First lady will visit 'Gray Lady' haunted church

Bismarck Tribune

First lady Laura Bush will make her first visit to North Dakota on Thursday to see an historic and gently haunted country church.

Bush is scheduled to tour the 124-year-old Sims Lutheran Church in rural Morton County, which is being restored with grant funds from the Save America's Treasures program, of which the first lady is honorary chairwoman.

Bush will tour the historic church, originally a parsonage with services held upstairs. It is considered the oldest church west of the Missouri River.

While there, she hear stories and read documentation of the old church's "Gray Lady" ghost, thought to be the wife of an early minister and whose ghostly presence dates back to early church records.

She will be invited to share potluck lunch in the church basement served by the Sims church members, who are getting ready for their parish fall festival and now have the unprecedented task of preparing for a most esteemed guest.

Joel and Donna Johnson of rural Sims are members and workers on the restoration project.

"I never thought I would be cleaning and arranging a potluck for a president's wife," Donna Johnson said Friday. "Isn't that amazing?"

Preservation North Dakota, a nonprofit group, received a $100,000 Save America's Treasures grant for its "prairie churches" project, including work at Sims, and another $98,000 to restore the native stone Hutmacher farm in Dunn County.

PND executive director Dale Bentley said the state's prairie churches have captured the hearts and minds of people from around the country.

"This is a perfect project for her to visit," Bentley said.

Security will be tight and only Sims church members and credentialed media will be allowed access, Bentley said.

Bentley said he invited Bush to help put up mortar in the stone Hutmacher farmhouse, but the site is too far afield for her brief time in North Dakota.

Bush will also visit Riverside Elementary School in Bismarck to promote "Picturing America," a program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 888-303-5511 or lauren@;