The paths of glory lead but to the grave. But also to the Facebook page of Bryan Dorn, a paranormal investigator, professional wrestler and documenter of the final resting places of some of Minnesota’s most notable permanent residents.
Dorn’s citizen history project, Minnesota’s Famous Dead, is where he locates and photographs the Twin Cities gravesites of famous politicians, sports stars, business leaders, war heroes, inventors, showbiz celebrities, murder victims, even other professional wrestlers who have gone down for the count.
It’s how Dorn spends his free time when he isn’t working as a security officer, moonlighting as a minor-league pro wrestler or poking around spooky old hotels or former asylums in his other hobby as a paranormal investigator with a group he leads called Shadow Hunters Minnesota.
Which is why the 43-year-old Eden Prairie resident was at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis on a recent afternoon, looking for a guy named Richard Renslow.
If that name doesn’t ring a bell, maybe you knew of him as the Big Bad Trucker Daddy, the Wild Alaskan or the Ax Man, some of the names Renslow used as a pro wrestler.
Dorn, who has wrestled throughout the Midwest under the name Ian Xavier, knew Renslow, once sharing a ring with him before Renslow died of cancer in 2008 and ended up at Lakewood.
The 148-year-old cemetery is one of Dorn’s favorite haunts. From the tomb of Tiny Tim to the monument to Hubert Humphrey, he knows where in Lakewood the famous, once famous and nearly famous bodies are buried.
Like the gravesite of H. David Dalquist, inventor of the Bundt cake pan; the mausoleum for the Mars family, creator of the Mars and Milky Way candy bars; or the grave marker of Robert “Bobby” Marshall, a University of Minnesota football star and one of the first African-Americans to play in the NFL.
Dorn said he’s visited, photographed and posted bios of close to 200 resting places of notable Minnesotans in nine cemeteries in the Twin Cities.
“I get into these cemeteries whenever I can,” he said. “Cemeteries just fascinate me. They really do.”
Dorn’s fascination with the dead and paranormal started when he was a kid growing up near New Prague. His mother said when he was a 2-year-old, he had visions of seeing and hearing his recently deceased grandmother, an incident he describes in his self-published book, “Paranormal Pursuits.”
As a teenager, he and his friends explored abandoned houses that were reportedly haunted.
“We didn’t have any of the fancy equipment we do now. We just had flashlights,” he said. “I’ve been hooked on the paranormal since then.”
As an adult, he’s checked out spooky places from Salem, Mass., to New Orleans. As lead investigator with Shadow Hunters Minnesota, he and three other paranormal investigators tote cameras, audio and video recorders and electromagnetic field meters to places that are reportedly haunted, sometimes responding to requests from property owners.
Most of the time, Dorn and his fellow investigators don’t hear any bumps in the night that can’t be explained away. But there have been a few places that he feels were “100 percent haunted.”
“I’ve had disembodied voices coming from another room,” he said “It’s just a very, very fun hobby.”
His love of professional wrestling is about as old as his experiences with the paranormal. Dorn said he started watching pro wrestling as a 6-year-old, and he wrestled for his high school team.
As soon as he graduated from high school, he started training to be a pro wrestler, working with trainer Eddie Sharkey, who also trained pro wrestling stars like Rick Rude and Jesse Ventura.
Pro wresting appealed to him because of its combination of sports and theatrics. (In addition to wrestling in high school, he liked being in school plays.)
Dorn also liked seeing bullies get their comeuppance in professional wrestling shows because he was bullied as a kid.
“I was picked on because I was fat,” he said.
Ironically, for most of his pro wrestling career, he was the bully, playing the “heel” or the bad guy in a wrestling career of close to 1,500 matches.
Now Dorn, who has also been a wrestling promoter and booker, is a “babyface,” or a pro wrestling good guy. He recently started a wrestling show called “Paranormal Pro Wrestling” that performed at the Chicago Ghost Conference recently.
He likes to pay his respects at the resting places of other wrestling personalities, such as American Wrestling Association co-founder Wally Karbo, buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights, and Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, now residing in Gethsemane Cemetery in New Hope.
Seeing the resting places of the dead is a way to make history come to life, according to Dorn.
“When you’re actually at the gravesite, it makes it more real,” Dorn said. “Visiting the actual person themselves, even though they’re 6 feet under your feet, they seem more real to me.”
When he finds the grave of a person he’s studied, Dorn will respectfully clear off the leaves and debris, note the birth and death dates, reflect on the times that person has lived through and pause to take a picture.
In his journeys documenting the death-styles of the rich and famous, he sometimes encounters evidence that other grave fans have been there.
At the Mars family mausoleum, he’s found a package of M&M’s. At hockey coach Herb Brooks’ burial site in Roselawn Cemetery in Roseville, he saw a bunch of hockey pucks.
His photos and research into the gravesites of famous Minnesotans get turned into Facebook posts and occasional public presentations. He thinks he might be able to turn it into a book or a documentary video someday.
“Every single grave has a story to tell. It’s just whether you want to listen to it,” he said.
Bringing history to life
In his search for wrestler Rick Renslow’s grave, Dorn headed to Section 56 of the 250-acre Lakewood Cemetery, a section that Dorn said also contained the graves of Karl Mueller, bass player with the rock group Soul Asylum, who died in 2005 of cancer; Harold “Chief” Wonson, who once pitched with the Minneapolis Millers professional baseball team in the 1940s, and died in 1998 after falling from a roof; and Wendell Anderson, Minnesota’s 33rd governor, who died of pneumonia in 2016.
Wandering amid dozens of flat, nearly identical grave markers in Section 56, Dorn asked aloud for the nearby entombed to help point out the grave he was looking for.
He also consulted a paranormal phone app called the Portal that’s supposed to use garbled audio files to help you communicate with spirits even though he said, “I don’t believe cemeteries are haunted. Who would want to hang around with their dead self?”
But just in case, when he takes a picture of a grave, he basically invites the deceased to say cheese: “If you want to be in the picture, go ahead and smile for me.”
“So if you wouldn’t mind, do one last promo shot for me, will you?” Dorn said at Renslow’s grave. “We all miss you, Rick.”