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Ghost hunting on Grey Cloud Island: A spooky cemetery trip turns even weirder

Mikael Stefanov

Mikael Stefanov

Grey Cloud Island is considered one of the most haunted places in Minnesota.

With a population of about 300, the island is a three-square-mile jot of woodlands wedged between the Mississippi River and two small lakes. It sits about 13 miles south of St. Paul, and abuts both St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove. It contains roughly 125 households, and something called Aggregate Industries (a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim Ltd., the Swiss multinational building materials conglomerate).

There’s also Camp Galilee, a clandestine Pentecostal retreat. A sampling of the reviews on its Facebook page:

“I love this place! Jesus is amazing and the presence of the Spirit of God is so amazing and powerful!”

“Issa haunted place. Grey Cloud Island is where all the homies come from the Grove to get they selves SPOOKED.”

The island contains no commerce to speak of. There’s no lodging or camping or marked hiking trails. But the place is so notorious that when filmmaker Sam Raimi was working on producing 50 States of Fright, a state-by-state horror anthology slated for release next year, he chose Grey Cloud Island to represent Minnesota.

Colin Michael Simmons

Colin Michael Simmons

Its notoriety can also be found on Reddit.

One poster who “grew up in Woodbury” claims, “Saw a phantom truck on [Grey Cloud Island], vanished in front of my eyes... Twice!”

Another Redditor adds, “DUUUUDEEE MY MOM AND I GOT LOST HERE DUDE DUDE I WAS LIKE 6 THAT PLACE IS SPOOKY AS FUCK”.

Yet another says, “I always liked bringing girls out there to do the ‘get scared and hook up thing’ till one time cops pulled me over with guns drawn as I was leaving.”

The St. Paul Park Police Department is aware of the area’s reputation. In a Facebook post from June, they attempt to address the “attention in the media lately about Grey Cloud Island being haunted,” reassuring everyone that “they have never encountered these ghosts, poltergeists, spirits, or weird happenings.” They go on to warn visitors that “unless you want to explain to a Washington County Judge... why you were running around a cemetery in the dark looking for ghosts at you’re [sic] hearing1 [sic] please stay home.”

 

Despite these warnings, I’m intrigued. This was two years ago, around Halloween of 2017. I email a local historian, asking if it would be possible to photograph Grey Cloud Cemetery and chat about its history and hauntings.

“I would be glad to show you around!” he responds jovially later that day, sending along a map with the precise geolocation of the cemetery.

The following day, I ask when he’ll be free to show me around. No response. The day after, I follow up. Nothing.

Several days later, I receive a clipped response. “They do not allow investigations of their cemetery,” he writes. “There are insubstantial rumors about the cemetery. [The Grey Cloud Township Officer] is fearful of what might happen later.”

I assure him that the piece I was considering writing would be purely informational, not exploitative in any way.

“I only wish I could do this,” he responds in his final communication to me, “but my Grey Cloud friends would never forgive me.”

I’m not the first person to write about Grey Cloud. Jeff Morris, author of Twin Cities Haunted Handbook: 100 Ghostly Places You Can Visit In and Around Minneapolis & St. Paul , claims that the Twin Cities has “one of the most diverse collections of ghosts that I have experienced.” That includes Grey Cloud, which boasts “strange balls of light floating around,” an apparition “in full Dakota dress,” and a motorcyclist (“the rider and bike are both translucent”).

The book also covers Grey Cloud Cemetery. “The cemetery closes at dusk,” he writes. “There seems to be at least one spirit who enforces this rule.” The spirit apparently smokes a cigarette before dissipating into the night. Some have also witnessed a daytime apparition of a grieving mother draped over a headstone.

Oddly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, in the four pages dedicated to Grey Cloud Island and its cemetery, Morris mentions such things as “private property,” “denial of residents,” and “do not do anything to disturb the island’s residents” nine different times.

Grey Cloud Island, population 301

Grey Cloud Island, population 301

Another kind of neat/creepy fact: According to a 2007 post on the Pioneer Press’ site, Grey Cloud Island is “quiet living on the mighty Mississippi River... [and] features the largest concentration of American Indian burial mounds in Washington County.”

 

Armed with this information, I print out the cemetery map and hit the road with my girlfriend, Lilly. We arrive in the afternoon; it’s mid-October. The sky is a grayish white. The leaves are just beginning to change; Grey Cloud’s hillsides are flushed red with sumac.

