Investigating a Haunting: Carlos Avery WMA, MN – part two

I’m in the early stages of my investigation of a suspected haunting in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, a local nature preserve. Last Friday, I shared the Facebook conversation which inspired me to begin this series, as well as brief sketch of the park’s history.

YOU CAN READ PART ONE HERE.

THIS WEEK

The day after I last wrote about this topic, my husband (aka Ogre) and I visited one small portion of the WMA. Since then, I’ve searched the internet to find any references to paranormal phenomena associated with the area. I am continuing to find and read dozens of old newspaper articles about the park and its environs.

Here’s what I discovered this week:

ACCESSING THE LAND

Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve spent hundreds of hours exploring our local public parks and doing citizen science projects in regional nature centers. My engagement with Carlos Avery, however, has been limited. (Or, at least I thought so, until I began to understand the scope and scale of Carlos Avery. I’ll get back to that in a moment.)

I’ve been driving past, and through, portions of the preserve for most of my life, occasionally noticing small signs meant to identify it, without any real understanding of its purpose. My first order of business was to find out what a “WMA” is.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

“Wildlife management areas (WMAs) are part of Minnesota’s outdoor recreation system and are established to protect those lands and waters that have a high potential for wildlife production, public hunting, trapping, fishing, and other compatible recreational uses.”

This, then, is not the kind of park most of us are accustomed to.

It’s a beautiful area with good access. It provides habitat for a multitude of species, (only a fraction of which are game animals.) I’ve learned that it is a popular spot for birders.

But. It is also often full of hunters, many of them inexperienced, who are absolutely intent on killing something.

If, like me, you believe that a haunting can be caused by a concentration of negative or harmful intent, or by a saturation of fear or tragedy, then it’s only logical to see how the atmosphere in a hunting preserve could become … tainted.

(I’m not knocking the practice of hunting. I don’t really get it, in the absence of a need for food, but that’s just me. Here in Minnesota, hunting is fact of life and I don’t begrudge the hunters their space. The WMA isn’t meant for me. I understand that I am only a curious guest there … one who is a little worried about getting shot as I continue to explore the grounds. I think I might need to add some blaze-orange to my wardrobe.)

OUR VISIT

When Ogre and I visited there were no hunters. (Apparently, though, turkey season has since started.) The access roads were closed to vehicles due to muddy areas, resulting from a recent thunderstorm, but we were encouraged to grab a map and walk in.

In our two and a half mile walk, we saw a flock of turkeys, a herd of deer, a variety of birds, and this little guy:

Carlos Avery April 2015 garter snake

It’s early spring here, so the park felt quite open and well lit. It was quiet, though some frogs were calling from the wet areas. Overall, it was peaceful and pleasant. At no point did I feel unsettled or uncomfortable.

Of course, this was just a taste of the WMA, in of one of the most frequently accessed areas of the preserve. I have not yet located the specific sites of the tragedies I referenced in part one of this series, so I cannot say that anything bad or traumatic happened here. I would be surprised if there was even much hunting this close to the park entrance.

It does appear that gunfire is common though.

Carlos Avery April 2015 gunfire evidence

OTHER LARGE PREDATORS & DEAD THINGS:

It’s important to understand that this is a huge tract of land, ( 23,000 acres,) containing a variety of zones which are dedicated to diverse purposes.

This particular WMA includes the Wildlife Science Center on its grounds.

This center “was founded as a federally funded research facility in 1976, in order to observe and document the physiology and behavior of a captive population of gray wolves.” (WSC)

Now, in 2015, the center houses more species than just the grays.

I know this not just because I can use google, but because I was once a regular volunteer there.

Yes, I’m admitting that I have spent a great deal of time on the Carlos Avery property, without realizing it.

In my defense, the Wildlife Science Center feels very distinct from the rest of the WMA. You visit the center by going through this arch, which is visible from a well-trafficked two-lane highway:

2013-0326-CarlosAveryGameFarm

“Carlos Avery Game Farm” by Bobak Ha’Eri – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The white structures you can see in this photo are part of an eleven building complex built between 1936 and 1941. (I have never been inside any of these buildings.)

After you go through the gate, the road curves to the left, past the complex.

The section of the property which houses the Wildlife Science Center is composed of modern barns and sheds, as well as the main building, which is just a modified, late 20th century, residential house. Large, chain-link, animal enclosures stretch back into the park, providing homes for animals. (Resident species include: gray, red and Mexican gray wolf; coyote; fox; bobcat; lynx; cougar; black bear; porcupine; and several different kinds of raptors.) The entire center is well fenced and only open to public tours on Saturdays.

