Spectre Never Misses a Performance at Minnesota Auditorium

Bill Ratican hasn’t missed an event in the auditorium of Hibbing High School for more than 80 years. Early on he was busy, mostly backstage, with his job as stage manager. But since 1942, he’s been enjoying the show from Row J, Seat 47.

At least that’s the story here. If you believe in ghosts.

In 1922, Ratican was lured away from New York City by the small northeastern Minnesota community made rich by iron ore. With the town’s original location threatened by the ever-expanding mining pits, the town was moved. More than 200 structures, most of them two-story houses, made a journey two miles to the south. Other structures, including the school, did not. So to appease the townspeople, the ultra-rich mining company vowed to build a school unlike any other.

With elaborate protrusions and spires outside and polished marble staircases, decorative woodwork and intricate engravings inside, the structure – costing a hefty $3.9 million in 1920 – came to be known as “the Castle in the Woods.” The piece de resistance of the school, still holding classes with some 750 students enrolled today, is the 1,800-seat auditorium, patterned after New York City’s opulent Capitol Theatre. Its hand-molded ceiling was created on-site by Irish craftsmen. Its cut-glass chandeliers, $15,000 each, were imported from Czechoslovakia. Its Barton vaudeville organ is one of only two originals left in the country.

“The school with the golden doorknobs” made its way to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

In its early years, the auditorium held vaudeville performances and symphony orchestra concerts as well as school plays.

And since 1942, when Ratican died, there have been tales of the transparent man sitting in J47.

“Legend has it that this is one of the most haunted buildings in Minnesota,” said Hibbing High School Principal Mike Finco. “The story passed down over the years was that an old auditorium manager had died and he still floats around here. And J47 is supposed to be where people have seen different images of an elderly gentleman dressed up in old-style clothing that looks to be translucent.”

Finco has been hearing the story of the ghost since he arrived at the school in 2004. He’s also heard what he thinks is a logical explanation. It seems that former head custodian Bob Kearney dressed up as Ratican and sat in J47, and auditorium manager Chuck Perry took his picture.

“And it looks spooky like a ghost,” said Finco.

It appeared, he said, to be a double exposure.

But then he added, “If you walk around the auditorium, generally the seats are all up. But I bet if I walk over there, J47 will be down, as if someone is in it.”

Sure enough, a walk to Row J found Seat 47 down.

And then Finco said, “It was a fluke. What happened to the camera wasn’t supposed to happen. The (Polaroid) camera didn’t have the capability of doing what it did. The people who came in to look at the camera said there’s no way that you can double expose it. That can’t be done with this camera.”

So the story persists. The phenomenon has even been studied by the Northern Minnesota Paranormal Investigators, who have photos of the strange sighting on their Web site.

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