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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

The Beleaguered Buckner Building of Whittier, Alaska

The Buckner Building stands in Whittier, Alaska—the gateway to Prince William Sound—as a relic to a forgotten past. It is tucked away in the hidden port town of Whittier, a town that can only be accessed by boat, plane, or through a single train tunnel that moonlights as a passage way for big rigs, and automobiles. The bay area that surrounds Whittier is solely deep-water ports that stay ice-free year round and the railroad port is one of two, all-weather ports that supplied Anchorage with military necessities and during times of war was of key importance in order for it to stay functioning and safeguarded. The climate that the port operates under is one of nearly constant cloud coverage, which is beneficial in the respect that it protects the port and its facilities from air strikes. With all aspects of this port town taken into consideration, Whittier was possibly the most perfect place to have a military base of this caliber.

The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska Photography by Mary Farnstrom
The Buckner Building in Whittier, AK
The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
Photography by Mary Farnstrom

The Construction and Function of the Buckner Building

Early in the course of World War II General Simon Buckner, the commander of the defensive forces of the state of Alaska was highly concerned that the state would be vulnerable to air attacks. Buckner also believed that the best type of facility would be one that autonomous, with its own power plant, sufficient storage space, and bomb-proof. The Cold War began two short years after the end of World War II and in 1953, six years into the second red scare, the construction of the Buckner Building was completed, and having been cast in place by reinforced concrete on a bedrock of slate and greywacke the building was on stable ground not susceptible to seismic shifting from earthquakes, or from thawing of any remaining permafrost.

The building was once listed as one of the largest in the state, it stands six stories tall, is approximately 500 feet long and between 50-150 feet wide (depending on which part of the floor plan it is)—all of this adds up to around 275,000 square feet of space. This massive concrete building was built in seven sections, each section having been separated by eight-inch gaps—as a means to have the structural flexibility to ride out large magnitude earthquakes and concussive forces.

In its heyday, The Buckner Building once housed the entire city of Whittier, Alaska—within its walls were also all of the relevant services were located. There was a small hospital, a 350 seat theater, four-lane bowling alley, six-cell jail, church, bakery, barbershop, library, radio station, rifle range, photography lab, commissary, officers’ lounge, as well as a mess hall, and innumerable sleeping quarters for military personnel and their families.

The Earthquake of 1964

In March of 1964, Alaska was hit by the most powerful earthquake in the history of North America (second most powerful throughout world history)—registering at a magnitude of 9.2 and lasting a full four minutes and thirty-eight seconds, the Great Alaskan earthquake caused multiple ground fissures along south central Alaska, but it also collapsed structures and caused multiple tsunamis—all of this resulted in an estimated 131 deaths. Whittier itself was not immune to the natural disaster, with thirteen people dead and damages to private and federally owned property that were over five million dollars. The Buckner building itself was also slightly damaged, although the structural integrity was not compromised due to the foundation upon the bedrock—the rest of the town received considerably more in damages due to the unconsolidated sediment that it rests on.

The Abandonment of the Base

The building was in operation until 1966, when the military finally pulled out of the Port of Whittier, the building was then transferred to the General Services Administration; after being vacated by the military, however, the ownership of the building changed hands several times. At one point Pete Zamarello, a man dubbed as the “Anchorage Strip Mall Czar”, obtained ownership of the Buckner Building with ideas of turning it into the state prison—but his deal with the state fell through and it was purchased by the citizens of the new City of Whittier in 1972. By the 1980s, the building had fallen into disrepair, windows and doors were missing, so the building began to decompose—being exposed to the elements allowed water to begin accumulating, and the building itself being in a constant state of freeze and thaw.

By 2014, nearly every inch of the building, inside and out, had been vandalized—the floors were covered in at least an inch of water, and was riddled with asbestos, mold, and mildew—suffice it to say it was no longer a safe environment for people to go exploring in. The problem was, was that there was hardly any regulation in place to keep people out of the building—so they began to crack down on trespassers on the property.

