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Published October 30 2012

F-M Paranormal group probes Trollwood Park for supernatural (with video)

FARGO - Like any ghost story, this one starts on a cold, dark and windy night.

Across the dimly lit grounds of Trollwood Park in north Fargo one night last week, Shawn O’Donnell and Holden Harwood shined their flashlights as a bitter wind blew across their faces.

The men are members of Fargo-Moorhead Paranormal, a group dedicated to investigating the area’s supernatural. Along with a team from The Forum, they traveled to Trollwood to check out rumors that the park is haunted.

Legend has it that when the park was still home to the Fargo School District’s performing arts school, which still bears its name but moved to south Moorhead in 2009, the ghost of a woman in a 19th-century dress would appear dancing around a willow tree during performances.

“Everyone thought, ‘Oh, she’s just part of the show,’ ” O’Donnell said. “And then boom, she’d disappear.”

The strange activity didn’t end there. Other posts on the Internet describe the sensation of being touched or followed in the park when no one else is around.

For their investigation last week, O’Donnell and Harwood sought out the willow tree from the ghost stories. There, they would ask questions as if someone else was there in the park with them.

Hopefully, Harwood said, their voice recorders would pick up an “electronic voice phenomenon.”

“It’s a voice that’s only caught on recorders,” he explained, as they walked through the park. “Sometimes, you can ask questions, and they’ll respond.”

Finally, O’Donnell’s flashlight found the willow tree, standing above the location of an old cemetery.

He paused to make sure his voice recorder was on, and then the men began.

“Is there anybody here with us?” Harwood asked aloud to the empty park, pausing before asking more questions.

The wind picked up, and O’Donnell suddenly aimed his flashlight toward the willow tree.

“I thought I saw something,” he said, quietly, peering into the darkness.

Longtime resting place

At the turn of the 20th century, Trollwood Park was the grounds of the Cass County Hospital and Farm, according to The Forum’s archives. The facilities housed the area’s sick and poor of all ages.

When the patients and residents died, they were buried in one of the three cemeteries on the grounds, which at one point were the resting place for close to 1,000 unmarked graves.

In 1973, the hospital and farm, then operating under the name of Golden Acres Haven, were shut down and the remaining patients were transferred away. The cemeteries remained – becoming “a parking spot for young lovers,” a 1998 Forum story read.

The Fargo Park District acquired the land in 1974. The performing arts school was formed four years later.

In 1985, one of the cemeteries was moved because it was threatened by erosion. A year later, the Fargo Park Board and Cass County wrote up an agreement to survey the locations of the cemeteries and mark their borders, according to Forum archives.

That never happened.

For more than a decade, the cemeteries were essentially forgotten.

But in 1999, someone walking in the park stumbled across human bones sticking out of the ground. The remains were reburied in Fargo’s Springvale Cemetery, and, at last, the park’s cemeteries were marked.

One of the three is identified by a large rock inscribed with the words “County Cemetery #2,” located underneath the willow where the ghost would reportedly appear.

Inquiry comes up empty

It’s unclear when the ghost sightings first started at the park, and none of the legends speculate about the identity of the “ghost” or whether the “haunting” is related to the neglect of the cemeteries.

But for Dave Leker, director of parks for the Fargo Park District, Trollwood’s history at least lends itself to the possibility of paranormal activity.

“With the cemeteries up there, if you’re looking for a place that could be haunted, that’d be a good one,” he said.

The ghost stories got the attention of F-M Paranormal, which has investigated the park several times in recent years. Some of those visits resulted in what the group says was audible EVPs. They say a 2009 investigation picked up someone saying “Get out of here,” for example. Some of those recordings are posted on the group’s website.

Last week’s investigation wasn’t quite so fruitful. Several days after the visit, neither Harwood nor O’Donnell reported anything out of the ordinary from their recordings.

The night’s strong winds, Harwood said, made it difficult to hear the voices, as quiet as whispers, which marked past EVPs.

The Forum team’s recordings also did not pick up any unusual sounds, whispers or anything out of the ordinary.

The group is still convinced Trollwood is haunted.

Leker said he isn’t too concerned whether it is or isn’t. Rather, he sees the ghost stories as a noteworthy part of the park’s history – something that might give people an additional reason to visit Trollwood and see for themselves.

“Have I personally experienced anything there?” he asked. “No. But it’s always intriguing if you’ve heard things like that.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535