The Ghost of Clyde Mudgett

An ill-planned burglary. A macabre death. A gym legend.

Like most of his fellows in the boxing business, Jim Glancey--proprietor of the aptly named Glancey's Gym--has firm ideas about the right way to do things. Accordingly, the front door of his establishment is dotted with hand-written instructions to his young charges: "Rules Strictly Enforced," "Dues $20 a month--No Pay, No Play," "No Babys," and finally, "Unescorted Women Welcome." "So far, no luck on that last one," Glancey shrugs as he unlocks the entrance to the gym. Housed in an imposing three-story, 14,000-square-foot brick building at the intersection of Beech and Forest streets in St. Paul, Glancey's Gym once served as the headquarters for an East Side meat wholesaler, the Anderson Meat Company. The ground floor is a warren of old meat lockers that Glancey remodeled to accommodate his two rings, an impressive assortment of punching bags, and other fistic essentials, such as gloves and headgear. It is dank and cool in the gym, a touch eerie in the low light.

Glancey, who is 73 years old and retired from his career as a pipe insulator at the University of Minnesota, lives alone in an airy apartment directly above the gym. But over the last ten years he has come to suspect that an unseen visitor is paying him regular visits. "I guess I really first started to notice something strange six or seven years ago. I just detected a presence, even when there was nobody around. And then sometimes, when I was upstairs in the bathroom, I could hear the double-ended bag going brup-brrup-brrrup!" Glancey says, his eyes lighting up behind thick, wire-framed glasses. "At first I'd ask the coaches, 'Was anybody here last night? Were you working out?' And they always say, 'No.' So I figured there must be some old boxer coming around."

A energetic archivist of boxing memorabilia, Glancey has collected reams of photographs, newspaper articles, and other artifacts concerning the many fighters who have passed through his gym. Each fighter is assigned his own folder. And while the gym owner never met the late Clyde Mudgett, he has amassed a fat file on the St. Paul-born journeyman who, Glancey believes, now haunts his gym. There are a few faded photographs of Mudgett--mustached, smiling, striking the usual boxerly poses--along with a handful of old newspaper clippings: "A fighter dies alone, unseen," "Pro boxer Mudgett found dead." And there are scraps of loose paper bearing names and numbers of people who've contacted Glancey over the years, offering information and speculation about the circumstances surrounding Mudgett's demise. "I got a call from a stripper a few years back, and she was saying that Clyde had been murdered," Glancey says with a note of skepticism. "It's too ridiculous. Somebody's gonna drag a guy all the way up a big chimney and drop him down? That doesn't make any sense."

Murder or not (St. Paul police long ago ruled the death an accident), Mudgett came to one of the most ghastly ends imaginable, right here in Jim Glancey's gym. It was April 1983, and the Anderson Meat Company still occupied the building. According to police, the then-30-year-old Mudgett had hatched an ill-conceived plan: He would gain entrance to the meat lockers by clambering down the 50-foot smokestack that sits atop the building, then make off through the side door with a bounty of free steaks and chops. Unemployed at the time, Mudgett even discussed the scheme with fellow patrons at the Jay Mar Bar, his favorite East Side watering hole, according to former bar manager Ina Harms. Like most who knew Mudgett, Harms was fond of the two-time Indiana Golden Gloves champ. A crowd-pleasing brawler, Mudgett used to delight fans by toasting them with a beer after his bouts--win or lose. (And despite his journeyman status, Mudgett had his moment in the spotlight, fighting once on a televised card at Madison Square Garden.) "He was absolutely gorgeous, loved to have fun, and had a personality that could knock your socks off," Harms recalls." We all tried to talk him out of it [the burglary] and I didn't really believe he would do it. Why he went through with it is beyond me."

According to Harms, after Mudgett failed to show up at the bar the next day, her ex-husband became worried and placed an anonymous call to Anderson Meat Company. Check your chimney, he said. A man may be stuck there. Mike Johnson, a St. Paul cop just three weeks on the job, was dispatched to the scene to investigate. After finding a loose rope dangling atop the chimney, Johnson summoned a fire truck. Firemen tied the rope to a ladder on their truck and tried to extract whatever was tied to the other end. The rope snapped, so Johnson went into the basement of the building, where he popped open a small butterfly flue near the base of the chimney. To his horror, the young cop found himself "eyeball to eyeball" with the now-dead boxer, who was wedged in a tight spot just beneath a bend in the chimney. "It's my guess that once he passed this s-shaped bend he couldn't get back up, and he couldn't get any further down. That's when the furnace kicked in, and he couldn't breathe, because it was hot and because the fumes were devoid of oxygen," recalls Johnson, who still serves on the force. The body was in awful condition, he adds, noting that Mudgett's hands and shoes were worn down from a struggle. "I think he fought his last fight there in the chimney. And he lost."

Since Glancey purchased the building in 1991 a dozen or so visitors have come by to see whether Mudgett's ghost inhabits the place, including Mudgett's widow and adult daughter. Some of those visitors, like Ina Harms, say they found the experience merely eerie. Others have emerged convinced they encountered the supernatural. Bill Alkofer, a former photographer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, spent an evening in the gym with columnist Don Boxmeyer in 1996. "About all we saw was some heavy bags that looked like they were moving all by themselves," Alkofer recalls. "At first I thought Boxmeyer was playing a prank on me, so I made the bag still for a while and then the thing started swinging again, and I'm thinking, 'Maybe there is something to this--it's a little spooky.'"

Boxmeyer wrote a tongue-in-cheek account of the night of ghost hunting, and Alkofer thought little else of the matter until he returned to the gym a few months later on an unrelated assignment. "While I was shooting the pictures, I was standing on a table. And all of the sudden out of nowhere all four legs collapsed and I came crashing down. I saved my camera equipment, but I got a big gash on my leg," Alkofer says. After the shoot was finished, Alkofer inspected the table and found that the screws affixing the legs to the table had been loosened or removed. "I think maybe old Clyde was playing a trick on one of the newspaper guys who had the audacity to poke fun at him," Alkofer ventures. "And I carry the scar on my shin with me to this very day, to remind me of something my mother always told me, 'Never speak ill of the dead.'"

Others who have spent time in the gym have alternated between skepticism and belief, according to Glancey. "Some of the younger kids accuse me of setting them up," he admits. "A couple years back, we had a big kid--300 pounds, I think--and he was working out on his own. All of the sudden he came rushing into the room and he says, 'Did just you tap me on the shoulder?' And I said no. That was the last time he worked out by himself."

To John Savage, a self-avowed psychic and founder of the Isanti-based Minnesota Paranormal Investigative Group, the tale has all the trappings of a classic haunting. "I'm not at all surprised by any of this," Savage says. "Mudgett was a boxer, so this place would be familiar to him. And the tapping on the shoulder is very common in a lot of the hauntings we deal with. It sounds like Clyde needs to cross over and let go of his earthly ties and move on."

Glancey concedes he isn't entirely positive that Mudgett's ghost is at work in the gym. The strange noises at night, he points out, could come from any number of sources: "Maybe it's rats or bats or squirrels or whatever the heck else is around here. This is an old building. Maybe it's settling.

"But if it is Clyde," he concludes. "I sure hope he's enjoying himself."

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