The dander of early winter coats the prairie behind a subdivision in Hastings. The Hastings Sand Coulee nature area comprises almost 300 acres. On the bluff above a Vermillion River tributary, shoehorned between the preserve and the South Pines housing development, is a piece of real estate, lonesome and sad.
Almost 1,000 graves make up Hastings State Hospital Cemetery.
Tim Kelly, a lifelong Hastings resident, knows the area as well as anybody. The semi-retired amateur ghost chaser used to bring members of his paranormal investigative team here for training. They'd set up recording devices around the parcel at night.
"We'd try to record and catch what we call 'electric voice phenomena,'" says Kelly. "It could be a warning, a salutation, some sort of communication from, well, for a lack of a better word, a ghost."
The Hastings Insane Asylum opened in 1900 when 112 patients were transferred from a state facility in Rochester. Hastings was the sister facility to the Anoka Insane Asylum, which opened the same year.
"The class of men received are above the average found in asylums," the Hastings Gazette reported in 1900, "and were picked with a view of making a good record for our institution. They are mostly of middle age."
Over the next 78 years, more than 16,000 patients would be admitted to the institution, a campus of brick cottages that provided a more "home-like" atmosphere. It didn't take long for those running the asylum to realize they needed a cemetery.
"It's sad to say," says Kelly, "but many of the people institutionalized here in Hastings were just kind of left and forgotten about."
Early on, patients were admitted for various "maladies," according to hospital records. These included prolonged bouts of sadness and fear. The facility's name was changed to Hastings State Asylum in 1919. Electroshock therapy and lobotomies were not uncommon.
It would undergo another name change in 1937, becoming Hastings State Hospital. Female patients started arriving in 1944. Hastings closed for good in 1978, with its patients either discharged or transferred to Minnesota's remaining state hospitals.
Recognized as one the first to stop using restraints and utilizing occupational therapies like bread making and gardening, the facility was not without its skeletons. If no one came to claim the deceased, hospital staff buried them in unmarked graves at a cemetery that was then located on the outskirts of town.
"I've been to the one on the grounds of the old Anoka hospital. I've toured the tunnels beneath it," Kelly says. "In Anoka, you can feel all the energy of these emotions. There's a lot of unsettled hurt and despair. Brokenhearted is a good word for it. You don't feel that kind of suffering on the grounds of the old Hastings campus or at the cemetery."
Kelly is convinced, however, that the cemetery is inhabited by the ghost of a woman, whose death preceded the establishment of the burial grounds.
One night Kelly was accompanied by another paranormal sleuth, Juli Glazebrook, who would tell him, "She's here." Kelly looked out from the cemetery to the east over the ravine. On a previous visit, Kelly heard a woman screaming, "howling in pain, then moaning and the voice of a man yelling at her."
On this night, she would make her appearance. All present would see her.
"There was this figure of a woman," Kelly recalls. "She was light gray in color. She was turned with her left-side profile closest to me. Her hair was in a bun. She had puffy sleeves, dressed like a woman from the 1800s. I could see her in such detail that I saw the pleats in her skirt."
Glazebrook, a self-styled "sensitive" -- a.k.a., psychic -- would soon tell Kelly the woman had been "run over by a wagon wheel in the mid or early 1800s. She had been buried there, but she didn't want to be."
A few months later, Kelly told another paranormal sensitive about the figure he'd seen in the cemetery. This psychic had never met Glazebrook, yet she also told Kelly how the woman had died in a wagon accident.
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