focus on the history of the property. The other part of the show includes a full paranormal investigation by six investigators working in groups of two, who use scientific equipment to document any kind of paranormal activity present.

He said the team uses equipment such as night vision cameras, digital voice recorders and electromagnetic field detectors.

The show is being looked at by several TV networks, one of which is the Learning Channel.

Its cast members have done three previous episodes in Minnesota, including the historic Mounds Theater in St. Paul, the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre and the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul.

The show’s tag line is “raising history from the dead,” Anderson said.

Commissioner Dan Belshan asked whether there would be any extra expenses incurred on Freeborn County because of the visit.

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said he was told there would not be.

Kluever said he assumes most of the work will be done after sunset, and he recommended that Randy Jensen, the county’s building maintenance manager, be involved with the television show as he has interest in that realm.

Jensen said he would make sure someone from the county is with the TV crew at all times.