“Stick close together on your walk through the dark woods … you never know who might be waiting for you.”
So began a traditional Halloween-time event that, although there are “ghosts” in the title, was never really intended to scare anyone. Instead, the Blue Earth County Historical Society’s “Ghosts from the Past” was meant to educate and entertain. And that’s what it’s been doing every fall since 1987.
“We think Blue Earth County has a rich heritage and we want people to learn about it and experience,” said Barb Lamson, membership coordinator in 1987 who with Susan Monk-Kjos brought the event to the Williams Nature Center on Highway 68 just outside of Mankato. “We don’t know a better way to do this than by recreating bits and pieces of our past.”
The Historical Society utilized the flat 7/10ths of a mile trail with interpretive sites evenly spaced for its “theatre in the woods.” In its second year in 1988, 14 costumed characters and several characters along the trail took groups of 15 people for an hour-long stroll through history. Groups left the center’s cabin every 15 minutes between 5:45 and 8:30, stopping along the way to learn from volunteers who played historical people from the county’s past.
Among the characters seen those first years were Pierre LeSueur, Judge Daniel Buck, Cole Younger, John Dillinger and his “Lady in Red,” Sarah Christie Stevens (Mankato’s first feminist and Board of Education member), R.D. Hubbard, Maud Hart Lovelace and Cyrus B. Miller, escaped convict who tunneled beneath a country schoolhouse and hid from authorities in a small underground room.
Originally planned for late October, the event sometimes took place in early October in hopes of catching better weather. In the early 2000s, Williams Nature Center was replaced with more controllable indoor locations such at the Butler House, the mansion near Mankato’s Bierbauer Brewery and the Brandrup House on Shaubut Street. Themes were selected to unite the characters and the experience.
Although no longer held in the woods, you STILL never know who might be waiting for you.