From a haunted, old logging town to a confused tourist who failed to understand the tongue-in-cheek film-making style of the state’s favorite moviemakers, Minnesota has its own unique brand of mythology. Such legends, urban and otherwise, add considerable color to a state that already has a lot of character.
In an urban legend that inspired a film—“Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter”—a Japanese woman became obsessed with the Coen brothers’ movie “Fargo.” Believing the fake “Based on a true story” advisory at the beginning of the film, the woman allegedly believed that there was a suitcase full of cash buried somewhere along a highway on the Minnesota tundra. The woman, as legend has it, froze to death looking for a Samsonite bag filled with Benjamins.
Every couple of years, social media recycles a supposed statute stating that it is illegal in Minnesota to drive with a duck on one’s head… That’d be a D-DOH in state trooper parlance. Well, it would if it were illegal. But it’s not. So, if you are a lover of ducks as headwear, you can stop fretting and operate your motor vehicle with your proudly-perched mallard.
Historic Stillwater is the oldest city in Minnesota… and also one of the most haunted. The most haunted place in town, according the Stillwater Gazette, is the current site of Pub 112, an English-style tavern and eatery. Owners and customers regularly hear voices and the pub claims to have a resident ghost, whose acts of mischief—coolers flying open and bottles spilling to the floor—have been caught by security cameras. Legend has it that the ghost is a former employee who, heartbroken, walked straight out the pub’s door, crossed the street and flung herself into the St. Croix River, where she drowned.
The Little Theater at Duluth East High School is haunted by the spirit of frustrated playwright. Legend has it that a drama director at the school had been working on a script. But, before he could finish the play, he fell from a balcony and died. The play was unknown to anyone until a script mysteriously appeared in an English teacher’s desk, with a note on old school stationery that read “please perform this.” The note was signed with the director’s initials, “R.C.” The play has yet to be performed, and students occasionally feel a cold presence or hear noises in the theater.
Dinkytown is a funky Minneapolis neighborhood adjacent to the University of Minnesota campus. Despite recent gentrification and franchise-ization, students can still find some unique, locally-owned businesses where 14th Ave. SE crosses 4th St. SE, like the Book House and legendary greasy spoon, Al’s Breakfast. Dinkytown is also famous for being the neighborhood of one Bob Zimmerman during his brief stint at the U. The now-Nobel Laureate, known as Bob Dylan, wrote for the student newspaper and made some important musical connections while living in Dinkytown, before heading east to the Greenwich Village folk scene. While he was there, though, incoming freshmen are often told, Dylan lived in an apartment over Al’s Breakfast. Of course, Al’s, which has been in the same location for decades, is—and always has been—a one-story breakfast counter that is likely just a covered alleyway.
The Kensington Runestone was allegedly found in a farmer’s field in 1898. The runes purport to tell the tale of a Viking party that had traveled to Minnesota more than 100 years before Columbus started his voyage. The Vikings met their demise at the hands of Native Americans. Though it set off a furor when it was discovered, the runestone has been largely debunked as a hoax. However, recent evidence of a pre-Colombian viking presence in Canada had rekindled interest in the stone.
The Glensheen Mansion in Duluth was the site of Minnesota’s most notorious homicide. In 1977, Elizabeth Congdon, the heiress who inherited the mansion, was found murdered in her bed. Her nurse’s body was discovered on the grand staircase. Now owned by the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the mansion is purported to be the most haunted house in the state. After hours, employees have heard screaming. Some claim to have seen a white lady, dressed in period clothing, wandering through the mansion.
Now part of a park in Thief River Falls, Dead Man’s Trail is the site of a legendary tragedy. While on the trail, a Native American woman’s baby was carried away by the swift-moving river. The baby was swept over the falls and onto the rocks below. The woman cursed the river and visitors to the site claim they’ve seen her apparition wandering the area, or heard her cries as she searches for her baby.
The former Nopeming Sanitarium in Duluth is abound with spirits. Legends say that it was an insane asylum that is now haunted by the ghosts of its residents. Others claim that the grounds are checkered with unmarked graves. The truth, however, is that the sanitarium opened as a residence for the elderly and infirm. The first patients suffered from tuberculosis, and many died from this highly-contagious disease. The property is still thought to be haunted.
Since the 1970s, urban legends have been circulating about razor blades and other foreign objects in Halloween candy. This threat was taken so seriously, at one point, that communities offered free metal detection or even x-ray scans of candy in the days after Halloween. The threat has largely been debunked as an urban myth—except in Minneapolis. On Halloween night, 2000, James Smith was arrested for putting needles in the Snickers bars he was handing out to trick-or-treaters. This is one urban legend to watch out for.