Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard about the most famous haunted spot in North Dakota, the Harvey Public Library. The short version of that ghost story is that Sophia Eberlein was beat to death in her home by her second husband. The library was later built on the same land and angry Sophia makes her presence known to library patrons and employees by turning lights off and on and moving things around. As ghost stories go, it is a good one with lots of sightings but the long version is so much more interesting.
Sophia Eberlein was newly widowed with two grown daughters having recently lost her older husband Hugo. He was a well liked man around town and left her well off. Jacob Bentz was also a new widower, he and his wife Dora had eight children. Some tales depict him as a newcomer that blew into town and charmed the wealthy widow Eberlein into a quick marriage but that isn’t accurate. Jacob Bentz was a plumber in Harvey and had been there long enough that when his beloved wife died, he had her buried in a cemetery alongside two of their children that died in childhood, Alice and Gilbert. One interesting note about teen aged Dora is that she had already been married and divorced one when she married Jacob. Very unusual for that time period.
Jacob and Sophia were both Russian immigrants. The two Russian widowers with grown children in a town of 2000 had a lot in common. Both had girls named Alice, although his was buried with his wife, Dorothea Sophia. His first wife’s middle name was also Sophia. It makes sense that they would end up meeting and marrying one day in a tale of second chance love. But the true story wasn’t like that.
After her murder, Sophia’s daughters would tell reporters that Jacob relentlessly pursued Sophia until she felt she had had no other choice but to marry him. A very odd way to describe things, she was only 45 when she died, and her children had moved out, so why no choice? She was wealthy and probably did not need to get married. All of Jacob’s children had also moved out except for 13 year old Wilbert.
After the wedding, things went bad quickly. They argued about Jacobs frequent nighttime visits to Fessenden, back then a small town of only 500 people. The Bentz home was in the middle of town and gossipy neighbors must have noticed Jacob’s frequent evening trips out of town. Was he visiting a secret girlfriend? Or a blind pig? That is what they called illegal liquor establishments during Prohibition. Did he gamble? Jacob was a devout Seventh Day Adventist and it is hard to imagine him pursuing any of those hobbies. It sounds like no one really knew Jacob, especially Sophia. She must have been angry, confused and embarrassed. Their last fight was about his trips to Fessenden. Here is the first article about her death.
After he beat her to death with a claw hammer in the home she had lived in with her first husband, he put her in her car and staged an accident to make himself look like a hero. His behavior was suspicious right away. He got more life insurance after she was dead and then tried to collect on it. He probably would have gotten away with it though, detective work is nothing like it is now. The final clue came when Alice and Lillian returned to their childhood home after the funeral and found blood stains and called police. Did Sophia reach out from the grave to help them solve her murder? The way she moves things around even today makes it seem very likely. Jacob was questioned for 2 days until he broke down and confessed. Do you think Sophia tried to drive him mad in that house until he cracked?
Jacob died in prison 13 years later and was buried with his first wife Dora. At the funeral she was a Bentz but after the crime was uncovered, Sophia became an Eberlein again and is buried with Hugo in the Sunnyside Cemetery in town.
The murder house was moved elsewhere in town and in addition to the library being haunted, some say Sophia still visits that house and a few other spots in town. It sounds like she is just as angry now as she was after her death.
Harvey is a great place to bring the kids too, there is a lot to do besides family ghost hunting. There is a small bowling alley and movie theater, an outdoor pool, mini golf and a beach on the shores of the Sheyenne River. You can also find horseshoe pits, sand volleyball courts and a fishing pier. There is a long hiking trail with lots of wildlife and a fun little town to walk around in. The SOO park has an old locomotive engine and lots of picnic areas. You can enjoy a picnic lunch or grab something to eat here or on the beach. They pack a lot of activities into this small town and it is easy to fill up a day.
The Hornbacher Lunch is your typical small town diner with a tasty breakfast and lunch. There are quite a few other spots to grab a good meal and walk around town.
Harvey is close enough to visit for the day and then come back home. If you do decide to stay overnight, you must stay at the little red schoolhouse. If you can’t get the one and only room here there are other places to stay like the Cobblestone Suites. It’s a reliable chain although it is lacking in the character of the schoolhouse. Harvey North Dakota is a great day trip and if you are polite and engaging you might get a chance to ask the locals a few questions about the resident angry spirit.