The city of Whittier came under the ownership of the Buckner Building in 2016 when the building officially went into foreclosure, it was at this point that a fence went up around the building to keep trespassers out. While the Whittier Department of Public Works and Public Utilities has done work on the property, and the city continues to express their desire to maintain it in order to preserve history, the Alaska Department of Environment Conservation has recommended demolition. While there have been many discussions to demolish the building, it has been ruled as being cost-prohibitive—this is due to the sheer amount of asbestos that is in the building and that the only land route in and out of Whittier. This route is through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, a two and a half mile railroad tunnel which allots thirty-minute windows for cars to travel through at certain times during the day—the only other option to remove debris would be on ships.

Having been abandoned for over forty years has taken its toll on the interior—where the ceilings are falling in, the light fixtures are and some parts of the exterior of the building which is tagged and degraded. The Buckner Building does still stand as of July 2020—it stands as a crumbling, darkened, cracked, and adulterated monument of an era of military and government ambition that has not since returned.

A Look Inside the Abandoned Buckner Building

Is the Buckner Building Haunted?

While this enormous abandoned building in Whittier looks incredibly spooky against the typically overcast, grey dreary skies of this hidden port town, there are also rumors of the building being haunted. While this writer’s personal investigation didn’t result in the capture of any evidence of the paranormal, other people have reported encounters and experiences that they have been more than happy to share. The Buckner Building is closed to the public, so going into the building itself is a no-go unless you want to risk health complications (mercury, lead, and asbestos poisoning is possible), injury, death, or–most likely, a hefty fine from the local police. Locals of Whittier are pretty vigilant to keep people away from and out of the building, but it doesn’t mean people haven’t ventured in to get an up-close and personal experience inside of these reportedly haunted walls. There are believed to be multiple presences within the building, although there are no records to explain these hauntings.

Due to the dilapidation of the building, the first basement is only accessible through a hole in the wall now, where the second basement is now only accessible through a hole in the floor. These two rooms are said to house an entity of “pure evil,” and people are warned to stay away from the area completely, especially the stairwell that has red, detached wiring hanging from the ceiling. Far southwest stairwell, the second corridor on the second floor, the jail, and the third floor are all haunted by apparitions–in particular, an entity that is witnessed hanging from water pipes on the second floor, and a little girl who is seen wandering the third floor crying. Room three to the right of the mental ward of the hospital, within the corridor right before the jail is reported to be especially haunted, to the point that the entity within will only allow certain people to enter the room. If this entity does not accept the person trying to enter, the door will slam shut before they can enter and seems to be locked from the inside.

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

The Ghost Soldier of Battery Russel, Fort Stevens in Astoria, OR

In the Historic Fort Stevens State Park, you can probably expect to run into the ghost of a soldier who patrols the area at night with a flashlight. There have been so many stories recounting the encounters that witnesses have had with this fallen soldier, who, when approached ends up disappearing into thin air.

The History of Battery Russel in Fort Stevens

It doesn’t really matter if you have a love for history, architecture, relics of the past, or the supernatural—Battery Russel seems to have it all. While this battery is no longer an active site, it was once of enormous importance in the defense of the Oregon coast during the Second World War. Fort Stevens was originally built around the time of the Civil War—this was when Battery Russel and other ramparts were constructed. It wasn’t until nearly one hundred years later that these ramparts and other structures of Fort Stevens were revived in order to fortify the defense of the Columbia River from a possible invasion during World War II.

Located on-site at the far end of the battery is the Pacific Rim Peace Memorial, which commemorates the American and Japanese soldiers that were involved in the attack on Fort Stevens and called for everlasting peace between these two countries. Despite its importance in the defense of the Columbia River, it was never a favored station of the soldiers who ended up there; it got the unfortunate name of Squirrelsville, due to the fact that many soldiers didn’t want to stay there, possibly because of the quickly built soldiers quarters, and because of the rotations in and out every few days. It wasn’t until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II that Battery Russel was manned full-time.

