The Haunted History of the Former Governors’ Mansion

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Could a mansion once home to many of Bismarck’s governors now be governed by their spirits? Some say the Former Governors’ Mansion in Bismarck has been the site of some unusual occurrences.

“The mansion was built in 1884,” said Johnathan Campbell, site supervisor of the Former Governors’ Mansion. “It was actually a private home originally by a gentleman in town by the name of Asa Fisher. He was a businessman in town here that actually homesteaded here in 1972.”

He came out here from the Boston area. When we became a state in 1889, they wanted to build a governor’s mansion and they just didn’t have the funding to really build something grand. So they looked at buying a used property basically. And Asa Fisher in 1893 sold this to the state of North Dakota for $4,500, which adjusted for inflation is about $125,000 now.”

Campbell has worked at the mansion for 18 years and he’s well-acquainted with its history. Campbell says his favorite room in the home is the attic, which he says was converted into a playroom by Governor Frank White in 1901.

White’s son, Edwin, even signed his name on the toy chest. But Campbell says many visitors to the mansion are too afraid to even venture into the attic.

Ask Campbell whether he believes the house is haunted, though, and he’ll tell you you’re asking the wrong question.

“To me, when you say something’s haunted, you see things, you hear things. And we’ve never had any of that here. But we have had a few strange happenings,” said Campbell, who has experienced some of those strange happenings firsthand.

“In the upstairs, in the servant’s quarters, I was in there and I changed out the 100-year-old lights that were hanging on wires from the ceiling. And after I replaced them with some modern pull chains, I was in there cleaning up my mess with a vacuum and as I was doing that all the hair on my arm stood up and I just got this chill,” said Campbell. “And I had to leave the room. And I went out to a hallway and called my wife, and she says, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ And as I was talking to her my phone died.”

The energy from his phone drained by what may have been a different kind of energy in the room.

“For years, we could not keep that light working. The pull chain would keep seizing up and I would replace the whole fixture, and it would do it again. And it actually stopped doing that about a year ago,” said Campbell.

About a year ago, during the pandemic, when perhaps there were fewer visitors and fewer disturbances in the space.

“The only governor that ever passed away in the house was Governor Briggs and he died in 1898 of tuberculosis. Folklore says that he was coming out of the bathroom upstairs and collapsed in the hallway of the servants quarters where I was at, so maybe it was him just showing his dissatisfaction that I was getting rid of the lights that would have been in here when he was here,” said Campbell.

Call it haunted, call it paranormal activity, whatever you want to call it, you can certainly say that today, the Former Governors’ Mansion remains alive with a rich history.

There will be an open house at the Former Governors’ Mansion on Halloween. It will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 31 so you can see the mansion up close for yourself.

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