Anamoose, North Dakota
The beds are soft and smell of clean linen, the spacious rooms are decorated to perfection, and one is awakened in the morning by the scent of breakfast cooking downstairs. Out the window lies a picturesque skyline of North Dakota. Everything about the old building seems peaceful. But in the hallway is the hint of cigar smoke despite the strict non-smoking rule. Bags and furniture sometimes move or are simply not in the place where one is certain he left them. Out of the corner of the eye, figures dart about, and though there is no feeling of malevolence, one does get the distinct impression that not every resident of this historic old house has signed the guest list.
There are special places in the world for the weary traveler. Past the urban streets and hotel chains that are as personal as a postage stamp lies the outland of the country. The penthouse suite may not exist in the country air, but that doesn’t mean there are no signs of hospitality. The rooms are few, and the wait staff may consist of no more than two people, but a bed and breakfast is often a welcome alternative for weekend accommodations. Often times many people wish they didn’t have to go back to their normal lives, telling the owners they never want to leave. At the Sage Hill Bed and Breakfast in Anamoose, some guests apparently never did.
Though there are some aspects to the history that cannot be confirmed, or can be determined to be urban legend, there are a few facts that can be verified through public record as well as from the current owners. Built in the 1800’s, the building was originally a schoolhouse. Reputed to be the first one in North Dakota, this house served the area for many years.
According to most accounts, during the course of its academic tenure the house endured a peculiar tragedy. While the current owners do not know the level of truth to the story, there is some evidence to suggest it may have happened. It was not uncommon for the superintendent to tour the grounds, overseeing not only the structure but ensuring that the students were receiving the proper education. He was described as a large man with bushy hair and a piercing stare who liked to smoke cigars as he went from the foyer to every corner of the building. It was during one of these tours that the superintendent was killed while minding the coal-burning boiler in the basement. According to legend the thing caught fire and burned the man to death. To make matters worse, he wasn’t the only casualty that day: A young student was with him and also died in the flames.
The school functioned until the state and student population outgrew its walls. There are no records that indicate its use over the next few years, but by the early 1990’s the old building sat empty. It was saved from decay by an investment group that promised to bring visitors once again into its hallways and to preserve the historic site.
In 1996 Jacqueline Fix and Brad Mincher reopened the old schoolhouse as a bed and breakfast. Before the doors opened, however, renovations had to be made. It was during this time that the new owners first started noticing strange things were afoot in their house.
Whether the stories surrounding the history of the old school are true or not, there is one thing for certain: Something lingers in the shadows. The most common phenomenon that occurs is the heavy scent of cigar smoke that dissipates as quickly as it begins. Some believe it to be restless soul of the superintendent who perished during the fire in the basement.
Other unsettling occurrences surround the disappearing and moving of objects. Says the owner, certain objects were simply not where she knew she’d left them. Others disappear entirely, only to be found in odd places later.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspects of the haunting are the wraiths that flit through the peripheral vision. There are several unsubstantiated reports from former guests about the apparitions, but the most compelling sightings come from the owners themselves. On several occasions she has seen the darting figures, just out of the corner of her eye.
Also present are several things common among hauntings. Toilets flush on their own, and lights flicker. There are also cold spots that occasionally float through the house. According to the owners there is also a peculiar light that appears in the lower basement room where the coal-fired boiler used to be. They try to avoid the room because, in their words, it is “creepy.”
The Sage Hill Bed and Breakfast is open year round, providing award-winning service to all of its customers. In 2000 the owners were presented with the North Dakota Wheat Commission’s "Breadwinner Award," honoring not only the inn but also their signature “Honey Oatmeal” bread. According to the owners, the hauntings persist, but not with alarming frequency as they seem to intensify whenever another renovation project gets underway.
To enjoy the surroundings and atmosphere of the historic house, there is no best time. Each season offers its own charms and benefits. However, it is usually during the winter months that the owners pick a new renovation project to occupy their time. And it is during renovations that the restless souls seem to wish to make themselves known.
Thank you very much to Jackie Fix for her help and information, and for providing photos, for this article.
See you in two weeks!