Richard Hagen remembers playing around the neglected Stevens House as a child. “The house sat by the bridge, it was boarded up. When I was a kid, we would play at Minnehaha Park. We would peek in the windows and yell ghost!”
Many years later, after retiring from a career with the Air Force that took him all over Europe, Hagen still had a fondness for the historic residence of John H. Stevens, dubbed the birthplace of Minneapolis for its pivotal role as a gathering spot for early city planners. The house has since been restored and moved to a picturesque glade in Minnehaha Park. Hagen served for 20 years on the Stevens House board of directors and volunteered on Sundays to show people around the second-floor rooms.
He had by this time developed a penchant for studying ghosts, but, “I didn’t know it was haunted,” he says of the Stevens House, adding, “I always got this warm feeling. I felt welcome there.”
Hagen, 74, is a trained paranormal investigator — a “ghost hunter” — who has studied at the renowned Arthur Findlay College “For the Advancement of Spiritual and Psychic Science” in Essex, England. He has spent many years documenting hauntings throughout England as well as in Minnesota. With more than 30 years experience researching paranormal events, Hagen also offers talks and seminars, including a three-part workshop modeled after the Findlay school programs.
But he does not consider himself a psychic or a medium, and he is leery of many who make that claim. “A lot of people call themselves mediums or psychics, but they haven’t had training. People may have the gift, but they don’t know how to interpret what they find,” he says. He and his colleagues in the Ghost Hunter Society, founded in 1990, do not charge for their services, and they are a little concerned that the recent plethora of self-styled psychic investigators are “poisoning the water,” creating a negative impression of their work in an already skeptical community here in the Twin Cities.
Not that Hagen objects to a healthy dose of skepticism. “Everyone’s skeptical,” he says. “But you have to have an open mind. A closed mind prevents the spirit from cooperating; the spirit will be gone.” This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: Those who do not believe ghosts exist will not see evidence of them. “We get hauntings and then someone new moves into the house, and nothing [more] happens,” he says.
In that regard, Minneapolis is a long way from England. “In England, it’s accepted for the most part. They grew up with ghosts.” When he gives talks in England, “it’s always fun.” He and a partner spent five years researching what they called a “community of ghosts” in Stillwater, Minnesota. His talks in England about the Stillwater ghosts have been very popular; but he finds much less interest here. Even across the river there is a different attitude. “Minneapolis is cold,” he says. I don’t know why.”
“We’ve had some excellent hauntings we’ve worked on in St. Paul. I can only remember one good haunting in Minneapolis. There’s something about St. Paul — it just seems to be a different kind of a town, more like a European town,” he says.
Hagen and his colleagues are very methodical when they investigate a haunting. After interviewing the person who has reported the events, they examine all possible nonsupernatural explanations: a creaking floor, a faulty electrical wire, tricks of light. When such “normal” causes have been ruled out, they bring in a psychic, who has not met or spoken with the client (to avoid influencing the findings), along with various types of recording equipment, and do a thorough examination of the house while the occupants are absent.
They use a meter that picks up electromagnetic signals, an infrared thermometer, a vintage analog camera (digital images are too easily manipulated), and a specialty tape-recorder, which will pick up frequencies outside the range of human hearing and play them back on a level that is audible.
Hagen will walk through the house holding out his tape recorder, asking questions of the spirit. Sometimes, when he listens to it later, a high-pitched monotone voice has answered. And he takes pictures. “I have sometimes caught a spirit on camera by chance,” he says. More often, he picks up vague shapes of light, or sparks of light clustered together.
The meter and thermometer help find the portal, a place where the spirits enter. The portal can be identified by the presence of electromagnetic fluctuations and “huge temperature drops.” Once a spirit has created a portal, other spirits may pass through it, too, explains Hagen.
Hagen and his colleagues will often conduct a sitting. Not as formal as a séance, it simply means that they will sit quietly, focus, and observe. Sometimes nothing happens. “Ghosts are visitors. They’re not there continuously,” says Hagen. Whatever they find out is then shared with the client.
Hagen is not a “ghost buster.” He respects the spirits’ right to be here as much as the more temporal occupants. Ghosts are generally benign, he says. And they can tell us something about a place.
There are three reasons for a ghost to haunt a house, explains Hagen: they are fond of the place, they have some unfinished business or wish to warn the occupants about something, or they suffered a bad death and can’t stop re-enacting it. He calls this last type an “impact” haunting. “They’re so caught up in it that all they can do is re-enact what they did. They show up on the anniversary date of their death,” he says. If it is unfinished business — “It could be very small, like a debt of five dollars,” he says. If a medium can find out what it is, they can usually satisfy the ghost and it will go away.
Fondness for a place seems to be the most common reason that Hagen encounters. “People lived there their whole lives. They come back.”
“When I get called on a haunting and it’s a Victorian home, the first thing I ask is, are you doing some remodeling? And they say, how did you know? If they’re modernizing it, I say they’re in trouble, the spirits won’t like that. If they’re restoring it, that’s usually OK. The spirit likes that,” he says.
Or a project may have caused another type of disruption — disturbing an old Indian burial spot. “We had one in South St. Paul, a beautiful colonial house. We found out it was on an Indian burial ground there,” he says. In such cases, he has called in a Native American woman to help solve the problem. “It takes a Native American to deal with a spirit of a Native American. They’re usually kindly hauntings.”
Such lingering spirits can offer clues to the history of a place. In one old house in a Minnesota river town, a psychic learned that a ghost’s name was Sarah, that Sarah’s sister had died after an accident and Sarah ended up raising the children. Subsequent research in newspaper archives and public health records confirmed the facts of this discovery.
At the Stevens House, Hagen offers a three-part seminar to teach others the tools and techniques of his avocation, with a new series beginning this fall (see sidebar). Fall is an ideal time to be looking for ghosts, says Hagen, because they do seem to be more active then. “October to April, that time of year is the best time for spirits.”
When he first offered to give one of his ghost talks several years ago at the Stevens House, the then-president of the board of directors was less than enthusiastic. “He always gave lip service to my ghost service and talks, but never followed through,” recalls Hagen, who donates the proceeds from his seminars to the house.
Current board president Lynette Crane takes a different view. “Ghosts and old houses go together,” she says. And the seminars not only generate interest in the historic site, but, as she sees it, help to reveal more about it. “When people in the seminars are investigating the house,” she says, “they’re uncovering some more history for us.”
–Sharon Parker. This article first appeared in MOQ fall 2008. Most MOQ content is available only in print. For more information about the current issue, please click on the cover image on our home page.