Deaths at Wabasha Street Caves

Over the years, Wabasha Street Caves have witnessed a number of deaths happening within the elaborate tunnels that make up the historic labyrinth.

One story spoke about a poker game in the caves that went horribly wrong during the 1930s. A man with a briefcase reportedly walked up to a table of four mobsters and shot three of them to death. A waitress, who happened to be away during the incident, called the police upon hearing the gunshots. Upon arriving at the scene, the police promptly removed the bodies while the waitress was outside and scolded her for filing a false police report resulting in the death of three men. It is said that the bodies were buried in a tunnel deep within the caves. Today, bullet holes from the incident can still be spotted in the stone fireplace.

In 1992, two teenagers went on an exploration adventure into the caves and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The same incident occurred once again in 2004 when a group of five teenagers explored the caves in spite of the signs that warned them of the dangers. About 600 feet into the caves, three of them passed out and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. One of the survivor passed out but was able to regain consciousness and escape the cave; the second survivor was rescued and resuscitated on the way to the hospital. The carbon monoxide was believed to be residual smoke caused by fire previously started by other cave visitors.

Due to the complexity of the caves, it have been impossible to seal off the numerous entrance from the public.

History of Wabasha Street Caves

Located along Wabasha Street on the south shore of Mississippi River in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Wabasha Street Caves are a set of caverns carved out of sandstones. The historic caves were originally mined for the pure silica (used in glass production) and were believed to have existed since the 1840s.

Wabasha Street Caves before buildings were erected in the entrance | Image credits: The Growler Magazine

After the abandonment of the caves, they were used to cultivate mushrooms. In 1899, French immigrant Albert Mouchnotte became the first owner of the world’s first underground mushroom farm. His daughter, Josie, and husband William Lehmann, soon took over ownership of the caves and converted it into a restaurant and nightclub. Legend says that many infamous gangsters such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Ma Barker were patrons of the establishment.

In 1933, Josie & William Lehmann opened Castle Royal in the historic caves. The restaurant became a popular dining spot for locals due to the highly-regarded cuisines and relaxed ambience. Performers including the Dorsey Brothers, Harry James and the Coronado Orchestra have all played at Castle Royal during the Big Band era. However, the restaurant was promptly closed down in 1941 with the onset of World War II.

Castle Royal nightclub | Image credits: The Growler Magazine

During the same period, it was determined by University of Minnesota that Wabasha Street Caves replicated the conditions of the Roquefort caves in southern France, making it suitable not only for mushroom growing but also cheese aging. Furthermore, it was claimed by Willes Barnes Combs, Professor of Dairy Industry at the University of Minnesota, that the caves are sufficiently large to supply the entire world demand for Roquefort cheese. With that, the sandstone caves became cheese caves for Land O’Lakes and Kraft Cheese, producing an estimated two million pounds of blue cheese annually from 1940 to 1959

Rows of cheese in Wabasha Street Caves | Image credits: Minnesota Historical Society

The caves would go on to become a victim of a series of disasters including floods and fires (started by the vagrants), and failed businesses. It was only in the 1970s when the cave was revived with the reopening of Castle Royal nightclub.

In November 2020, the historic sandstone case announced its closure in an email to customers and vendors of the attraction. This comes after the COVID-19 pandemic which have forced the 12,000-square-foot venue to halt all tours and events since March of 2020.

A year later on September 2021, Wabasha Street Caves saw a change of hands when it was purchased by Faith Pon, a longtime fan of the natural landmark. The caves reopened in October 2021 after almost a year of hiatus.

Hauntings at the cavesCaves

Wabasha Street Caves is now said to be haunted by those who have died in the elaborate tunnels of Wabasha Street Caves.

One of the most common sighting is the apparition of an old dapper gangster in his typical mobster-looking black suit and hat. Many believe that the spirit is one of three gangster who have died during the mysterious poker game. Other than the mobster, staffs of Wabasha Street Caves also claim that a ghostly bartender roams around the bar and restaurant, filling up empty wine glasses for patrons.

“There will be whistling, there will be footsteps, it’s bizarre,”

– Tour Guide Brett Williams
Bar in Wabasha Street Caves | Image credits: Kare11.com

Visitors of the attraction also reported several unexplainable activities such as weird voices reverberating through the caves and beer mugs moving on their own at the 60 foot bar. Phantom music can also be heard by the tour guide and the visitors during the historic tours held in the caves. On one occasion, tour guide Brett Williams saw a dark figure in a corner of the cave tossing stones at him.

In fact, in a vote organized by StarTribune in October 2021, Wabasha Street Caves outvoted several iconic haunted spots in the city to win the top spot of the Most Haunted Place in Minnesota.

Haunted Tours at Wabasha Street Caves

As of January 2022, Wabasha Street Caves is opened to the public for tours. Since its reopening in October 2021, the attraction has brought back some of its popular tours such as the hour long Historic Cave Tour and the Saint Paul Gangster Tour which brings one on a two-hour bus tour around the city. The Lost Souls Tour remains as one of the attraction’s most sought after tour for it takes one deep into the caves to unearth some of the ghostly activities that are still happening till this day.

Seasons events are also run throughout the year, including the Gangster Bus Tour, the Ghosts & Graves tour, and the Haunted Halloween tour. Apart from the daily tours, Wabasha Street Caves also opens up the venue for swing dancing every Thursday evening from 7pm to 10pm.

To reserve a slot for the Wabasha Street Caves tours, make a booking at their official website.

Outside of Wabasha Street Caves | Image credits: Deborah Robertson @ Flickr

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