The Attack on Fort Stevens During World War II

In 1942 on June 21st, at 11:30 pm, an enemy Japanese I-25 submarine attacked Fort Stevens, it had somehow gotten through the mouth of the Columbia River and resurfaced just ten miles offshore. It began its attack by firing haphazardly towards the fort. Fortunately for the soldiers who manned Battery Russel, only a few of the submarine’s missiles landed near to their station, they held their ground and their fire—while the missile fire didn’t injure anyone, it did scare the local population. This led the local communities to set up a citizens patrol, they strung barbed wire up and down Clatsop Beach and even through the Wreck of the Peter Iredale. Oddly enough, this unsuccessful attack was the only action that Fort Stevens saw during the Second World War. This also made it the only mainland military base in the United States to be fired upon since the War of 1812 in which Canadians burned down the White House.

The Function of Battery Russel

One of nine batteries at Fort Stevens, Battery Russel was active for forty years, from 1904 to 1944, where Fort Stevens itself was in active service for eighty-four years, from the beginning of the Civil War all the way through World War II. It was named after Brevet Major General David Russel who fought during the Civil War. While it once protected the mouth of the Columbia River, it was one of three forts that created the Triangle of Fire—the other two being Fort Columbia and Fort Canby in Washington. This three-sided defense made it nearly impossible for enemy boats to go undetected into the Columbia River.

Battery Russel, Fort Stevens in Astoria, Oregon
Photography by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

While there are many batteries at Fort Stevens, Battery Russel is one of the few that is open to the public to explore—literature is available on location that educates anyone, who is willing to look into a piece of our past, about the purposes of each of the rooms, as well as the history of the battery itself. There are two levels to this particular battery, the lower of which contains old ammunition rooms, offices, guardrooms, as well as storage facilities. The upper level is where the old gun pit is located, it housed two 10-inch disappearing guns; these guns would retract from view while soldiers reloaded, which provided ample cover from attacking enemies and each gun required a thirty-five man team in order to run.

Even though Battery Russel is an entirely unsupervised location it is well maintained, people are free to explore the historic battery; there is no electricity, so visits during the day are well-light by natural sunlight, but the lower level can become quite dark, so you’re better off carrying a flashlight if you insist on exploring for ghosts.

The Haunting of Battery Russel

The haunting that is described at Battery Russel isn’t exactly one to be feared—because the well-intentioned ghost soldier doesn’t mean any visitors harm, in fact, he was stationed at Battery Russel in defense of the nation and its people. The unidentified army soldier has been seen by many visitors to the Fort, where they report him showing up in several different places in the battery. If the tales are to be believed, this uniformed soldier walks the area—he’s seen wandering around the park, the campgrounds, and more often than not, the concrete battery. Those who have encountered him in the campground report the crunching gravel as he passes the area outside of your tent.

Another commonality between separate encounters is that the apparition of this soldier is that he simply disappears after being spotted. One recollection of an encounter told to the Oregon Coast Beach Connection, was that the witness was walking along the Seaside’s Promenade one night when he saw the army man in a uniform that was reminiscent of the forties. The two men nodded to each other, but when the witness turned to inspect the dated uniform, the army man had mysteriously vanished. To be sure that he hadn’t psyched himself out, the witness even went into the nearby hotel lobbies and asked the reception clerks if an army man had come into their lobby, but after having no luck in locating where the man had gone, the witness was convinced what he had seen was a specter.

Other legends that have popped up about this mysterious soldier are centered around the old guardhouse which is located in a now-residential neighborhood. Residents in the area have caught plenty of, what they believe to be, spirit orbs on camera, while others claim that they have seen him pacing the yard where the museum now stands. Whether this apparition is holding a flashlight and walking the grounds, or he’s holding a knife within the battery itself, no one has ever reported feeling any malicious intent from the spirit.

What is truly curious about this haunting is that no soldiers actually died at Battery Russel, Fort Stevens during World War II, but seeing as it was active during the Civil War, it is believed that he could have been a soldier that passed during that time.

