The Cottonwood Inn Bed & Breakfast sits in the village of Empire in Leelanau County. The building began as a farmhouse for the Roen family, built approximately around 1900.

Andrew Roen and his wife Randi came here from Norway and decided this is where they wanted to raise their family… they built the farmhouse and settled in for a nice, homespun, farm family life.  They set about making a good farm living with their boys Alfred, Andrew, Ben, Gilbert, and Severt. There was a sixth son, Reinhart Oliver Roen, who was born in April 1911 and died just sixteen days later; the certificate listed the cause of death as “convulsions”.

After they came of age, the two oldest boys, Alfred and Gilbert, moved out to make their own lives. The other three – Andrew, Ben, and Severt would never leave…they ended up spending their whole live at the farmhouse.

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Neighbors tended to be somewhat leery of the property, especially when they would see Andrew and Ben wandering around the yard. According to Holly Decker, who remembers them when she was young, “I remember seeing the Roen boys, Andy and Ben in their yard, lurking in their yard. They were just so reclusive, they didn't talk to a lot of people.” It wasn’t just the boys that seemed unsettling, but the old farmhouse as well. She continued, “It was just an old scary home that we all were kind of scared of."

Even though they spent their entire lives on the farm, a newspaper “society page” clipping from one year stated that Andy, Ben, and Severt would be working the summer on an Ann Arbor car ferry.

Of the sons, Alfred was the first to pass away – at age 77 in 1967.
Gilbert had moved to Eaton County, where he died in Charlotte in 1976 at age 81.

Severt is the son that has a questionable existence. In October 1899, Severt Olander Roen was born, dying at the age of seven months in May 1900. Two and a half years later, in November 1902, another ‘Severt Olander Roen’ was born. Articles written about the Cottonwood haunting say that Severt just plain disappeared in 1979, with rumors spreading about what became of him. However, the Find a Grave website says Severt passed away in 1996 at age 93. All internet searches for an obituary always bring up the first Severt who died at seven months old. What gives?

Andrew and Ben both died mysteriously in 1985. They both died in the same bedroom, just a few days apart from each other – Andrew on January 12 at age 75 and Ben on January 16 at age 87.

Decker now owns the Cottonwood Inn (named after all the cottonwood trees on the property), now a Bed & Breakfast. Since taking over ownership, she has experienced odd things occurring through the old house, like voices from nowhere, footsteps, and shadows with no human basis. "You just know that there is something other than yourself in the house."

Maybe Andy, Ben, and Severt just couldn’t bring it upon themselves to ever leave the farm…

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