I was talking with my mom right as school dismissed for the summer and encouraged her to take her grandson to the Abbie Gardner Cabin sometime.
My folks liked Westerns so I figured she'd enjoy the American Indian history. My son, Keegan, was bound to like it because it was included in a travel guide for "haunted places" in Iowa. He gets in a "Goosebumps/Ghost Hunters" phase from time to time -- its part of a rotation with dinosaurs and Greek mythology (the Percy Jackson books).
Two past stories here at the DCN also factored into my Gardner Cabin recommendation: I interviewed Chad Lewis, co-author of "The Iowa Road Guide to Haunted Locations" as a Halloween feature in 2011. The Gardner Cabin is one of his suggested "stops." Keegan checked out that book by coincidence this spring, along with the haunted guides for Minnesota and South Dakota. (Apparently, he wants to keep track of specters for an entire tri-state area.)
We also featured the Gardner Cabin in "Portraits of Okoboji" the annual special-edition magazine we put out around Memorial Day.
Keegan's haunted travel guide interest reminded me of my own trip to the "haunted" cemetery near Loon Lake in Jackson County Minn. As memory serves me, it was an old pioneer cemetery tucked away along a farmer's fence line near a state park. Some of the gravestones were so worn down by the elements, you couldn't read the names anymore.
A few of my friends from high school had pretty vivid memories of road trips to Loon Lake and visits to "the witch's grave." I suppose it is one of those experiences you had to have as a teenager back in the late 80s.
Details escape me over the years, but I always thought the name on the "witch's grave" was Clarinda. I think I'm outnumbered by people who think the witch was named Mary Jane. Unfortunately, I've heard some kids have found the cemetery and committed vandalism over the years. That's a shame. Trespassing doesn't put us in line for sainthood -- that said, my friends and I would have never been that disrespectful.
But my favorite part of the Loon Lake folklore has to be the epitaph -- as I remember it -- on Mary Jane/Clarinda's tombstone. No doubt it had an impact on the cemetery's status as a haunted place in travel guides. If it's not word-for-word, it's pretty close:
Beware ye friends and passers by,
For as you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be
So be prepared to follow me.
Now, I'm sure that was some 1800s proper pioneer woman who was handing out some sage advice. But it does sound like a curse, doesn't it? I'm not sure what you had to do in the area of the grave to draw the "witch's" ire.
I also remember a bridge nearby where you were instructed to stop and turn your car off. If you heard a baby's cry you were supposed to start the car up and get the heck out of there before the "mom ghost" reached your window. In both cases, you were a gonner if you didn't follow the instructions.
Since you're reading this, it's safe to assume Clarinda gave me a hall pass three decades ago.
Grandma and grandson also made it through their haunted place visit south of the border with no trouble. They followed my advice and it sounds like they both had a nice afternoon in Arnolds Park.