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​Otter Tail County Historical Society Resurrects Local History

Culture | October 20th, 2022

By Sabrina Hornung

sabrina@hpr1.com

Photo provided by Otter Tail County Historical Museum

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story, or better yet, who doesn’t love a good dose of local history or an urban legend from our own backyard?

The Otter Tail County Historical Museum is dishing up a couple of different options chock full of local lore for the Halloween season.

First, the Historical Society will be leading Walking Tours of the Fergus Falls State Hospital and Poor Farm Cemeteries on Saturday, October 22, at 11:00am.

“What I tried to do is bring some facts and bring some life behind some of the people who are buried out there because a lot of the information is so sketchy.” said Executive Director Chris Schuelke.

There are a few markers out at the Minnesota State Hospital Cemetery that families may have had installed on their own, but Schuelke wanted to focus on the humanity of those who were laid to rest onsite. He says many of the grave markers were little more than a wrought iron stake with a number on it. No names, no dates.. In fact he said there are over 3,200 burials out there from between the years 1890-1968.

The first death was shortly after one patient was received early on, succumbing to tuberculosis. 1918, was a tough year as influenza reared its ugly head at the State Hospital.

“They didn't even have a morgue up at the State Hospital. The superintendent for years had to beg for money to build the morgue. If a person died up there, they said they kept them in the basement of one of the wards until they were buried or sent to their families. It was not a very good situation.”

Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, was a founding member of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII) in the latter part of the 19th century. He was the mastermind and therefore namesake behind the “Kirkbride Plan” which involved moral treatments and stressed the importance of fresh air and natural light to the healing process of the patients housed within. He directly influenced the design of the asylums named after him, but according to Schuelke, death, the inevitable, was more of an afterthought.

If you plan on attending the Cemetery Walking Tour, Schuelke encourages you to dress warm and wear comfortable shoes, because it will be a bit of a hike. Unfortunately, the trail is not wheelchair-accessible and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Visitors are urged to park in the Minnesota Veterans Home parking lot and to look for the OtterTail County Historical Society table.

If you don’t want to leave the comforts of home and prefer a night in, “History Hauntings: Creepy Tales from Otter Tail County” will air Friday, October 28 via Youtube, at 8:00pm. Admission to “History Hauntings” is $10.

Rather than doing a haunted museum, the Ottertail County Historical Society is digging through county newspaper archives and dredging up bizarre happenings, grizzly tales and murders from antiquity. They are currently in the process of recording those stories in a narrative format, and will host a special screening on YouTube.

“That's all taken directly from Otter Tail County History, primarily through newspaper accounts, because the newspapers would report on these events. Well, that was the main form of communication. So, day after day they would go into detail on, you know, various murders or various events and so forth.” said Schuelke.

He went on to say, “I'm not really talking about ghostly sightings. We don't seem to have a lot of that. We're dealing with actual events that took place, and some are bizarre tales that make for some good stories.”

Stay tuned for stories of state hospital escapees, brothel tales, the “Carnival in the Sky,” lynchings and more. In fact, Otter Tail County’s most notorious story involved a hog farm in St. Olaf Township…

On choosing the stories Schuelke added, “There are some events that I just won't go into because they're too recent. People out here have a kind of a long memory, long community memory and so we were very careful about some of the stories that we tell because some still have a definite impact on the community. So we're very cognizant of that.”



YOU SHOULD KNOW

Walking Tours of the Fergus Falls State Hospital and Poor Farm Cemeteries

Saturday, October 22, at 11:00am.

Minnesota Veterans Home, Fergus Falls MN

History Hauntings: Creepy Tales from Otter Tail County” will air Friday, October 28 via Youtube, at 8:00pm. Admission to “History Hauntings” is $10.

https://www.otchs.org/Programs/HistoryHauntings.html

For more information, call OTCHS at 218-736-6038.

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