***Readers note: This story was published Oct. 30, 2016***
FARGO - Fargo's most notorious ghost story may not be a ghost story after all.
More than 20 years have passed since an agreement was made to remove graves from Trollwood Park in north Fargo. Roughly 300 coffins were relocated to permanent graves in Holy Spirit and Sunset cemeteries in Fargo, but not all of the remains made it to their final resting place.
"I was told that because of the age of the graves, it just wouldn't be possible to collect all of the remains," says Roger Gress, who was executive director of the Fargo Park District for 20 years before retiring in September. "The whole thing was an accident, and we got ourselves into trouble because of it."
The parks team was under the impression that all of the remains had been removed, but later found out otherwise. "So, we marked all four corners with boulders to honor the graves," Gress says.
Today, rumors of a ghost lady dancing beneath the willows as an old farmer tills the ground have spread among Fargo residents. A paranormal group even visited the park in 2012 and reportedly confirmed the existence of paranormal entities.
A rich history
The land next to the Red River didn't always belong to the Fargo parks system. The Cass County Hospital was erected on the site in 1895, with the building serving as a county hospital and asylum for the less fortunate. By 1961, the name was changed to Golden Acres Haven, and it was then taken over in 1974 by the Fargo Park District. This became the location of Trollwood Park.
The hospital was on 80 acres, which allowed the area to serve the community as a multipurpose institution. In addition to being a hospital and asylum, it was a nursing home and halfway house for able-bodied inmates who helped with farming work around the institution.
In 1916, voters approved the purchase of 53 more acres for farming. This land was also used as a burial site for low-income patients or the residential paupers. The county paid for burials in what was named "Potter's Grave." The graves were poorly done and did little to recognize who was in the grave.
Gress, himself, has never seen any proof of paranormal activity on the land. "I've been out there for plays, with our kids and biking many times ... it's just one of those things ... it's silly."
People do come and go, looking for ghosts, Gress says, and occasionally a reporter will call looking to solve the mystery of the paupers' graves.
For Gress, the story is a reminder of how fortunate he feels.
"The whole thing is just sad. To think that someone died alone and they got to that point in their life where they lost touch with family and then are buried in this little gave. How incredibly sad and how mysterious."