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

The Gruesome History of the State Hospital in Salem, OR

Built in the 1800s, the Oregon State Hospital has a reportedly insidious past that went on for years. Once an insane asylum, it is said that terrible malpractice occurred within its walls and that it had a secret tunnel that connected the buildings which shrouded these terrible experiments that were rumored to have been conducted on its patients. Today, part of the hospital has been preserved as a museum, and even now visitors to the hospital claim to have experienced paranormal activity, where they feel as if they are being watched, while on the premises.

The History of the Oregon State Hospital

Located in Salem, Oregon many of the original parts of the State Hospital still remain in use, while other parts are closed off due to severe disrepair. A new wing was constructed in 2011 where most of the patient care takes place now—the grounds look fairly inviting from the outside, there is unfortunately very little indication of the kind of horrors that took place within. When the facility was originally built, it was intended to serve all patients, but it soon became overcrowded and due to this, it became a more specialized facility that served the criminally insane and the mentally handicapped. Visitors are free to tour the campus as well as the interior of the hospital, where they learn that an estimated two-thirds of the population was found to be both mentally insane and found guilty of a crime.

Oregon State Hospital in 1895
Oregon State Hospital in 1895

Although these days, the original hospital and asylum are no longer taking patients, the Oregon State Hospital is still in business—but now mostly as a museum, perhaps as a monument to the way we used to treat those who had mental turmoil or abnormal conditions. Taking a tour of the hospital provides those interested with a fairly accurate perspective at the people who were once housed there, as well as the insanity that they actually endured at the hands of doctors who did not have their patients’ best interests at heart. The hospital was built in 1883 and for only having existed for almost a century and a half, the building has a lot of stories to tell. Like any old-fashioned asylum, patients fell victim to things that would never be acceptable by today’s medical practice standards. Over the years that these terrible experiments, abuse, and torture felt at the hands of both staff and fellow patients, it’s estimated that hundreds if not thousands of patients died within the asylum—it’s not incredibly surprising that it has the reputation of housing so many tortured souls.

If you take a tour of the facilities, you’ll find the museum is certain to educate people on the terrifying experiences that patients lived through in their time within the hospital. Exhibits fill the halls that were once filled with patients and the location was made popular when it was used as the filming location for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Surprisingly it functions still as the state’s sole psychiatric hospital. Within the exhibits, visitors can see the entire overview of how procedures for treating mentally ill patients has changed over the years, from its opening in the late 1800s to the present day. Even though the rooms were all remodeled, there lingers an intensely creepy presence throughout the museum.

The Unfortunate Incident of 1942

Can of Cremated Patient Remains
David Maisel, Library of Dust 103-566

One of the more ghastly stories that haunt the walls of this old facility happened in 1942, when forty-seven people were killed and hundreds more were struck incredibly ill after they were served their daily breakfast.

The Real Story…

Nearly eighty years ago now, on November 18, 1942, a terrifying scene unfolded at the Oregon State Hospital; what began like any other day ended in tragedy and confusion. After being served an enticing breakfast of scrambled eggs, patients began to die left and right—they presented with illness by vomiting blood and writhing on the floor in agony. Some patients died in minutes, others succumbed to this mysterious terror hours later, the death toll ended at forty-seven lives having been lost. In the official report, 263 patients fell ill, but the newspapers that ran the story reported that over four hundred patients had contracted this unknown illness.

At first, there was a fear of sabotage—Governor Charles A. Sprague called it a mass murder, where today it would be called a terrorist attack during a time where the country was already in the midst of World War II. With the fear of sabotage on the West Coast, there was a suspicion that the food supply had been compromised, as it was considered a vulnerable target. The eggs that had been served at the state hospital came from the federal surplus commodities that were distributed by the U.S. government and were part of a shipment that had been divided between the state institutions, schools, as well as other programs in Oregon. Governor Sprague immediately ordered that all institutions stop using the eggs which had come packed frozen in 30 lb. tin cans—the federal government followed suit and issued a similar order.

An investigation was immediately launched and officials from the Army, American Medical Association, and Food and Drug Administration were quickly dispatched to the state hospital campus in Salem. Considering the patient occupancy of the hospital was estimated to have been around 2,700 at the time—which is more than five times the amount that it treats today—it was exactly the reaction that we would hope to see. First-hand accounts remain what can be found in newspaper archives and a report submitted to the Journal of the American Medical Association from two of the doctors who worked at the state hospital, and one who worked at the Oregon State Police crime lab in Portland.