During the week, the yard of the center is over-run by a pack of 20-30 large-breed dogs which belong to the center’s director … or at least that was true when I was working there ten years ago. (There were also several wolf-dog hybrids.)

Most of my job was dealing with dead things. I chopped up gophers, which had been turned in for a bounty, then laced them with vitamin supplements, so they could be fed to the raptors. I boosted road-killed, maggot-infested, deer into a wheelbarrow and carted them over to the wolf enclosures. (This was very hard for me. I have a particular aversion to maggots.)

I wasn’t permitted to handle the live creatures, (other than the dogs,) though I did once get to stroke an anesthetized adult wolf who was having a medical procedure done.

HOW DOES THIS FIGURE INTO THE HAUNTING?

All of this is a digression, really. Yes, I did feel watched–even hunted–sometimes when I was moving around in this part of the WMA, but that’s because I was being watched, and watched intently, by large predators who wanted my carcasses. Even when I wasn’t toting a corpse around with me, I still reeked of flesh and blood and decomposition. I’m sure I seemed likely to be quite tasty.

(By the way, I loved the work … well, not so much the tasks I was assigned, but the larger work. I’d still be doing it, but I screwed up and got myself dismissed. That’s an embarrassing story for another day, though.)

I will say this: The wolves (and other canids) like to howl. On still nights, and quiet, overcast days, I imagine their chorus can be heard throughout many acres of the WMA. That sound would absolutely contribute to a sense that the area is haunted.

A BRUSH WITH THE SKUNK APE

As long as I went off on this tangent, I might as well share one more interesting tidbit about the Wildlife Science Center. Its director, Peggy Callahan, has appeared as a wildlife expert on an episode of History Channel’s MonsterQuest (Swampbeast, 2007, S1E5.) For the show, she devised and conducted an experiment meant to determine how long it takes for the body of a large beast in the wilderness to decompose and completely disappear.

A RESIDENT CRYPTID & PHANTOM VEHICLES

My quest for accounts of paranormal events associated with Carlos Avery is only beginning. An internet search revealed two primary legends.

One that amused me is our old friend, the Linwood Woolly Beast. If you’ve been reading The Paranormalist blog for a while, you may have run into one of my posts about this creature:

My best guess is that folks are seeing a large, perhaps albino, deer. If you’d like to know more about the critter, feel free to click on one or both of the above links. I won’t be spending a lot of time watching for the Beast. If I spot him, I’ll be sure to let you know.

The second commonly told legend of Carlos Avery is more interesting to me. Apparently several people have reported seeing phantom vehicles in the park. Headlights and taillights are seen shining from areas that are actually inaccessible to a vehicle. (From the middle of a pond, or swamp, or otherwise road-less spot.) This is a legend I can pursue. The WMA is open to visitors from 4:00 am – 10:00 pm. I should be able to legally spend some time driving around in there while it’s dark, once the roads are open.

Though I have some feelers out in search of local people who have had unusual experiences in and near Carlos Avery, I haven’t yet been contacted by anyone other than “Rebecca” my original source.

If you are reading this page because you searched for information about Carlos Avery after encountering something unexplained in or near the preserve, please contact me to share your story. To remain anonymous, send me a PRIVATE message at my Facebook page. Our conversation will be confidential, and you will determine how you will be identified if I quote you or include your experience in this series.

HISTORICAL RESEARCH

A FEW DETAILS OF THE EARLY LAND USE

Last week, I mentioned that this region of Minnesota was first utilized by fur traders in the 1700s, then by loggers in the early to mid-1800s. After that, some of the land that now makes up Carlos Avery was purchased by a carpet manufacturer which wanted to use the wire grass that grew abundantly there. (Wire grass is similar to sisal.)

Based on these facts, I am assuming that the land has been witness to some significant human activity in the past couple of centuries. I have not been able to confirm any particular settlements prior to 1890, but I do know that the carpet manufacturer created three camps on this property which, at one point, employed 100 men and used 250 horses. (I do wonder what camp life was like at that time, and how this activity could have contributed to the atmosphere of the area.)

After WWI, the carpet industry faltered, and the land became tax delinquent. Many acres reverted to the state’s ownership.

The Carlos Avery Game Park was established on about 8,000 of these acres in 1933. In 1935, the project was approved for WPA status and expanded. Since then, it has been subject to an evolving system of wildlife management.

