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An abandoned home along Highway 12, a few miles south of Java. Click to enlarge photos.
An abandoned home along Highway 12, a few miles south of Java. Click to enlarge photos.
One of the abandoned structures in the once-thriving cattle town of Dewey, South Dakota.
One of the abandoned structures in the once-thriving cattle town of Dewey, South Dakota.
Inside an abandoned home in Dewey.
Inside an abandoned home in Dewey.
Downtown Harding, South Dakota.
Downtown Harding, South Dakota.
The remains of Lightcap, also known as Huseboe, at rest in Corson County.
The remains of Lightcap, also known as Huseboe, at rest in Corson County.
An unused elevator near Nunda.
An unused elevator near Nunda.
A long-forgotten home north of Richmond Lake in Brown County.
A long-forgotten home north of Richmond Lake in Brown County.
Owanka, South Dakota still has a few residents.
Owanka, South Dakota still has a few residents.
Owanka's unused elevator.
Owanka's unused elevator.
Search for Sitka, South Dakota east of Mobridge, in Walworth County.
Search for Sitka, South Dakota east of Mobridge, in Walworth County.
One of the last remaining houses in the ghost town of Argonne.
One of the last remaining houses in the ghost town of Argonne.
Another view of Argonne, located in Miner County.
Another view of Argonne, located in Miner County.
Storm clouds over an abandoned house between Spencer and Salem, South Dakota.
Storm clouds over an abandoned house between Spencer and Salem, South Dakota.
An abandoned structure in Grant County.
An abandoned structure in Grant County.
This old house was found north of Milbank.
This old house was found north of Milbank.
Thunder clouds retreat from this house near Doland.
Thunder clouds retreat from this house near Doland.
Ortley's old elevator.
Ortley's old elevator.
An unused log building on the shoulders of Custer Peak in the Black Hills.
An unused log building on the shoulders of Custer Peak in the Black Hills.

Horror on the Hill

Oct 30, 2012

 

The fog was thick by the time we heard the knock on our door. My brothers and I were drifting off and Dad was half asleep on his easy chair. Boom, boom, BOOM came the frantic knocks. When Dad opened the door, a wide-eyed, white-faced stranger stumbled into our home. Dad sat him down at the dinner table but couldn’t get much out of him other than gibberish about getting lost in the fog and something about someone needing help. This of course prompted Mom to call the sheriff. My brothers and I huddled in the shadows of the hallway out of sight, but not out of earshot.

What we didn’t know at the time was the scene that unfolded earlier that day in town. A stranger with a camera arrived, checked in at the post office, the bank and finally into the café. He apparently was a somewhat renowned photographer working on his next book featuring ghost towns and abandoned buildings.

By the time he finally pulled a chair up to the main table of the café, the elderly members of the liar’s club (as they were affectionately known by the café’s regulars) already knew he was coming. Such is the miraculous nature of news in a South Dakota small town — it travels faster than the speed of light. The liar’s club proceeded to tell this stranger the best place in the county to photograph. About 13 miles south of town on a lonely gravel road was an abandoned house on a hill. This wasn’t just any house, mind you. It also happened to be haunted.

The story went something like this: During the Great Depression, two brothers in their twenties and their younger 18-year-old sister lived with their aging parents on this ranch. They suffered like all the rest of the farmers and ranchers due to the hard times. The impossibly dry weather couldn’t stop love from blossoming, though. The girl fell in love with a boy from Nebraska who worked on the WPA crew that built the dam just south of town. One foggy October night this girl snuck out to be with her lover and accidentally fell into the open well her brothers had been digging next to the house. No one heard her cries above the wailing wind. By the time she was discovered, it was too late. The brothers took their grief out on her boyfriend. A week after the funeral, they caught him, tied him up and threw him down the same well that took their sister’s life and then sealed it tight. No one ever saw the boy after that. Eventually, the brothers were found out, convicted and later died in prison. Folks who lived in the house afterwards talked of strange sounds and eerie cries on nights when the weather was foul and the wind blew. It wasn’t long until no one wanted to live there anymore.

Only the old-timers knew how much truth was in the story. The stranger was smart enough to figure that out. His only real concern was if there truly was an abandoned house on the hill. If so, a nice photo of it along with the ghost story would be perfect for his new book. He was assured the ranch house still stood.

After getting directions, he left town in order to shoot the building in the golden light before sunset. The golden hour never came, as the wind switched and a cold front blew in from the northwest. The remaining warm air collided with the chill to create a thin, drifting layer of fog. Our photographer didn’t mind as the atmosphere and fading light provided for dramatic shots of the house and he soon became lost in his craft. After taking his time to frame up a few photos, a shrill shriek pierced the evening. He called out. No answer. All at once, he felt like he was shoved squarely in the shoulders. He tripped, fell backwards and blacked out. When he awoke, the fog was so thick he couldn’t find his camera… or his car. A gnawing feeling of fear began to wash over him as he remembered the story from the liar’s club earlier. Alone in the dark, he left the house behind and started running as pure terror washed over him. He ran far and he ran hard. That was when he saw our yard light through the fog and began pounding on our door.

The sheriff came and got him within an hour. That was the last I saw of the photographer. The next day my older, braver brother and I rode our bikes to the abandoned house. We found a camera with a shattered lens lying about 20 yards from the house. My brother took the film out before turning the camera in. We secretly mailed it off to have it developed. It turned out that only three images were on the roll; two beautifully composed shots of the ranch house in an eerie fog, and the last photo showed two faint yet unmistakable sets of white, ghostly hands reaching towards the lens. We burned the photos and never went near that house again.

 

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog. To view Christian's columns on South Dakota's state parks and recreation areas, visit his state parks page


Comments

06:32 am - Tue, October 30 2012
Lisa said:
Wow, what a great ghost story! And, as always, great photos too!
06:42 am - Tue, October 30 2012
Kristi Chessmore said:
What a fun story!! LOVED IT!!
07:36 am - Tue, October 30 2012
Sheryl Monfore said:
. If only walls could talk! Beautiful photos, yet haunting and sad.
12:30 pm - Tue, October 30 2012
Chad Coppess said:
Great stuff Christian! Really nicely done, but thanks a lot for giving me the creeps next time I go poking around an abandoned house looking for photos.
10:46 am - Wed, October 31 2012
arlo pear said:
I'm hiding under my desk!
06:51 am - Thu, November 8 2012
Lois said:
My mother would always say "a happy family once lived there" when we would drive by an abandoned farm home in Aurora County.
12:51 pm - Wed, December 19 2012
Thanks for sharing the picture of Lightcap. My ancestors lived there, so it was interesting to see what little remains.
12:20 pm - Sat, September 6 2014
John Murphy said:
I found your site while planning a trip to photography the SD scenery.
Umm.....
Nebraska might be good enough though....

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