One of the doctors to first respond was Dr. William L. Lidbeck, a pathologist who lived in one of the cottages on-site. What he found was a horror show—patients were experiencing abdominal cramping, and severe nausea, which turned into them vomiting blood, having seizures, struggling to breathe, and even some experiencing paralysis. Lidbeck had deduced that they had ingested a virulent poison and believed those who died the quickest had eaten the most of the poisoned eggs, whereas others would have had their death prolonged for hours. The night ended with a full morgue, chapel, and a hallway lined with bodies.

It is said that the death toll would have been worse if not for one heroic staff member, Nurse Allie Wassel, who took one bite of the eggs after the trays were brought to her ward. She immediately noticed the taste wasn’t right, so she refused to serve them to any of her patients. She became ill, but survived and was credited with saving many lives. Those who weren’t lucky enough to be in her ward put their spoons down after complaining that the eggs tasted too salty, or soapy and they began to immediately experience symptoms.

The investigation into the incident was of the utmost importance was conducted swiftly—autopsies were done on six patients, and samples of the poisoned eggs were taken from their stomach contents as well as the patients’ plates. These samples were fed to rats who succumbed within minutes and within twenty-two hours it the poison was identified as sodium fluoride, but it was also only found in the eggs cooked at the Oregon State Hospital. Commonly used as an insecticide for rats and cockroaches, it is a white substance that acts quickly, but could be easily mistaken for flour, baking powder, or powdered milk—even ingesting a small amount could be fatal. The thing they didn’t know, was whether it was intentionally fed to the patients, or if it had been a horrible accident.

According to the reports, the hospital’s assistant cook confessed and told the officials that he had sent a patient to the basement storeroom for powdered milk and the patient mistakenly brought back roach poison and it had been mixed in with the scrambled eggs. Patients in asylums were regularly used to help in the kitchen and around the hospital, as a part of a work-experience opportunity to help them with self-esteem, feeling productive, as well as earning a small wage. Procedures now have changed so vastly that an incident like the one that occurred at the Oregon State Hospital could no longer happen.

The patient who had retrieved the poison instead of the powdered milk? Twenty-seven-year-old George Nosen, who had admitted himself to the hospital as a paranoid schizophrenic. Nosen had been assigned to kitchen detail—washing dishes, cleaning floors, preparing for lines of other patients—and the kitchen was seriously understaffed. That mealtime had been incredibly busy, so Abraham McKillop the assistant cook had sent Nosen to fetch the powdered milk—a violation of the rules established at the hospital in 1908—and Nosen apparently wandered into the wrong storeroom, which tragically opened with the same key he had been given for the food storeroom. The storeroom with the poisons and the storeroom with the food were only eleven feet apart—and it was ruled to have been a tragic accident. While terrible, it did bring about some necessary changes to the way the hospital conducted its safety practices, as well as the labeling, is done by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Tortured Souls That Haunt the Ground

What remains within the walls of the Oregon State Hospital, including the intimidating and creepy underground tunnels, has created an environment where those who have investigated have felt an overwhelming sense of evil. The brave souls who willingly explore the tunnels and other areas of this haunted asylum are undeterred by the stories about patients allegedly being transported in the tunnels below the facility, or the evidence that suggests they were used for immoral, unethical, and barbaric medical experiments; this all took place so deep underground that their screams could not be heard. Phantom footsteps, doors opening and closing on their own, screams, and cries from former patients can all be experienced at the Oregon State Hospital.

A lot of the unrest that can be found here can also probably be attributed to the controversy of the hospital staff having lost over 1,500 cans of patients’ cremated remains.

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

The Haunted Remnants of the Harry Flavel House in Astoria, OR

About the House

Also built by the Flavel family, the Harry Flavel House, even though it was first considered the Captain George Flavel House, is called such because of the history that followed after Harry Sherman Flavel. This house was originally owned by Captain George Conrad Flavel, then inherited by the captain’s son Harry M. Flavel where he lived with his wife Florence, and his two children Harry Sherman and Mary Louise. The status of the Flavel family, as well as respected members of the community, ended when Harry Sherman earned his Hatchet Harry nickname.

