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Forepaugh’s Restaurant

St. Paul, Minnesota

Sit down in an antique chair, adjust your tie, and wait for the maître’d to bring a bottle of wine to your table. The food smells delicious, and the evening seems full with the promise of romance and wonder. But the atmosphere of the restaurant seems wrong somehow. Though the walls are beautifully covered and the lights are just the right shade of dim, there’s a chill in the air. No matter how or where you sit, you can feel someone watching. You look for a waitress and see a girl dressed, no doubt, in a costume befitting the time period in which the house was built. When you ask her to refill your glass, she nods to you, then promptly vanishes before your eyes.

When most people think of St. Paul, Minnesota, the most prominent feature that comes to mind is the indoor rollercoaster at the Mall of America. But beyond the world’s largest shrine to consumerism lies a city as diverse in culture as it is in architecture. On one corner you’ll find great modern structures and on the next, buildings that seem to have been torn from the pages of history books. St. Paul has successfully blended the modern world with its past. It is not surprising, then, to find that even here, far up the Mississippi River, there are places where the dead refuse to leave. Often they’re found in the most seemingly innocent of places like the expensive French restaurant on South Exchange Street.

History:
The Victorian Mansion that would become Forepaugh’s Restaurant was built in 1871 by Joseph Lybrandt Forepaugh for his wife and children. At the age of only thirty-six, Forepaugh was part owner of a successful dry goods wholesaler, the largest in the North at the time. The home was a lavish showplace, set on five lots and cornering the nearby Irvine Park. It seemed, for a while, that Joseph had everything a man could possibly want.

The house was sold in 1886 to General John Henry Hammond, a retired Civil War Veteran, when Joseph Forepaugh and his family decided to travel to Europe for what they called "an extended period of time." What the outside world did not know, however, was that, despite the success of all Forepaugh’s businesses, he suffered from bouts of depression and was trying to escape the pressures of his life in St. Paul. The call of the land he loved, however, was too much for him. In 1889 Forepaugh and family returned and built a second palatial estate on Summit Avenue, where he could see the city and overlook his beloved home.

On July 8, 1892, depression, it seemed, overcame Joseph. His lifeless body was found in Irvine Park with a bullet in his head and a smoking pistol in his hand. According to the family, it was anxiety over his investments and businesses that worried him to the point of suicide. However, a darker side to the story began to surface.

When news reached the family about Forepaugh’s death, a serving girl named Molly hung herself in one of the upstairs rooms, starting a forest fire of rumor. Although the family insisted it was business that drove Forepaugh to his grave, the servants claimed that his and Molly’s relationship was more than just that of an employer and his servant. Many claimed she was his lover, with a few going so far as to claim that she was pregnant at the time of her death.

The Forepaugh house saw many owners over the years, until 1983, when it came into possession of its current owner, who took it upon himself to remodel the house and turn it again into the showplace of the past.

Ghosts:
Though neither died in the house, most employees believe that Molly and Joseph still roam the halls of Forepaugh’s Restaurant. There have been countless reports of cold chills and odd noises, but the most startling reports are from those that have seen the ghosts.

The most common phenomena reported are the strange noised attributed to Molly. Rhythmic banging and footsteps are often heard coming from the upstairs dining room. Several employees claim to have felt cold spots or strong rushes of wind in places where drafts are never present. Employees have even complained of being touched and of lights that turn themselves off and on in the basement.

The most startling phenomena, however, are the reports that both Joseph and Molly have been seen frequently in the restaurant. The current owner, James Crnkovich, often recalls a special event for which the employees were all dressed in period costumes from the late 1800’s. As one of the waitresses was setting up a table, she saw an unknown woman, dressed in the same style clothes but not a shop-supplied costume, pass through the room before disappearing. Other employees tell about a handsome man in period clothing that, according to them, just walks through like he owns the place before vanishing.

Present Day:
Forepaugh’s Restaurant has been touted as one of the finest in the city of St. Paul. It still stands, fully restored to its former glory, beside Irvine Park. They’re open every day of the week for business and seem to have grown attached to their permanent dinner guests.

Best Times:
Ask anyone in St. Paul, and they’ll tell you the best time to go to Forepaugh?s Restaurant is when you’re hungry and want to impress. They serve lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday as well as a Sunday brunch and dinner. Although the menu is pricey, it is a singular experience that is well worth the cost.

See you in two weeks!

- Scott A. Johnson

Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson

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One Comment

  1. At Forepaugh’s you and your guests will enjoy New American Cuisine, served in our historic 19th-century setting. Crystal chandeliers and rare antiques provide an ambiance for gracious dining that is complemented by our professional staff.This historic, three story, Victorian mansion has experienced a succession of distinguished owners and architectural improvements since it was first built over 130 years ago.

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