Grey Cloud Cemetery sits at the end of an unmarked gravel road, flanked by a dense forest with private property signs and a cornfield. We park on the shoulder and sidestep a locked gate (we are there during open visitation hours). We both have a potent sense that we’re being watched, even though the area is unusually quiet and we haven’t seen another human for quite a while. The cemetery itself is unremarkable, though it contains a large number of baby lamb monuments, blackened with moss.

After exploring, we stop by Doc’s Landing at the Mississippi Dunes Golf Links, just off the island, for a beer. The place is large, empty, and a little drab, with a massive wraparound porch overlooking the river. There, we meet a bartender named Kevin.

When I ask him if Grey Cloud is haunted, he clears his throat. “Excuse my language,” he says, cutting a sharp glance at Lilly, before turning back to me. “Fuck yeah, man, this place is fuckin’ haunted.”

“This place?” I say. “Like, Doc’s Landing?”

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“Doc’s is haunted as fuck, brother,” he says.

Kevin is probably drunk. He’s also very tan, and is sporting a receding crew cut. He looks like a man of 50 or so who has lived hard. He’s very animated as he speaks.

“This room here, over here,” he says, gesturing wildly. “After closing one night—and I’m the only one here, get it?—I lie down for a nap. All of the sudden—I shit you not—the loudest fuckin’ racket you ever heard comin’ from the kitchen wakes me up. Right behind my fuckin’ head. Pots and pans and all kinds a shit clanging around like a fuckin’ bomb went off. Scared the living fuck out of me, man.”

He continues: “The place I’m renting... I ain’t from here, I’m from down Florida. I just came up here to bartend. But I’m renting the boss’ place, the old brothel—”

“Brothel?” I ask.

“Brothel, yeah. Edge of the property there. Fuckin’ place is haunted as fuck. Shit you not. Every night I hear shit. I’m fucking terrified, brother,” he responds. “Doors open and slam shut. I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Heavy footsteps, whisperings. Fuck.”

Lilly and I obviously have to see this place. We take our beers, hop into two golf carts, and head out to “the brothel.” It’s an old, white stucco two-level, with dark, ill-placed windows and ivy snaking up the walls. The yard is overgrown, and seems to be working on swallowing the house.

Inside, the space is cramped and dark, and all of the shades are closed. The furniture is mismatched. It kind of looks like a squatter’s place. The hardwood floors creak, and the staircase is very narrow and steep. The air inside the house feels somehow swollen, devoid of an element essential to human health.

The gates to Doc’s Landing indicate that the bar is very closed these days.

The gates to Doc’s Landing indicate that the bar is very closed these days.

“You ever go into the basement?” Lilly asks.

Kevin raises his eyebrows. “No fucking way.”

So we head downstairs. The air in the basement feels even heavier. The ceilings are extremely low, and the floors and walls look like they were crudely hewn from the earth with a pickaxe. Lilly finds a trapdoor that opens squarely into the middle of the upstairs living room.

“What the fuck!” Kevin says, not thrilled with her discovery.

Before leaving, I note that there are chairs wedged underneath every doorknob.

“I told you,” he says. “I’m fuckin’ terrified.”

We drive the golf carts back to Doc’s, and say our goodbyes.

“Maybe, uh,” Kevin says to Lilly, rubbing his hands together, “we should exchange numbers.” He glances at me. “In case I think of any more ghost stories.”

Lilly agrees. On the drive home, she receives two texts from Kevin: “U got a boyfriend?” and “lol u r cute.”

That was the last we heard from him.

 

After our trip, I decided to do a little more research about what we saw and what Kevin told us. I couldn’t find any evidence of a brothel having existed in the area.

Shortly after our visit, the Mississippi Dunes Golf Links and Doc’s Landing closed. These days, the gates are padlocked and yellow crime-scene tape hangs from them. They appear to have been crowbarred for illegal entry, even though trespassers could easily just take a short stroll through the woods onto the overgrown links. In 2017, owner William C. Doebler, then 73, was accused by four former employees of “battery, sexual harassment, and retaliation,” and he was found guilty.

When I looked into this story, I found an interesting little tidbit in a Star Tribune article:

“According to [District Judge Mary] Hannon’s order, incidents included sexual grabbing and Doebler’s invitations to have sex. Some of the exchanges occurred at his nearby home, which he called ‘The Brothel.’”

And that is probably the most haunting discovery.