The Timeline of the Flavels, Their Houses & Fate

1893

Captain Flavel lived in the house for seven years with his wife Mary Christina Boelling and their two adult daughters, Nelli and Katie. Their son, George Conrad Flavel never resided within the George Conrad Flavel House, as he was already married and living in a house of his own. During his seventh year in the residence of the Flavel House, Captain Flavel passed away, leaving the to the family.

1901

Captain George Conrad Flavel’s son, George Conrad Flavel would build his house—the house that is now often referred to as the Harry Flavel House. George Conrad Flavel Junior had worked as a bar pilot for his father, becoming a Captain as well.

1923

Harry Melville and his first wife had three children, the middle of which—Patricia Jean Flavel—would donate the Captain George Conrad Flavel House to the Clatsop County Historical later in 1951. The two had their own home, but after Harry Melville’s father George Junior had passed away, he inherited the house. He ended up moving back into the home to stay with his mother.

1925

Harry Melville and his second wife Florence Sherman would have their first child Mary Louise.

1927

Harry Melville and Florence had their second child, Harry Sherman Flavel.

1944

Harry Melville’s mother lived in the house until she passed away.

1947

When Harry Sherman was twenty-two years old, the Flavels’ neighbor Fred Fulton heard screams of help emanating from the Flavel House—he feared that something was wrong and he burst into the home and rushed upstairs, where he found Harry’s mother, Florence screaming to be let out of the room she had been locked in. Harry Sherman proceeded to attack his neighbor with a hatchet, hitting the banister and cutting his neighbor’s arm. It was at this point that Harry earned the nickname “Hatchet Harry.”

Harry was subsequently charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but his mother Florence insisted she had been in no danger when the trial rolled around. Both Harry’s mother and sister Mary testified that their neighbor, Fred Fulton, had been drunk and broke into their home. They claimed that Harry had acted in self-defense because he had been frightened of the neighbor. The charges against Harry were eventually dropped.

1983

Thirty-six years after the incident that dubbed Harry Sherman, Hatchet Harry, he and his sister Mary Louise were still living at home with their mother Florence. Neither Harry nor Mary had gotten married and thus had no children to speak of.

Between the hatchet incident and 1983, Harry had a history of taking in stray dogs, so there were always a lot of dogs on the property—he was once accused of stealing a dog from his neighbors because Harry believed they weren’t walking it enough, but his neighbors were too scared of him to go to the Flavel house and take their dog back.

Harry was walking two dogs when a car belonging to a twenty-two-year-old Alec Josephson sped past him—Harry retaliated to the speeding by hitting the car with the dog’s chain as it went by. Driven to anger, Josephson chased Harry down an alley on foot where Harry stabbed him. Harry was charged with assault once again and was nearly sentenced to twenty years in jail, but was given probation instead.

1990

After he exhausted all of his appeals and lost, his sister Mary Louis and their mother Florence packed up and abandoned the house. Neighbors claim that the Flavel’s came back to the house several times over the years, but always called them first to be sure there weren’t any police around.

In October, Harry Sherman, Mary Louise, and their mother Florence were found in Pennsylvania where Harry was arrested for stealing hotel towels—he would have been extradited, but he and the family fled from law enforcement again.

1991

The Flavel family turned up once again in Massachusetts where Harry was arrested by the FBI and was taken back to Clatsop County where he was jailed until the hearing could take place. He ended up spending a year in jail before he was finally released and disappeared back to Massachusetts. Shortly after he was released from Clatsop County Jail, his mother Florence passed away and both of her children refused to claim her body from the morgue.

2010

Harry Sherman Flavel died at eight-two years of age on May 31 and while his sister Mary still owned the house, it remained empty—in October a black mourning bunting mysteriously appeared draped from the balcony. “Hatchet” Harry Sherman’s body remained in the morgue for nine months because Mary Louise refused to pay for a burial.

