After closing time at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, staff say they’ve seen and heard strange things. The sound of a door and footsteps in the next room, when no one else is on the floor. Laughter from an empty French salon. Bed curtains closed without explanation.
Mia is one of the most haunted buildings in the Twin Cities, says Colleen Watson, a docent who shares the tales on student field trips and fundraising tours.
“This room is so haunted, there are employees of the museum who do not want to come in here,” Watson said, walking into the Connecticut period room, where the paneling and fireplace came from a rural colonial house built in the mid-18th century near New Haven.
One visitor told the museum he felt a small tug on his coat, and when he turned around, there was no one there. One woman said she felt a small hand quickly grasp her own.
“More than one guard has come into the room to find all the curtains drawn around the bed,” states a museum audio tour. “And a tall dark shadowy figure has been glimpsed in the doorway.”
In the book “The Nearly Departed,” Michael Norman writes that one paranormal group investigated with compasses, thermometers and tape recorders, and determined a male ghost lived near the Connecticut and Tudor rooms on the museum’s third floor.
A group years ago wanted to stay at the museum overnight to document any ghosts, but the director at the time declined, recalls Lori Erickson, Mia’s donor relations assistant. Erickson tried recording in the Connecticut room herself, although she didn’t find anything unusual. She noted that a vent in the fireplace might cause visitors to feel a draft.
Erickson documented many of the museum’s ghost stories about 10 years ago, and those stories along with 360-degree videos and photos are available online. She recorded the accounts without embellishment, she said.
“They’re real stories and real experiences people had,” she said.
Watson shared another story from the museum’s Grand Salon, a room from about 1735 that belonged to a royal tax collector in Paris. A Mia security guard heard singing and dancing and laughter coming from the room, and walked over to alert guests it was time to leave. When he arrived, no one was there. (The story predates the room’s sound effects and lights simulating a 24-hour day).
On another day in 2005, as related in “The Nearly Departed,” a guard entered the Georgian Drawing room, where the paneling is purported to come from Stanwick Park, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Northumberland in Yorkshire. As the guard walked, he was startled to see a shadowy silhouette of a leg keeping pace with him. Thinking the apparition may have been his own shadow, the guard retraced his steps. But the chandelier didn’t cast a shadow that properly explained what he saw.
A painting at the museum is the focal point for another Mia ghost story, called the most campfire-worthy.
From a basement control room, guards can admit staff after-hours and monitor cameras throughout the museum, Erickson said. As the story goes, one night at 3:30 a.m., a guard became sleepy and nodded off. He opened his eyes to see a woman in a white dress, wagging her finger at him. She walked through the glass and disappeared.
Staff attribute the figure in the story to “Mrs. T in Cream Silk, No. 2,” a portrait of a blue-eyed elderly woman dressed in her wedding gown. (Members of her family found the portrait so undignified they insisted the artist not identify her by name.)
Visitors might not remember the historic minutiae of all the pieces they see, but they will remember the stories, Watson said.
“I don’t think the museum should be boring,” she said.
She hopes the stories help guests become excited about art.
“That is the goal,” she said. “…It makes the museum come to life.”