By Nan Royce
COKATO, MN People tend to be quite inquisitive about Chad Lewis’s day job. Sometimes it’s a night job. Actually, if it involves topics regarding the strange and unusual, time doesn’t matter. Lewis will probably be there.
Lewis works as a researcher, author, and lecturer on topics regarding legends, lore, mysterious creatures, ghosts, and all things that might go bump in the night.
Lewis will share some of his experiences at the Cokato Library at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29.
The presentation is titled “Minnesota’s Most Haunted Places.” Lewis has two decades worth of mysterious adventures to discuss.
Beginnings of a peculiar passion
Lewis blames his fascination of all things weird on his home state of Wisconsin. He was raised in the shadow of one of three “UFO Capitals of the World.”
Lewis was curious about why people believed they were seeing UFOs, and began to interview witnesses.
When he went to college he declared a psychology major, and maintained his interest in the strange and the people who claimed to have seen something eerie.
“I was interested in why some people believe in the odd and unusual and some do not,” he said.
Lewis said at the time, his relatives thought his focus on the supernatural was a little different. He’s seen those attitudes shift over the last several decades.
“My family’s views have paralleled the changes of the general public on these topics as well,” he said.
Lewis eventually married another psychology professional. “She is more of a skeptic than I am,” he said. The couple has a 7-year-old son.
What is he looking for?
Lewis makes a point of actually visiting the locations where weirdness or sightings have supposedly taken place.
A glance at his website (chadlewisresearch.com) indicates he puts on the miles.
In the past 20 years, Lewis has researched and written about: Chupacabras in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica; Tata Duende in Belize and Guatemala; the Mothman in Point Pleasant, WV; wendigos in Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan; the Beast of Bray Road in Elkhorn, WI; and Bigfoot in both Canada and the US.
Lewis has also researched vampires in Romania; the Skunk Ape in Florida; hellhounds in Nicaragua and Belize; gnomes in Ireland, Scotland, and France; and sea serpents all over the world.
Unidentified flying objects
Lewis’s interest in UFOs has never left him. He has researched unidentified flying objects in Pennsylvania; Texas; Area 51 in Nevada; the Aztec Crash Site, and Roswell, both in New Mexico. That’s just a partial list.
Lewis has co-written many “road guides” about supposedly haunted areas. Again, he insisted on visiting every location.
Lewis has studied Gettysburg in Pennsylvania; the New Orleans Cemetery in Louisiana; the Villisca Ax Murder House in Iowa; and Bachelor’s Grove in Illinois. “There are too many places to list,” he said.
Lewis has also visited haunted castles and tunnels in London.
The investigative process
After so many years of chasing after scary stuff, Lewis has developed a standard investigative process.
“Normally, the first thing I do is try to sort fact from fiction,” he said. “I spend a lot of time digging through old newspaper archives, historical society records, etc. . . looking for the real history.”
Next, he goes to the experts. “I then interview witnesses who have had an experience there or know of the legend,” Lewis said.
“Finally, I visit the location and try to ascertain what those witnesses actually experienced. I normally set up a ton of equipment to help rule out any normal explanations to these encounters if I can,” he said.
Favorites. . . and fear
Lewis said his favorite spooky locations are often solitary ones.
“I love the places that are rural and secluded because they add to the sense of adventure and excitement that comes with these places,” he said.
“Even if you don’t believe in sea serpents, when you are swimming in a lake with a monster legend, your mind can’t help but conjure up thoughts that every branch that passes by your leg is the fin of some deadly beast,” he said.
Other favorites include some historical elements. “I also enjoy places that combine the paranormal with odd history and Americana, like the crash site of Buddy Holly,” Lewis said.
Lewis admits some of the thrill for him comes from knowing there’s no help available should he need it. He admits he likes to be alone.
The choice of being alone, however, doesn’t mean he isn’t scared. “I always state that if you visit these places and are not getting scared, you are not trying hard enough,” Lewis said. “Many of these places are just downright creepy.’
It’s arguable that Lewis thrives on fear. “One of my scariest cases was when I was in Central America looking for a deadly woman/creature called La Llorona,” he recalled. “The only way to get close to her alleged lair was to take a night canoe journey through crocodile-infested waters. These are the types of cases that frighten me the most those that combine the dangers of the paranormal along with the dangers of real life.”
Lewis’s eclectic career choice has only made him more curious about the unusual.
“After over 20 years of doing this research, I am left with more questions than answers,” he said.
Sharing what he’s seen
Lewis indicated that he attempts to combine new investigations with his writing and lecturing work.
“Usually after a lecture, I will have someone tell me about a place or story in the area and I will often check it out that very evening,” he said. “Or, when I am lecturing in an area, I try to research another case or two while I am there kill-two-birds-with-one-stone type of thing.”
Advice for new investigators
Lewis is often asked how to get involved in supernatural or paranormal investigations. His answer sounds easy.
“There is only one way to do this, and that is by simply doing it,” he said. “I always recommend that people try to hook up with a local research group to see how they do things, and then figure out if that is how you want to do things,” he advised.
“Some people like to approach these cases as scientific as they possibly can, others use new-age tools, some are just out for the adventure. I encourage people to figure out what they hope to get out of this, and proceed from there,” he added.
Why it’s cool. And why it’s not
Lewis attributes the slow but steady increase in the general public’s interest in the paranormal to several things.
“In an age when you can go to any town and see the same hotels, restaurants, and businesses, people are craving something odd and unusual,” he said.
Lewis also suggests that interested individuals do some learning and researching on their own.
“I recommend that people read as much literature and books on the subject as they can,” Lewis said. “I am amazed by new investigators who know nothing of the history or broad scope of the paranormal field, but they can name every person on their favorite paranormal TV show.”
What’s the Cokato show going to be like?
Lewis understands people’s fascination or fear regarding some of his lecture topics. But he indicated attendees should come to the Cokato show ready for some fun.
The focus of the presentation is the state of Minnesota, from wandering ghosts in the Northwoods to a haunted B&B in Wabasha, complete with photos, case histories, eyewitness accounts, ghost lore, and directions.
“This program is going to be a fun, visual road-trip to the strangest places in Minnesota,” Lewis said. “And whether you are a true believer or skeptic, it is going to be weird and exciting.”
Lewis will be presenting at the Cokato Library Monday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. The event is free.