Looking like a mini castle built into the side of a cliff, the Wabasha Street Caves probably aren't what you think they are. First off, they aren't actually caves. They were made in the 1840s and have served a range of functions over the years. And, second, despite the rustic look and being caves of a sort, they aren't located out in the country. They're in downtown St. Paul, minutes from the airport.
The caves, or mines actually, were originally created to mine silica for glass-making. Fifty caves or so were carved out of the bluffs and were quite active until the 1880s. When the mining slowed down, a Frenchman by the name of Albert Mouchnotte used the caves to grow mushrooms. He managed to do so well at this that the restaurants in the area referred to the caves as Mushroom Valley, and many opted to age their cheese and beer there as well.
Unfortunately, during the 1920s, Prohibition pretty much wiped out a fair amount of the restaurants and all the bars in St. Paul. At that point, the caves were transformed into the Wabasha Street Speakeasy. It was a popular place for local socialites and gangsters to get a drink and gamble the night away, and legend says that John Dillinger even hung out there.
Once Prohibition was repealed, the speakeasy became the Castle Royal in 1933 (briefly known as Mystic Caverns). It was the first place to be granted a post-Prohibition liquor license in the city and was an instant success. Musicians like Cab Calloway and the Dorsey Brothers played to a crowd that was still mostly gangsters.
But after the FBI became aware of the gambling and activities of the bar, customers began to wane, and soon the business closed altogether. The years following Castle Royal would be sketchy at best. Mushrooms were grown there again, Castle Royal 2 briefly operated there, and debris was stored there after a massive flood.
Today, the Wabasha Caves are a combination event center and rental facility. You can rent them for your wedding or other special occasion, or you can attend on of the many functions hosted by the staff there. They offer themed dinner nights, fundraisers, and an assortment of different tours, including those of a paranormal variety.
Ghost stories and dark caves go hand in hand, even when the cave is not so dark and actually quite lovely. Some claim that upward of thirty spirits inhabit the caves in St. Paul, but this number may be a bit high. We do know for certain, though, that there are a handful of specific sightings that have taken place over the years.
The ghost of an old gangster, wearing the typical suit and hat, has been seen on a few occasions, sometimes accompanied by the sounds of music. And there are reports of a phantom couple seen on the old dance floor. But the most well-known spirit is that of a forlorn woman who has been seen in the bar. Her apparition is said to be startling and even quite frightening to some.
There are also assorted stories of items moving by themselves, weird voices heard in empty areas, and misty figures who appear to be the remnants of speakyeasy guests still having a good time. There's even said to be a photo that was taken of a young guest who seems to be surrounded by these entities.
The Wabasha Caves are a unique and interesting attaction. They're an entertaining way to while away an evening and, perhaps, have a ghostly encounter. Throw in a couple of the other haunted spots of the city, like the old city hall and Griggs Mansion (once owned and inhabited by Llewellyn Chairman Carl Llewellyn Weschcke), and you have a great little haunted vacation.
Excerpted from Passport to the Paranormal, by Rich Newman.