"I woke up at 1:11 a.m. to a woman's voice," Annie Wilder remembers. "It was coming from the direction of my daughter's room, but it wasn't Molly."
The voice Annie heard a week after moving into her new home, in April 1994, was abnormally loud and impossible to understand, almost like the words lacked vowels. It only lasted a few minutes, but was enough to fill her with dread.
Then a loud pounding noise starting coming from the wall behind Annie. She describes it as deafening and insistent, and says she instinctively burrowed herself under her covers in fear. Eleven minutes passed before she got the courage to get up, grab her kids and run. But as soon as she sat up, the pounding stopped.
That's when she came to a terrifying conclusion: "It's watching me."
Annie looked at more than 60 homes before finding "the one." She wanted a fixer-upper with history, but also one that had enough space for her 16-year-old daughter Molly and 14-year-old son Jack. So on a freezing March day in 1994 — three weeks before the move-out date of her then-home — she felt optimistic as she drove up to a Victorian house in Sibley, Minnesota, that was built in the 1870s.
Her realtor warned her not to get her hopes up. First of all, the house had been on sale for six months. Then there was the listing note telling potential home buyers to enter through the back door, not the front.
"As soon as we stepped inside, it was like we entered a different world and time stood still," Annie says. She describes this new world as heavy, quiet and old. Her first thought was that there was some kind of sad spirit roaming the property. Her realtor must have felt it too, because after stepping a few feet inside, she asked: "Do you want me to see if the prior owner died in the house?"
It turns out, he almost did. His name was Leon Kuechenmeister and Annie's neighbors say he had a stroke or a heart attack at home a year earlier. He was taken to a nearby hospital and never regained consciousness before passing away on August 15, 1993. He lived in the Victorian house for decades with his wife, before she started showing signs of dementia and moved to a nursing home, while Leon continued living alone. Leon's only daughter shared this information with Annie at her closing, on April 15, 1994.
"She told me 'the house chose you,'" says Annie. "I asked what she meant and she explained that the house was on the market for six months with no offers, then within a week they got three offers. She said 'I asked my dad which offer to choose and he told me to take yours — even though yours wasn't the highest.'"
It was clear to Annie that Leon's daughter believed her father's spirit was still present. Of course, Annie had similar instincts and, after learning Leon specifically "chose" her, Annie hoped he'd welcome her into the home and that he was only waiting on his wife to join him in the afterlife.
"It felt like I was being watched sometimes, but I thought I could make it mine and that bringing my energy into the house would show him I planned on treating him and the house with respect," Annie says.
That's why, when she heard the threatening pounding on her walls a week after moving in, she was confused. Another cause for concern: The voice that woke her up was a woman's and, as far as she knew, Leon was the only spirit in the house. "That's when I knew there was more than one ghost." She'd later learn Leon was far from the only spirit roaming her halls.
The next morning, Annie was relieved and disappointed when her children told her they didn't hear anything the night before. But she still spent the entire day trying to figure out what was going on with her home, a place she was determined to live in for the rest of her life.
Her research taught her that there are two kinds of spirits: those who are Earthbound and have left their physical bodies, but have unfinished business that has prevented them from crossing over, and those who have fully crossed over.
Leon was the former, but Annie no longer believed his unfinished business was simply watching over the house and waiting for his wife to join him. Annie started to wonder if removing furniture from his bedroom upset him. Or if it was the triplex walls she tore down. Or maybe he simply planned on living in his home until his wife joined him, and a family of three with repair men coming in and out on the regular wasn't his idea of peace and quiet.
It wasn't until an electrician visited Annie's home a week after she heard the pounding sound that she put the pieces together. He went down to the basement looking for the fuse box. While inspecting the space, the electrician stumbled upon a hiding spot. There, Leon had made a safe out of two coffee cans and a shoelace and hid it inside a pipe. Inside of it was the house deed, silver and gold coins and an envelope filled with $4,800 in cash. On the envelope, he'd hand-written when he put money in and took it out.
"It was the first time I could relate to him as the person he had been in his lifetime and it gave me real empathy for him," Annie says. The electrician said that technically since she owned the house, the money was hers, but Annie knew it was Leon's unfinished business and that she needed to give it back to his family immediately — that night.
Since Annie's realtor had a relationship with Leon's family, she gave it to her to give to the family. However, Leon's daughter was so grateful that she stopped by the house to thank Annie in person for giving the money back.
That night, Leon visited Annie in her bedroom. She heard pounding again and woke up to find an older, heavyset man whom she knew must be Leon standing in her doorway. "I just about melted from fear, but thought he's got to be here to say 'thank you' and then he'll go toward the light," she says.
Except Leon didn't want to leave. He walked into her room and immediately Annie says she could channel his loneliness and confusion. Then he tried to climb into bed with her. "It wasn't sexual, he just wanted to connect to another person, but I told him 'no' and he immediately disappeared."
As frightening as the experience was for her, it was also reassuring. "I sunk back into my bed once he disappeared and felt fear and shock, but part of me also felt relieved and thought 'I knew this house was haunted," Annie says.
That wasn't the last time Annie saw Leon. Over the past 23 years, Annie says he's become an ally and a friend in the spirit world. "He helps protect this house and we work together to take care of it, because it's an energetically unusual house with a lot of spiritual activity," she says.
Apparently, Leon was aware of the house's hauntings while he was alive too. Annie has learned over the years that he kept religious medals and symbols all over his bedroom to protect himself from the spirits. And when he heard sounds he didn't like, he'd pound on the walls — which is the same sound Leon now uses from the other side to announce his presence.
Annie says Leon describes the house as Grand Central Station for ghosts, with many doorways and portals for other beings, and that Leon is the conductor of the station. His role is to escort spirits out that don't belong, but allow those in that mean no harm.
Even Annie's son Jack has developed his own agreement with Leon over the years: "I have an unspoken understanding with Leon that I won't bother him and he doesn't bother me," he says. "I always remind people that the living person has the advantage in any encounter, so there's nothing to be afraid of."
Along with Leon, some of Annie's most common visitors are the "Spirit Sisters," whom she's seen dressed in long white dresses with pompadour hairdos. The girls lived in the house when they were young back in the early 1900s, which Annie was able to trace down after finding a signature for "Julia Hartnett" on a poster on a door in her basement.
After Annie wrote , she started hosting tea parties for people who wanted to visit. The sisters are often felt during these gatherings, as Annie says they like to help out with the fun.
But Annie has interacted with dozens of spirits over the years and expects to continue to encounter more, as do her children and her now-husband, Dudley, who is a believer. "I only invite people into my home who will treat me, the spirits and the spirit world with respect and in return I expect the same from spirits," she says.
If you don't believe Annie or her family's claims, that's okay. "I think everyone has a right to believe whatever they want to believe," Annie says. "I don't try to change anyone's mind." But Leon has certainly changed her mind over the years.
"What I've learned is one spooky experience does not mean a lifetime of haunting," she says. "I work to rebalance and clear the energy in my house after any strife, whether it's caused by physical or spiritual beings," she says — and she wouldn't want it any other way. "At this point, I can't imagine living in an un-haunted house — I think it would feel too empty!"