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Finding Minnesota: Inside Glensheen Mansion

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) – Glensheen Mansion is a place of elegant beauty but also the site of a high-profile tragedy.

It was built for one of the wealthiest families in Minnesota. Now visitors are getting to do something inside the historic home that’s never been allowed before.

For more than 30 years, Glensheen has been welcoming tour groups with a couple of long-standing restrictions.

No photos were allowed inside, and no tour guide would speak of what happened there on June 27, 1977.

“We don’t want to frame one day at Glensheen to cover over a century of history,” said Lucie Amundsen, Glensheen’s marketing director.

But that “one day” brought nationwide attention to Duluth. The heiress to the family fortune, Elisabeth Congdon, was suffocated in her bed. Her nurse, Velma Pietila, was beaten to death on the staircase.

Police arrested Congdon’s adopted daughter, Marjorie, along with her husband, Roger Caldwell. He ultimately confessed and committed suicide, while Marjorie was acquitted.

The murders are still not part of the discussion during the scheduled tours, but the tour guides are now allowed to answer questions about the murders after each tour comes to an end. And in the past few weeks Glensheen has lifted the ban on photos.

“We have gotten more attention for allowing photos in the house than I ever would have imagined,” said Amundsen.

What they want visitors to share now are images of the home’s turn-of-the century grandeur — 29,000 square feet of it.

“It’s absolutely a time capsule,” said Amundsen. “People can come and really have an authentic immersion into early turn of the century. The third floor is gorgeous arts and crafts. The second floor is more traditional and the bottom floor is more of a gothic look.”

Outside the mansion are colorful gardens, walking trails and a chance to stroll along Lake Superior. But that’s not really what attracted the Leukuma family of Howard Lake.

“I love murder mysteries and I thought it would be cool,” said 17-year-old Lexie Leukuma.

She and her sister said the guide cut off their picture-taking at one point.

“The rooms where she said not to take pictures, you’re like, ooh, this could be the room,” said 13-year-old Heather Leukuma.

Glensheen leaders said that was only to keep things on schedule with all the tour groups moving through. They said that was the reason for the original ban, because photo-taking used to take up more time.

“Now everybody can snap a photo in two seconds with an iPhone,” said Amundsen, “and even more importantly, they can share these photos online and share this beautiful house with their friends.”

Glensheen is currently running a photo contest on Facebook. The person whose photo gets the most “likes” will win a cash prize.

Do you know of a place in Minnesota we should visit? Click here to submit your Finding Minnesota idea.

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