By KATIE JOHNSON/ firstname.lastname@example.org
A lady descends the stairs to the second floor, wearing a blue dress that swishes as she walks. Someone is laying in bed: the bed shifts with the weight, the pillow is indented and hot breath is felt. No one is there.
The jukebox, televisions and lights turn on and off without explanation. Sounds -- crashing, poker game conversation, the whirling of an old-fashioned gown -- are heard throughout the building.
Are they tricks of the imagination? Or something more?
Could The Sweet's Hotel actually be haunted?
Step inside its doors, and judge for yourself.
Hotel rumor mill turns
“If you have to admit something, fear kicks in,” former owner Sue Taylor said. “It was easier for me to say there isn't something there.”
Taylor and her husband, Tim, owned the building - known for most of its existence as the LeRoy Hotel - for two years, operating the restaurant and renting the second floor to their daughter, Cassie, and her friend, Hilary Oxley, in this town just shy of 1,000 people near the Iowa border.
The hotel was built in downtown LeRoy in 1898 by the Sweets family - William, Frank and Mary. As many as 38 rooms were available at one time on the second and third floors.
“It's a funny little deal,” explains current owner Rick Lamon, who is renovating the former hotel into a luxury 10-room inn while he runs the restaurant and bar on the main floor.
Lamon said after he purchased the building in 2006, he discovered some interesting puzzles in the building's mysterious past.
J. “Cy” Thomson, a millionaire in the early 20th century who accrued many properties in southern Minnesota, was listed as the owner on the abstract. Jay C. Hormel, the son of Hormel Foods founder George Hormel, was shown as a trustee. Thomson apparently owned the hotel until he was arrested for embezzling more than $1 million from Hormel in 1921, one of the biggest scams in that era. “The word is, it's haunted,” Lamon said, a light-hearted semi-skeptic who has been, despite himself, accepting of some of the locals' stories about “things that go bump in the night” at his historic hotel.
“Honestly, there's a lot of people in town who believe it,” he said.
Lamon and Rick Sharp have been restoring and renovating the building from basement to third floor, but neither claims to have had a “sighting.” “The two of us are pretty nice guys,” he said with a laugh. “I think they're just happy with us.”
Taylor, on the other hand, is more a hesitant believer than skeptic. “My locals were my bread and butter,” said Taylor, who sold the building in 2002. “I was not willing to bite the hand that feeds me.
“I didn't want people to think I was crazy,” she said.
Taylor would close the bar late at night, and said she would sometimes hear noises like those of people playing poker, and no one would be there. She would repeatedly have to lock doors after swearing she had just locked them. Taylor said her husband experienced a few paranomal-like instances as well.
“I think you believe or you don't believe,” she said. “I still kind of take it all with a grain of salt.”
The ‘blue lady' and other sightings
Taylor's daughter, Cassie Kirtz, is a true believer. “If you lived there, you would be saying the same things,” said Kirtz, who lived and worked there for about a year with Hilary Oxley when they were 18. The friends took the second floor, each claiming one of the 13 rooms as their own.
One experience literally had Kirtz flying out of her bed, out the door, and 30 miles down the road to her parents' home in Dexter. “It felt like there was a pressure on my pillow, and then I felt like somebody blowing on my face,” she said. “I always felt like something was watching me.”
Kirtz witnessed the hotel's infamous “blue lady” descend the stairs, and even called the police one night when she and Oxley heard crashing noises up on the third floor, thinking there was a break-in.
A police officer came and could not find any evidence of a disturbance. Oxley remembers a motion light above the stairway would go on when no one was walking up the stairs; a jukebox in the bar would turn on - blaring - in the middle of the night.
Many locals claim a brothel was located on the second and third floors during the early 20th century. Tim Taylor said many of the ghost sightings are supposedly prostitutes who worked at the brothel.
Lamon said there have been many reports of the lady in the blue dress seen with another man; he was told they are believed to be Frank and Mary Sweet. Kirtz and Oxley were so certain of paranormal activity, they contacted experts in the field.
The Twin Cities-based Minnesota Paranormal Investigators Group was called for an investigation, Oxley said, and found “activity” throughout the building. The group, who has specialized equipment like cameras, sensors and even a psychic, stayed the night upstairs. Before the girls told them the history of the place and their experiences there, the group took a walk around.
They claimed there indeed had been a brothel - without the girls telling them first - and that the lady in the blue dress was a caretaker, a good spirit who could not leave because of her obligation to the hotel. The third floor, which the girls nicknamed “the blue room,” was said to be a “hot spot” where a man shot himself in the head.
In that room, Kirtz's brother claimed to have been pushed down by an unseen entity after asking the ghosts to show themselves.
In the then-dirt floor basement, one of the supposedly biggest “hot spots” in the hotel, lurked an evil spirit, a man named Joseph who was involved in the brothel, the group revealed. “He was not a very nice spirit,” Kirtz said.
Taylor, the eternal skeptic, was even taken off guard. She had snapped photos in the hotel of a softball team they sponsored, and investigators told her the white spots in her photos where “orbs,” transparent balls some paranormal investigators believe are the souls of those departed.
“A lot of people don't want to believe all these stories,” Oxley points out.
“It's an interesting story in the town of LeRoy,” Lamon said. “I can't tell you they aren't here.”
Lamon said he invites anyone to stay at The Sweet's Hotel when it's completed, or have a drink and a bite to eat now on the main floor. “You never know,” he said. “You just might see Frank and Mary.”