Even the most perfect town has secrets.
I feel I should tread carefully in this post, because I’ve just moved to this town. I don’t want to give non-natives the wrong impression of White Bear Lake. And I certainly don’t want to offend my new neighbors by taking a too-ghoulish approach to their local tragic stories – stories that may feel fresh and personal to residents here. Still, I am who I am. I notice things, then turn them over and over inside my head.
Tonight, on the news, there was a story about a woman who went missing from WBL back in 1997. The case has been reopened because new technology – ground penetrating radar – might reveal bones that were missed fifteen years ago.
As I understand it, the woman was last heard from when she emailed a friend, saying that her husband was about to come home to resume an argument. He was the main suspect in her disappearance (and presumed murder) but there was not enough evidence to charge him.
Sixteen months later, he was convicted of raping and torturing a girlfriend in the same house. He served seven years in prison. Now he lives somewhere in Anoka County. He is not listed among the level 3 sexual offenders living in Minnesota.
Yes. I do intend to find the property. After that? I don’t know. I can’t help but be intrigued, but I think I might be better served by continuing to comb White Bear Lake’s 19th century history as I search for the hidden haunts of this town.
When my family decided we wanted to make a new life for ourselves, we chose to move forty minutes due south, to White Bear Lake in Ramsey County, because … well, because this little city has been seducing us for years. My husband and I first came here to have dinner with a pair of interesting writer-acquaintances we had met online. (A decade later, they are dear friends – and now, also our neighbors.) Six years ago, my son got involved with a loosely organized psudo-sword-fighting group which meets in a park here. (The group is still going strong.) A year or so after that, I decided I wanted to find a Unitarian church we could attend. Sure enough, the closest one was in WBL.
Before we knew it, we were traveling here at least twice a week. All those trips to the park and the church meant that I was driving around and through the town often. I found a real bakery, an independent bookstore, and a main street lined with other locally owned small businesses. With each discovery, I became more enamored. Last year, my son’s karate studio opened up a new branch … in White Bear Lake.
In February of 2012, when it was time to leave our old life behind and start over, we came home.
So far, we love it here, but – to be honest – White Bear Lake overwhelms me with its overt wholesomeness. The streets are free of litter; the yards are free of dandelions. Smooth bike paths and sidewalks run alongside lush parks and clean beaches – which are almost always populated by healthy-looking people of all ages and races, most of whom are accompanied by a polite dog or two. In the city proper, there are recycling cans as well as trash bins. There are benches scattered all over town. Hell, some of the businesses put out a clean bowl of water for passing dogs.
If you were to suggest that it all sounds a little like Stepford, you would not be the first. It’s not like that though – I see a fair number of folks that would be considered weird anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Here, though, no one glares at the long-haired, gray-bearded guy who pedals along on his tricycle, not even when his giant American flag hits them in the face as it snaps in his wake. No one stares at out-of-the-norm attire, be it a biker’s dusty leathers or a woman’s jewel-spangled sari. No one looks askance at the strange lady who spends an awful lot of time prowling the local graveyards. (One handsome, fit, middle-aged, property owner helped me find my EMF reader when he discovered me searching for it in the snow. He figured it would be good practice for his trained sniffer dog.)
I was raised in Anoka, a town that should exude the same kind of small-town charm as WBL, because of its similar age and history. The atmosphere there, though, is different. The mood is more suspicious, more depressed. There’s more talk of haunted places and tragic tales. Nothing is quite so clean, no one seems quite so content. Now that I live here – in bright, shiny WBL – I see Anoka’s shadows more clearly.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Anoka too. I love that there is a grave in Oakwood Cemetery for an unknown child who was found at the depot in 1888. I love that the Doctors Kline established a sanitarium there in 1892. I love the fact that Anoka survived five major fires between 1855 and 1884. (And that – after the last, and worst of them - she was rebuilt from brick.) I love that she considers herself the Halloween Capital of the World. I love that she is sad, and tired and old and haunted.
But maybe I perceive a certain darkness in my hometown simply because I know her so well. Tonight I am wondering if I will find that White Bear lake, too, has a battered but resilient soul. I’m wondering if she is haunted. If she is, then I’ll be able to settle here.