Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ghosts Redux

They claim the ghost of Molly can still be seen, haunting Forepaugh’s Restaurant. Don’t believe it! Instead, just enjoy the spectacular Beef Wellington or “Donald’s Duck” that Chef Donald Gonzalez so elegantly creates.
by Charlie Leck

Forepaugh’s is a terrific local dining spot – if one can call our nearly 40 mile drive to St. Paul local. I think it was nearly 35 years ago when I dined there the first time and I’ve gone back every five years or so to enjoy this lovely setting and the good dinners they serve.

The main reason we went this time was to view again the photograph of Forepaugh’s Ghost. I wrote about ghosts on a blog last month and expressed strong doubt about their existence. A friend here in the Twin Cities called me to remind me of the Forepaugh ghost and the old photograph of it that had captured its existence so definitely. So, we all decided to dine at the grand restaurant to take another look at the picture.

Wouldn’t you know! We got there to find the photograph wasn’t available for viewing. The restaurant had just remodeled and the photograph had gone missing in the process – perhaps swiped by one of the many people involved in the work or, perhaps, by the ghosts themselves. One of the employees – the bartender I think – told us there was a negative of the photograph somewhere but it had not yet been found.

“I’m sure you can find the photograph on-line,” the young bartender said. “Just google Forepaugh’s ghost.”

Well, I did. And I didn’t have any luck.

Joseph Forepaugh’s mysterious death
You can see from the photograph above that the restaurant is in an unusual setting. The old house sits on the corner of Exchange and Chestnut, just west of downtown St. Paul. It’s been beautifully remodeled – this grand mansion built in 1871 by Joseph Lybrandt Forepaugh. It’s reported that the gentlemen suffered from bouts of depression and sold his home in 1886 and traveled with his family to Europe for an extended time, seeking a change of scenery and, perhaps, relief from his dogged fight with gloominess. The family returned in 1889 and Mr. Forepaugh built another spectacular home up on prestigious Summit Avenue – a location from which he could overlook his former and beloved mansion.

In Irvine Park, not far at all from his two homes, on the evening of July 8, 1892, Joseph Lybrandt Forepaugh evidently put a bullet in his head. He was found there, in the park, dead and with a pistol in his hand. His family’s story was that depression and his struggles with business finally became too much for him to handle. However, as soon as the news of Mr. Forepaugh’s death got back to the mansion, a servant girl, named Molly, went to the attic and hanged herself. Of course, this fired up rumors about the relationship between the girl and the gentleman; and gossip has persisted to this day that Molly was pregnant when she did herself in.

In the years following the two deaths, there have been many reports that both Joseph and Molly have been seen in the old house on Chestnut and Exchange. Even in recent years, employees of the restaurant have claimed sightings. Sometimes, they’ve reported, there’s a strange chill in the air and then this woman in 19th century clothing – and not theater-type reproductions – breezes through a room unaffected by the real-life people surrounding her. Or, the image of a handsome and splendidly dressed gentleman is seen, fading in and then out.

Of course, I say this is all nonsense and the product of out-of-control imaginations. Ghosts? Nonsense! The rules of science disallow it. Such claims are wildly burlesque.

The restaurant, however, is a wonderful place to take one’s love for a romantic and enchanting evening; and, in the candlelight, you may consider occasionally glancing over your shoulder.

The menu is small, but grand. The place is famous for its Beef Wellington, which now is supposed to be better than ever. I had Donald’s Duck and enjoyed it immensely. The menu describes it as "blackened duck breast and chili glazed duck confit, served on a bed of sautéed cilantro, basmati and port-Salut topped with a pineapple salad and a citrus chili sauce." I found it to be quite spectacular. For dessert, the girls shared deconstructed banana cream pie and I envied their every bite.

Chef Donald Gonzalez originally opened Chambers Kitchen in the Chambers Hotel over in Minneapolis. That was one of my favorite restaurants in town; and I am now pleased to follow him to St. Paul.

Visit Forepaugh’s web site.

A recent, brief review of Forepaugh's Restaurant in City Pages


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