By Natalie Fowler
Hidden History and New Ghostly Discoveries at Forepaugh’s Restaurant
Forepaugh’s Restaurant is that special place that every town loaded with history, absolutely needs in order to be interesting. It’s a place with an intriguing whispered past, that makes a celebratory graduation dinner or special anniversary celebration that much more exciting.
The first time I set foot in the beautiful mansion-turned-restaurant was to celebrate my law school graduation several years ago. Having been fascinated by ghost stories since I was a little girl, I fully admit that I peered over my shoulder several times that night, hoping to catch a glimpse of a mysterious shadow or inexplicable glowing mist. I even found myself gazing up at the light fixture above our table wondering to myself, “Is that where the maid committed suicide?”
Years later, when I began to write my own stories (mostly mysteries and fiction) I turned to ghost story books for inspiration. It’s not possible to look up ghostly legends for St. Paul, or even Minnesota for that matter, and not come across the legendary tales of the allegedly haunted Forepaugh’s mansion.
Legend tells about the story of a maid named Molly. She had an affair with the master of the house, Joseph Forepaugh, becoming pregnant with his baby. When Joseph’s angry wife insisted the relationship end, Molly committed suicide—allegedly, by hanging herself from a light fixture on the third floor. Not long after, Joseph Forepaugh was found near the train tracks, with a bullet in his head and a pistol in his hand.
It’s a storyline worthy of a made-for-television movie adaptation and has certainly fueled many of the ghost stories that surround the property.
When my group, Ghost Stories Ink, was invited to participate in a paranormal investigation at Forepaugh’s Restaurant, there was more than one reason to be excited. It’s a place that hasn’t been investigated much. The staff has only recently been given permission to even discuss any alleged ghostly encounters. In addition, there was always something about Molly’s suicide that had always felt off to me, but I had never been able to put my finger on it…until now.
But also, as a self-declared research geek and history nerd, I knew I had the research opportunity of a lifetime. Nearly everyone has heard the stories about Joseph and Molly. And Joseph and Mary Forepaugh are securely established within the local St. Paul history books. Even the next owners were important—retired Civil War General John Henry Hammond lived there with his wife, Sophia Vernon Hammond, until his death (in the home) on April 30, 1899.
What was intriguing to me as a researcher and paranormal investigator, were the nearly seventy-five years of missing history. Because after the Hammond’s lived in the home, that entire history was summarized into two words: “boarding house.”
Those seventy-five years meant that unknown families were moving in and out, living, having babies, surviving the harshness of those decades and of course, dying within those walls. Those were the people I wanted to learn more about. Because those were traumatic times in our Nation’s history: world wars, the Depression, Prohibition and the Civil Rights Movement, just to name a few. Our country grew a lot in those years and as it did, the glorious Irving Park neighborhood fell into disrepair and decline, thereby scooping up the desperate and destitute and sheltering them in homes just like the one at 276 S. Exchange Street.
To accomplish my task, I turned to my new favorite haunted house research tool: the directories with a “reverse address look-up” section. Braving microfiche and stacks of dusty books, I was able to fill in lists of names of tenants who had lived in the house. After plugging those names in other online databases, like “Find-A-Grave” and Ancestry, we had even more information. Any paranormal investigator will tell you that names and dates, not to mention service records and newspaper articles, are considered “research gold.”
Armed with my research gold, we took a preliminary tour of the house. As I stood, looking at the third-floor chandelier, hanging above “Molly’s Table” as it’s called, a few facts flooded to the forefront.
Research revealed that to turn the house into a restaurant, the ceilings on the third floor had to be raised to allow a dining room per the building codes. The ceilings are hardly high, anything lower would have been very difficult to allow for a hanging body.
Even more important, back in Molly’s day and age, the third floor would have housed the servants. Servants would certainly not have had chandeliers hanging in their quarters. And another famous house tour came to mind as I thought about a third-floor chandelier: the Glensheen Mansion. Built in Duluth, Minnesota between 1905 and 1908, the Glensheen Mansion was one of the first of its kind to have electricity. In fact, the original fixtures were gas, allowing for easy adaptation to electricity. That was all well after Joseph Forepaugh died in the woods, let alone lived in the house at 276 S. Exchange. It would be highly unlikely that the Forepaugh’s family would have had a light fixture of any kind in the servants’ room, but if they did, it would have been gas. Gas fixtures were flimsy and anyone contemplating suicide would put the whole household at risk for an explosion. I don’t think Molly would have done that, she’d already been embarrassed enough.
