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Ghostly pursuit of history

Left to right, Gloria Doescher of North Dakota shows Chris Julien and Adrian Lee of Minnesota a photo of what her thermal imaging camera picked up during one of the vigils at Fairlawn Mansion and Museum Saturday. The three investigated the mansion along with other members of The International Paranormal Society, the first time in more than a dozen years that ghost hunters have been allowed into the mansion. (Maria Lockwood)1 / 2
Members of The International Paranormal Society, left to right, Greg Gohr and Scott Kenner, unpack infrared cameras, wires and a computer used to store video the cameras pick up in the kitchen of Fairlawn Mansion and Museum Saturday. The ghost hunters spent about eight hours at the house, splitting into teams during three one-hour vigils to seek and record evidence of paranormal activity. (Maria Lockwood)2 / 2

A team of paranormal investigators assembled Saturday at Fairlawn Museum and Mansion.

They toured the house, taking electrical and thermal readings, photos and audio before turning to the task of busting ghosts. For the International Paranormal Society, it was all in a weekend’s work.

For Scott Kenner of South Range, a member of the nonprofit organization, it was a coup.

"It’s really cool," he said as he walked out of the basement pool room. "I never thought I’d be here."

For more than a dozen years, the mansion has been off-limits to paranormal investigation.

"There are ghost hunter organizations in every little town, all calling me up wanting to go through our house," said Sara Blanck, executive director of Superior Public Museums. She estimates the board gets about two requests per month. "I’ve held the line for so many years."

When Kenner approached them, offering to case the SS Meteor and Old Firehouse and Police Museum as well as Fairlawn, Blanck said, they made an exception.

The society had a local connection and a founder, Adrian Lee, who is also an author. Lee, a historian from London, England, who now resides in Windom, Minn., chronicled 13 of the group’s past investigations, including vigils on Duluth’s William A. Irvin, in the 2012 book, "Mysterious Minnesota."

"We will probably be a chapter in a book," Blanck said. Lee is working on a sequel, "More Mysterious Minnesota." He plans to add his Superior experiences to a chapter titled "Over the Edge."

In April, the Superior Public Museums Board gave its blessing to the spiritual pursuit, jostling to see who would accompany the investigators. Board member Kelly Johnson won and spent eight and a half hours with the group, wrapping up the search at 3 a.m. Sunday.

"I thought it was a very professional, well-run experience and that it was handled with dignity and respect for what Fairlawn represents," said Johnson of Superior.

She came in with an open mind.

"I didn’t know what to expect," Johnson said. As she prepared to head home, the Superior woman said her mind was more open than before. Her fiancé, Brad Peterson, agreed.

"I’d do it again," he said.

In addition to the three museums, the group also held vigils at the Elk’s Club in Superior and visited Split Rock Lighthouse along the shore of Lake Superior over the weekend.

For Lee and his ghostbusters, history is the hook.

"I don’t just want to write about history; I want to experience it," the author wrote in the introduction to "Mysterious Minnesota."

To do so, Lee heads straight to the source — the spirits of those who saw it unfold.

"We are finding history," he said. "The dead are telling me their story." He researches information gleaned through the onsite vigils to see if it’s factual. As a result, Kenner said, "Mysterious Minnesota" reads more like a history text than a ghost story.

Lee cherry-picked the TIPS team from all walks of life — farmer Greg Gohr and his wife Kim, a retired postmaster, English teacher Chris Julien, letter carrier Heather Morris, Kenner, an air traffic controller, and more. They gather evidence with an array of equipment, spending weeks sifting through the results.

"We don’t know what we’ve got so far," Lee said as the team packed up early Sunday morning. "We only scratched 10 percent of the evidence tonight."

And there was, indeed, evidence. Kenner had already collected an unexplained picture and audio snippet prior to the Saturday vigils, during a public flashlight tour of the mansion. Over the weekend, the team collected more unusual sounds, sights and experiences for future study. Lee said that, in 20 years of investigating, he experienced things in one area of the mansion that he’d never experienced before.

"Our overriding factor is, we want to prove there’s an afterlife," Lee said.

They also enjoy the thrill of the hunt, which Morris said can be addictive.

"It really is exhilarating when something happens," Kenner said.

The search leads them to some amazing places.

"I feel like a small child," Lee said. "Aside from the paranormal activity we get to explore castles, ships, a Masonic temple …"

Kim Gohr said that, for many of them, the drive to seek spirits derives from childhood experiences. Kenner said he’s been interested in the paranormal since he was a high school student in Duluth. He has been actively seeking the paranormal for the past seven years, teaming up with the society about two years ago. Working with Lee and his group has provided the South Range man access to higher profile sites as well as experts and specialists in the field.

Although the International Paranormal Society got an all-access pass to investigate Fairlawn, it’s now a dead subject. Blanck emphasized that this was an exclusive. The mansion’s "no ghost hunting" policy remains in place.

"The only other exception we would make is a national TV show," Blanck said.

The Gohrs, Lee and Morris host a weekly paranormal quiz show every Friday, "More Questions Than Answers." The first 10 minutes of each broadcast is devoted to the group’s most recent investigations. For a preview of their findings at Fairlawn, tune in to the show at 10 p.m. tonight on DarkMatterRadio.net. The show is also available on Soundcloud.com. More information on the society and links to Dark Matter Radio and Soundcloud can be found online at intparanormal.net.

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