“One of the things we love to do at Fort Sisseton [Historic State Park] is get people out there to relax, to enjoy nature, to enjoy each other again, and just have fun at the same time,” said park manager Ali Jo Tonsfeldt.
Fort Sisseton Historic State Park will be haunted for October 15-16 during A Night of Thrills and Chills.
The event will be a fundraiser to put money back into maintaining the fort and welcoming new exhibits.
“The big thing about the Night of Thrills and Chills is, yes, our goal is to scare you, but our goal is also to make sure families come out and have fun,” said Tonsfeldt.
KILLER THRILLER TONIGHT
One of the biggest attractions of the event is the haunted maze, was relocated in 2020 to a stretch of prairie from its normal home in the South Barracks because of COVID restrictions. It will be inside again this year.
“Our goal is to get you lost, especially when we do it inside the building, because we don’t want you to know which way you’re going,” said Tonsfeldt. “And you surprisingly walk a lot. It’s amazing how many twists and turns … you can create in a haunted house.”
Amongst the workers, the focus is to be as spooky as possible.
“We have a contest, whoever makes someone pee their pants the most, they actually win an award,” said Tonsfeldt with a laugh.
“Probably one of the favorite scarers is my daughter, who is a very good contortionist. You think she’s just this innocent little 10-year-old, but she can contort herself in some pretty unique ways, and she has a loud piercing scream. She’s good.” -Ali Jo Tonsfeldt
Along with the maze, there’s a hayrack ride and Halloween-themed homemade concessions, like popcorn balls called Zombie Brains, caramel apples called Poison Apples, and cake pops called Goblin Eyes.
“For those who want to make a night of it, bring s’mores and other roasting goodies for we have campfires for rent,” she added.
BY LANTERN LIGHT
During Fort Sisseton’s prime in the late 1860s and the 1870s, electricity had yet to be invented, so the buildings don’t have lights. The Night of Thrills and Chills is an opportunity to experience the Lantern Tours.
“The only way to get a good see of them at night is with kerosene lanterns,” explained Tonsfeldt. “One, it makes you appreciate electricity, but two, it really adds a different feel to the buildings and to the rooms and to the history.”
Tours walk through the fort’s military history and through the legends and sightings of the spirits that still haunt the grounds.
“We tell the ghost stories, but we also focus on the personality of the people, what was expected of them,” said Tonsfeldt. “We actually request that everyone is very respectful to them, especially when we’re doing a lantern tour, because it is their story, it is their history, it is their life, and they are still here for some reason.”
“Our goal when we do any of that, especially the Night of Thrills and Chills, [is to] enjoy some good, old fashioned time with friends and family.” – Ali Jo Tonsfeldt.
CHILLING CHRONICLES OF THE CAMP
“Fort Sisseton’s known to be haunted,” said Tonsfeldt. “Our little boy has been seen since the 1920s at the fort, so we have all these ghost stories throughout the decades that people have passed on.”
During the event, there’s ample opportunity for hearing some stories of the spirits that reportedly haunt the camp.
“He will walk around, and he will grab people’s hands and hold their hand,” said Tonsfeldt. “He will play with children in the parade ground.”
Another popular spirit is called the Lady in White, a woman clad in what Tonsfeldt says seems to be a servant’s clothing.
“The lady in white is seen at night, and it looks like she’s taking a candle to the walls and burning bed bugs off,” said Tonsfeldt. “In the 1870s, that was the chore of the females in the camp.”
She also is seen leaving a building and entering others, as well as walking the boardwalk.
One ghost that has been seen fewer than 10 times is a cavalry soldier. He’s been seen horse riding during various events and special occasions.
“Our third most popular one is actually a buffalo soldier,” she said. “We believe his name is J.C. Smith. He was with Company E of the 25th Infantry.”
Tonsfelt says that Smith assisted in building many structures at the fort, and his name is etched into the guardhouse. He was later sentenced to death elsewhere and can be seen marching the guardhouse.
For more information, visit GFP.SD.GOV.