The Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul is closing at the end of November.
The street caves, on Wabasha Street, is an historic 12,000-square-foot event facility that offers gangster and cave tours, and is said to be haunted.
The venue will close Nov. 30. Owners Donna and Stephen Bremer have owned the caves since 1994 and she told the Star Tribune they've been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic and are losing money because its taken in no revenue, while still having to pay the bills.
“We have been closed since March 18, and with the fear of COVID-19, most of our tours and events for 2020 have canceled,” Donna Bremer wrote in a recent email to customers, according to the Pioneer Press.
“We are expecting the same will be true for this summer’s public ‘Historic Cave Tours’ and ‘Saint Paul Gangster Tours,’ so with much regret and lots of tears we are going to be closing."
The venue's events, such as swing nights and cave tours, on the Wabasha Street Caves' website are canceled through the beginning of June.
BMTN has reached out to Wabasha Street Caves for comment.
History of the caves
Seven manmade caves make up the Wabasha Street Caves. They were mined – using pickaxes – in 1849 for the silica, which was used to make glass, Cynthia Smith told BMTN in 2017.
It's among the 80-90 caves in St. Paul that are located near the Mississippi River, but they're the only caves that are privately owned. Most of the others are blocked off to prevent trespassers.
By the late 1800s – after the Wabasha Street Caves were abandoned as mines – they were used as a mushroom farm. Then when Prohibition came along, the owners of the cave opened a speakeasy.
Prohibition came to an end in 1933, so the mushroom farm owners decided to open a legal place to drink, called the Castle Royal.
Smith said it was a classy, expensive space that cost $1 a plate for dinner (that's about $100 today).
And people in St. Paul could afford it. That's because it was full of gangsters who earned their money by stealing it from others.
In 1934, three gangsters were murdered with a Thompson submachine gun while standing near the fireplace in the Castle Royal (you can see the bullet holes in the fireplace). Their bodies are believed to have been buried somewhere in the unfinished caves. (They're not the ones who haunt the caves, though.)
Castle Royal ended up closing in 1940, with the mushroom farm moving out in 1965. During that time, Land O' Lakes also made cheese in the caves.
The caves were abandoned for a few years, but then opened as a disco in the late 1970s. It closed in the 1980s and the caves were abandoned again until the current owners bought it.
After learning about the caves' history with gangsters – and now the ghosts – the owners got into the event and tour business.