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Uncover ghostly history at Fairlawn

Members of The International Paranormal Society (TIPS) unpack their equipment in the kitchen of Fairlawn Mansion during a May 2015 investigation of the site. Maria Lockwood

A hovering blue head, a woman’s voice, the sounds of rippling water recorded in an empty pool. Those are just a sampling of the unexplained phenomenon team members from the International Paranormal Society captured during hours of investigation at Fairlawn Mansion and Museum last spring.

"I wasn’t sure what to expect when I volunteered to spend the night with a paranormal investigation team at Fairlawn Mansion," said Judith Liebaert, who worked at the mansion for five years. "I never experienced anything out of the ordinary so I was excited, yet skeptical, that we might experience paranormal activity."

She saw, heard and felt things that defied explanation. This weekend, she’ll return to see what society founder, historian Adrian Lee, makes of it.

"I am looking forward to attending the event to hear Adrian’s conclusions of the evidence he collected that night," Liebaert said.

During two tours and a talk this weekend, Lee will trot out transcripts, photographs and audio recordings of the investigation, as well as sections from his upcoming book, "The Mysterious Midwest."

"This will be stuff no one’s seen before," Lee said, all gleaned from a chapter devoted to Superior hauntings. "Outside of my team, this is unpublished material."

He plans to break out the team’s equipment to gather impromptu readings as they walk through the house, tailoring the tours to the audience.

In addition to Fairlawn, the society investigated the SS Meteor, Old Firehouse and Police Museum and Elk’s Club last spring. After hours of gathering evidence with special cameras, digital recorders and more, it was time to confirm what they found with historical research.

"My work begins once the investigation finishes," said Lee, a native of London, England, who now resides in Windom, Minn.

With Fairlawn, matching some of the phenomenon to historical figures like Martin Pattison went quickly due to past research. Others, like a child named George, were impossible to pinpoint because the records from when Fairlawn was a children’s home are not public. At the Elk’s Club, the team matched some phenomenon in the middle of the investigation to a deceased couple who were former members. The couple had been friends of the woman who was guiding the team through the building.

"I don’t know if she was a believer when we started, but she was when we finished," Lee said.

The most interesting Superior research surrounded the whaleback.

"With the Meteor, I’ve actually got crew members come through to me and tell me who they are," Lee said. He was able to take those names and match them to maritime records, which are publicly available.

"That was a clean slate," Lee said. "That was very interesting for me. I enjoyed researching the Meteor."

If he can’t find a historical anchor, this author moves on to the next phenomenon, a detective fixated on finding the real people behind the voices, lights and images.

"We’re not doing Scooby-Doo," Lee said. "Ultimately, we want to prove there’s an afterlife."

To him, the work offers a chance to breathe new life into forgotten history.

"I’m writing historical information that’s been lost," Lee said. "I’m re-introducing that history and re-introducing that knowledge … the only reason I know about it is because they told me."

The thrill is in the chase.

"Every single time, every single person who came through to me as a ghost, I found them," Lee said. "Every single time I’m amazed it works … It would make a great TV series."

Due to the wealth of paranormal findings in Superior, Lee opted to cut the Old Firehouse and Police Museum out of his upcoming book.

"It got to the point where a quarter of the book got taken up with Superior," Lee said. So he’s saving some Superior phenomenon for his next publication.

Superior Public Museums executive director Sara Blanck has looked over the chapter on Superior.

"I think people will be entertained," she said. "It’s a really, really fun read."

Rumors of hauntings at Fairlawn will never be squelched, she said. After years of saying no to ghost hunters eager to get into the mansion, the Superior Public Museums board of directors said yes to the International Paranormal Society team.

"They were respectful in the way they approached the board, very professional," Blanck said, and they had a local connection in air traffic controller Scott Kenner.

"The board of directors was really supportive," Blanck said. "They’ve enjoyed it, I think, more than anybody."

One board member, Kelly (Johnson) Peterson, tagged along during the investigation.

"It was a great experience," she said. Peterson had one frightening moment in the basement of the mansion, and a personal experience on the main floor. She had nothing but praise for the team.

"I didn’t know what to expect but it was so wonderful because it was professionally done," Peterson said. "It wasn’t sensationalized."

There’s not a ghost of a chance to nab tickets to either the Friday or Saturday night tour. Both are sold out. Tickets are still available for a 1 p.m. ghost talk Saturday. Anyone interested in taking a tour is encouraged to call the museum at 715-394-5712. If there’s enough interest, Lee will host a third tour. Tickets are $20 each with proceeds earmarked for Superior Public Museums.