And so ends my speculation about the pre-1933 era.

UNLESS I STUMBLE ON MORE THINGS LIKE THIS …

My continuing search through old newspapers has turned up a 1911 murder that occurred in Linwood Township, (which now borders a portion of Carlos Avery.) I have not yet ascertained how close this location is to the boundaries of what is currently the Carlos Avery WMA. (Remember, in 1911, the preserve had not yet been established.)

It’s an interesting, if brutal story, so I’ll likely share it in a future post. For now I’ll give you a glimpse of one James Dugart:

James Dygart Linwood Murder 1911

NEXT WEEK

Starting next week, I’ll provide the details of at least one of the historical events that could be contributing to a haunting at Carlos Avery.

This is going to be a busy week for me, so I’m not sure I’ll have time to do any on-site investigations, but I will try. (Once I figure out how to not get shot.)


I hearby solemnly swear to never make anything up.

My husband’s first question to me today, after he read On the trail of the cryptid known as the Linwood Woolly Beast, was: “So. Did you make that one up?”

No. I actually found references to the creature on a couple of websites when I Googled Minnesota paranormal. (Though I must admit I was several pages deep into the results by the time it came up.) Despite sounding so irked last night, it turns out that I’m glad I learned of the legend. My boy and I had a lovely time looking for the thing as we drove into town.

As long as the question came up, I want to promise you I will never confuse my personal fiction with my paranormal studies. Even if I could craft a better story. Which I could.

(That’s a clumsy segue into the subject of my fiction.)

My book is in review at a critiquing community. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to boast about nice things people say, but I’m making an exception for the critique I found in my email tonight. Because it literally made me tear up. Because I’ve been hoping to hear something like this for a long time:

While reading it, I was thinking that your writing style is much more similar to literary fiction than to a typical horror/mystery genre novel. … So, people have probably been saying “go faster! go faster!” but now I am not sure how much faster you really need to go. There are definitely areas that can be trimmed, but this is going to be a slower-pace, more internalized novel. And it is really working. Such an interesting combination…the pretty words slowly telling this intriguing ghost story. I like it.

Don’t get me wrong. I WANT to be a genre writer. I read and love horror. (Albeit old-school horror like King and Rice and McCammon and Simmons.) I know I have to ruthlessly cut what I’ve written. But it was awfully good to read that someone, somewhere gets what I’m trying to do.

I didn’t intend to post of any of that. I came downstairs to satisfy my quota for NaBloPoMo by simply sharing my thoughts about the movie I watched tonight: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Director Herk Harvey plays the "Man"...

Carnival of Souls

This movie was shot in 3 weeks, on a tight budget, and it shows. (Not always in a bad way.) The editing leaves something to be desired, and the soundtrack started to give me a headache after a while, but I’m glad I stuck with it. In the latter half of the film, there are some wonderfully creepy, surreal images which I fear I will see again in future nightmares. Even the makeup, which looks too thick in stills from the movie, is effective in the context of the story. (The smeary-lipped, rictus grins will stay with me for a long time.) It’s a contender for the 13 Creepiest Horror Films list that I’m still working on.


In search of the cryptid known as the Linwood Woolly Beast.

I’ve lived in and around Anoka County all my life. I’ve always known it’s a creepy place. I know Billy’s Bar and Grill (formerly the Jackson Street Hotel) is supposed to be haunted. I know, back in the late 70s, some folks claimed to have seen bigfoot, prowling up near the county line. I know there are not-so-secret tunnels. (Some say they run under Main Street, others say they run under the Anoka State Hospital.)

I did not know about the Linwood Woolly Beast. Apparently, it is white and moose-sized, with the head of a goat. It likes to gallop through the fields on either side of county road 22 – a road I drive on pretty much every day.

I have found my mission.

*

Yes. I’m being snarky. Chalk it up to my irritation with the caliber of the information I waded through tonight, when I went looking on the internet for local paranormal sightings. Everything I found was either too vague to be useful or too sensational to be even close to credible.

I did my best. I was able to create a short list of possible investigation sites. I just have to remember that all I’m really looking for is hot-spots where different people, at different times, and under different circumstances, have noted feeling as though something was off. That’s as good a place to start as any.

PS:  By now you probably know that I like to include a visual with my posts … and that I would just about kill for an artist’s rendition of the Linwood Woolly Beast.

Come on. You know you want to. If you draw it, I will post it.