2011

The city of Astoria finally initiated proceedings to create a derelict building ordinance, in order to deal with the eye-sores of the Flavel properties. This ordinance allowed the city to impose a fine for each day that properties were in violation. After being unable to reach Mary Louise, the last remaining owner, the city began the process to have the properties forfeited, so that they would be able to take control of the properties.

2015

Eventually, a deal was made after the fines went unpaid, which allowed Mary Louise to sell the properties herself.

2017

The last of the Flavel’s dilapidated properties were finally sold, which left the family without any stake in Astoria.

Ghosts of the Harry Flavel House

The current owner, Newenhof dismisses the idea that the house is haunted, but the age of the interior and all of its facilities definitely gives the house a feeling of being stuck in the past. Aside from the vibe, there have been reports of it being haunted, but no real detailed reports of first-hand experiences.

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Urban Legends: Scary Mary at the Golden North Hotel in Skagway, Alaska

As the forty-ninth state of the United States, Alaska is often described by locals as being thirty years behind the contiguous United States—with the days of pioneers and people flocking to take advantage of the gold rush set so recently in the past, it’s not too far-fetched to see how life might be a little slower in the Last Frontier. This also means that the ghost stories that haunt the oldest buildings in the state of Alaska are a little bit more recent and sometimes seem a little bit more vivid.

The Klondike Gold Rush

The Klondike Gold Rush began in the Yukon in 1896, when gold was first discovered, this drew roughly one hundred thousand prospectors into the territory—all of whom decided they would strike it rich. Skagway served as the most direct route to the gold-fields, so most of the traffic flowed through this deep-water port. This, of course, caused the population of Skagway to explode nearly overnight, with a population going from approximately seven hundred residents in 1897 to over ten thousand in 1898, it made it the largest city in Alaska at the time. That rush only lasted about two years and the population dwindled back under two thousand. The times in which the Klondike Gold Rush was underway, created an atmosphere that was rife with chaotic ambition, corruption, lawlessness, disease, shattered dreams, and many untimely deaths. Built at the height of the gold rush in 1898, the Golden North Hotel provided accommodations and refreshments to nearly one thousand prospectors who passed through the city on a weekly basis. It was a breeding ground for ghost stories.

The Origin of Scary Mary

One of the most legendary ghosts in Alaska goes by the name of Scary Mary and her story begins with a Gold Rush expedition. Mary came to Skagway, Alaska as a blushing young woman, already engaged to a prospector that went by the name of Klondike Ike—she checked into the Golden North Hotel where she and Ike became engaged and were set to start their future together. The two lovers spent several days at the hotel before Ike had to return to his prospecting ventures over Chilkoot Pass. Mary’s fiancé, Klondike Ike, set off over five hundred miles to the gold-fields with tremendously high hopes that he would win them their fortune—unfortunately for both Ike and Mary, Ike never returned. Ever the loyal partner, Mary waited for Ike to return home to her—she locked herself in the room the couple had rented, lost in the abyss of worry for her lover, and waited. When the housekeepers of the Golden North Hotel finally broke down the door with concern, they discovered Mary in the wedding dress she had planned to be married in, dead and waiting for Ike to return to her, so that they may marry. In many of the stories, it is said that Mary ended up coming down with a fatal case of pneumonia while waiting for Ike in room 23—other stories imply that after months of waiting for his return, she simply locked herself in her room disallowed any company and refused to eat.

Golden North Hotel in Skagway, AK
Photography by Kira Picabo

First-Hand Experiences

Legends tell us that Mary still hasn’t checked out of her room at the Golden North Hotel and since her death arrived all-too-soon, that she has been checking up on guests in the middle of the night. Her apparition appears as a pale figure and is seen looking through the hotel windows, waiting for her lover’s return from the mountains. There have been reports of cold air pockets when walking through the hallways and a subsequent glimpses of white rushing past them—even more strange are the reports of the unfortunate guest who wakes up to Mary’s ghost hovering above their beds as if checking to be sure that Ike isn’t in bed with another woman.