All of this begs the question, if not the chandelier on the third floor, then where? It wasn’t hard to figure out. During our tour, we took the servant staircase from the main floor all the way up to the third floor. It’s a tight space, so it winds more than the other stairs, making it difficult to tell exactly where you are in the house. As we rounded the fourth or fifth corner, a feeling of dread swept over us. By the time we got up the next set of stairs, Jessica Freeburg, founder of Ghost Stories Ink, felt like something was closing around her throat and she had to stop and focus on making it go away. I looked up to see a small railing, original to the house. A tiny window over the landing let in light.
I closed my eyes. In my mind’s eye, I could see Molly’s body hanging from the railing on the third floor. I could feel the sadness still contained in that stairwell. I knew that the servant’s stairwell is the only place in the house Molly would have been able to go where she could be alone. It made sense that it’s the place she would commit suicide out of shame and disgrace. And the window on the top floor, accounts for the rumors of Molly “hanging herself in the window.” If a body was hanging from the top railing, you would have been able to see it through that window.
In the investigation that followed, Molly showed me how an old woman would comfort her. This was validated by one of the managers, who talked about having dreams where he saw an old woman, sitting on the stairs trying to comfort a distraught Molly. We confirmed all of this in a recorded flashlight session during our investigation.
While there is no public record of Molly living in the house, working for the family, or dying there, the research does support that something scandalous happened.
The rumors allege that Mary found out about the affair and pregnancy and insisted it end. In 1886, the Forepaugh’s Family auctioned off their many furnishings and art (there were several notices for these sales in the paper). It was said (to the public) that they wanted to travel abroad in Europe and did not want to risk putting their fine things in storage. This seemed rather sudden, considering the day and age. People generally did not just up and move overseas on a whim. They had all worked so hard to immigrate to the United States, while the wealthy certainly traveled abroad, to do so in this manner seems off.
It was also publicly stated that Mary cited her husband’s fragile mental health, and it was widely known that he suffered from depression. Back in that time, mental illness was extremely taboo. If Mary Forepaugh told everyone that they were going abroad to help her husband’s depression, she was essentially throwing him under the proverbial bus.
Joseph’s life eventually ended in tragedy too. Upon the family’s return from Europe, they moved to a mansion at 302 Summit Avenue in 1891, which happens to look down over their old Irving Park neighborhood. Not long after their return, Joseph committed suicide in the woods near Selby and Hamline Avenues, which at the time, was the very edge of St. Paul.
After our investigation at Forepaugh’s, I am confident that Molly still resides at Forepaugh’s. But after our investigation, the back stairway feels like a weight has been lifted. I believe she just needed someone to know what really happened.
The Third Floor Caretaker
I am also confident that there is another spirit who lurks about the third floor at Forepaugh’s Restaurant. Over the years, many stories have been told about how glasses rattle, or pictures fall off the wall on the third floor. While it is easy to attribute these antics to Molly, there is another possible culprit.
Our research revealed names of tenants who lived in the building. The resident of Apartment 12 from 1960 until the last list of tenants in 1970, was a man named George. George was a veteran of both World War I and World War II. And at the time he lived in the apartment building, he would have been in his 80s.
During our investigation of the third floor, we had a Kinect camera running and recording. We talked about George, speculating that his apartment would have been on the third floor of the old house. We talked about how hot it must have been on the third floor in the summer, and how many stairs he would have had to climb to get there.
Later, as we poured over our evidence, we got some pretty cool Kinect images from the third floor. In fact, at one point during our conversation about George, I announced to the room that I felt like someone had just patted me on my bum. Just before I was said this, a figure mapped in behind me on our camera, reached out, and patted me on the bum.
We didn’t have any direct evidence, like a solid EVP answering a name, but we did have a good flashlight session and it makes sense that George would stay behind to keep an eye on things. It’s my humble opinion that George offers a rather protective presence over the house and staff at his beloved old home.
To read more about our adventures at Forepaugh’s, including what happened after we left, you’ll have to wait for the next print copy of FATE to be released. Subscribe here at: http://www.fatemag.com/index.php/shop
Do you want to learn more about the stories and history of the legendary Forepaugh’s Restaurant? We will be presenting our paranormal evidence at a special dinner on February 27, 2018. Join us by visiting http://www.forepaughs.com to make a reservation.
Natalie Fowler is an author, freelance editor, paranormal investigator and psychic medium. Find out more about her at www.NatalieFowler.com