Haunted South Dakota

Oct 31, 2012

The Goss Opera House in Watertown is said to be haunted.

When it comes to haunted locations in South Dakota Deadwood might be the first place in mind. But, it turns out East River has its own rich history of hauntings.

It’s the time of year where the little things that go bump in the night can seem a bit scarier than normal.

The Pettigrew Museum, which was built in 1889, is one of the oldest structures standing in Sioux Falls.   It was originally a home to an attorney Thomas McMartin and his wife. Today, Kevin Gansz helps manage the museum.

 “I think when you get to the second floor of the house-the mood seems to really change. It is kind of and if you will almost like a darker heavier mood in the house,” says Gansz

Gansz says Richard Pettigrew purchased the home in 1911. Pettigrew was South Dakota’s first U.S. Senator.  Gansz says the ghost of Senator’s Pettigrew second wife may haunt this old building. Gansz says he remembers cleaning one of the old rooms when something happened.

 “At one point while working in Mrs. Pettigrew’s bedroom. Just the strong strong smell of a very heavy perfume,” says Gansz

Gansz says after some research he also found that the original owners McMartin’s lost a child in the home.  Some also believe the building may be haunted by the lingering spirit of Ms. McMartin.   Regardless, of what skeptics might believe, Gansz says he gets a bit frightened when alone in the building.

“Any kind of bump or any kind of weird stuff. It’s never really gotten me right then but it’s a day or a week afterwards when you’re in the house alone and you have to do something,” says Gansz.

Old buildings in Sioux Falls aren’t the only places who claim ghosts.  It seems every old theater has a haunting story of its own.   Donor Auditorium on the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings is no exception.  Professor Corey Shelsta works in the Theater Department.

“You know every once in a while you will have a noise that you can’t track down or a couple of rooms you can go into there and it just doesn’t feel right. Every once in a while we’ve had students say they get that cold spot feeling where your hair stands up on the back of your neck,” says Shelsta.

Shelsta says ghost stories tend to thrive around theater and students who participate in the major.

“Maybe the story just kind of came from the need to have our very own ghost just like all the other theaters. But that’s something you see in a lot of; throughout history actors and technicians and theater owners. Theaters are always haunted places,” says Shelsta.

Shelsta’s rule on Theaters holds true in Watertown. The Goss Opera House was home to plays, concerts and even magicians until the last performance somewhere in the 1940’s.

“This building is so loud, there’s always noises and shadows that occur,” says Stewart.

Jonny Stewart is the General Manger of the Restaurant now housed in the old Goss Opera House.  He says the building has two horror stories in its history.  One includes a mother who was burned to death by her son in one of the third story apartments. The room still has burn marks on the walls and ceiling near its corner areas. The other case was a suicide by hanging from the stage catwalk.

Stewart lists himself as a semi skeptic but he says he has still had experiences he can’t explain.

“I personally was walking across the opera house floor one night when it was dark quiet, I didn’t have any events; we have three floors and I didn’t have anything going on, no private parties and I’m walking, just going across the room and by the stage I hear somebody say hey,” says Stewart.

Stewart says even after his experience he still isn’t a believer in the paranormal. He says because the building is old, sounds are made all the time. Stewart says the building by itself is its own spirit.

“This building is completely alive you know, everybody walks through the building feels it; they feel a connection to it. The building has open arms so it’s alive,” says Stewart.

The three-story Goss Opera House is fundraising to restore the facility to its full magnitude. The old opera House is just one of many historic buildings in the state that are seen as haunted. It seems regardless if you’re a skeptic or believer, you have to admit; ghost stories will live on.