LITTLE FALLS -- At first Susan Haugen was reluctant to talk about the experiences at the mansions.
Occasionally guests mentioned seeing something otherworldly or a ghostly presence. She listened and nodded. Guests at the Linden Hill Conference and Retreat Center, the Weyerhaeuser and Musser mansions in Little Falls, were more intrigued than scared.
"Are there ghosts in that house?" one guest asked.
Haugen said she was not sure how others might react to the spirit stories and she did not want to create an image of a haunted house or ghost busters for the mansions or deter people from visiting the site.
But talking about the experiences had the opposite effect.
Seconds later the orb was gone. Photos were not manipulated and were taken Tuesday with a digital camera. (Dispatch Photos by Matt Erickson)
The three-story homes, built side by side on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, were constructed for two young bachelors who were friends and lumber barons. The homes, owned now by the city of Little Falls, are a unique resource for the area and are available for public tour and group events, including overnight stays.
But the stories were persistent. There could be feelings of warmth in a room or a sensation that brought out goosebumps. Haugen experienced her own moments in the mansions. Guests reported seeing figures or the sensation that an invisible entity sat down on a bed late at night.
One guest told Haugen he saw a black outline of a figure coming out of a closet.
Then a woman in Chicago who is writing a book about ghost gardens called Haugen. She wanted Haugen to take photos of the garden. Haugen did. And the photos had more than the naked eye could perceive. There were orbs of light, streams of muted color and a cascading white light that abruptly cut off in a straight line at the top of the frame leaving the greenery visible behind it.
"She said, 'Susan you weren't alone when you took those pictures,'" Haugen said. The author said Haugen will be featured in the book.
Susan Haugen, director of the Linden Hill Conference and Retreat Center in Little Falls, most commonly known as the Weyerhaeuser and Musser mansions, was at first reluctant to talk about the ghostly images that appear at the mansions for fear of a negative reaction, but she said people now are calling to tell her about similar experiences. (Dispatch Photo by Steve Kohls)
The orbs or colored lights, some bright and others more translucent, have appeared with different photographers and different cameras and on different locations in the mansions and the surrounding grounds.
"They look just like bubbles," Haugen said.
The first time Haugen had anything appear in a photo at the mansions was for her birthday party. Nothing appeared on the negative. But there was something once the photos were developed by a friend in Texas.
The orbs appear with digital pictures, eliminating the idea they may be waterspots on a negative.
Two years ago vendors for the Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair stayed overnight at the mansions and brought pictures back showing orbs on the third-floor stairway.
Once the story about the photos and the spirit energy people believe are signified by the orbs came out, the floodgates appeared to open. Instead of having a negative effect, Haugen began hearing from people with similar experiences. Guests sent pictures they had taken in the mansions showing the orbs. And others wanted to come to the mansions just to experience them from a new perspective.
"I've almost become a resource for people who had experiences of their own," she said. "I think it's out there but people just don't want to talk about it."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.