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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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Horror Mystery and Lore

The Real Annabelle and Other Truly Haunted Dolls

Close up view of a creepy dirty porcelain doll
Photography by Patrick Hendry

Any object can be haunted, but perhaps due to the fact that dolls are physically modeled to bear a resemblance to human beings, they have more of a proclivity to be vessels of spirit possession. According to Ghosts in Popular Culture and Legend, “haunted dolls are either possessed by malign, nonhuman entities or earthbound spirits—who are usually female—either children who died as a result of a horrific accident or women who are the victims of domestic violence. In both instances, prospective buyers are cautioned to treat the dolls with respect and to rehome them with another buyer if the object becomes too much to handle; destruction would free the spirit and either cause it distress or make it more dangerous.”

The Real Annabelle doll locked up in the Warren Occult Museum
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

An exception to the gender stereotype that plagues the haunted doll theory, is Robert the Enchanted Doll. This particular doll has been located in Key West, Florida since 1904 and is still on display in the Fort East Martello Museum. The original owner of Robert was a four-year-old boy named Robert Eugene Otto—Gene to his family—the doll was given to him by the family’s maid and activity started immediately after Gene came into possession of the doll. While the doll’s name is Robert, little is known about the spirit that haunts the doll, all is known are the stories that are told about its activity. During Gene’s childhood, Robert was frequently blamed for items being scattered across the home, as well as upturned furniture. As an adult, Gene maintained ownership of the doll, but knowing what it was capable of, he locked it in the turret of his home, where neighborhood children said they saw it staring at them from the windows, often changing places on its own.

It’s unclear as to why people still insist upon wanting to own spirit-possessed dolls, but what is clear is that it’s sure to be a trend that continues on for quite a while. One possible reason why these things continue to be items that are sought after is that there are a lot of would-be paranormal investigators who have little to no experience dealing with spirits in the first place. They get the idea that they can collect evidence and make it big if they come into ownership of a doll, simultaneously proving the existence of ghosts and the dolls they haunt, as well as making a name for themselves. Whatever their motivation, it feels like they lack the guidance to understand what they are getting themselves into and therefore are making decisions without knowing the full risks of their endeavors.

Annabelle the Doll: The Origins Documentary

The True Horror Story Behind Annabelle

Annabelle (2014) Trailer

Haunted dolls are considered a commodity in today’s culture, due to popular horror culture making them popular with horror films like The Conjuring (2013), Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), and the most recent horror movie Annabelle Comes Home (2019). People enjoy the fictional horror stories so intensely that they feel a connection to haunted objects without realizing the perils that can be attached to them. The story behind The Conjuring and Annabelle franchise though is actually more real than many people realize—sure the movies are amped up to create the thrills and adrenaline rush that people so desire, but these movies were based on true accounts of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Annabelle: Creation (2017) Trailer

The Warren’s Museum of the Occult contains more haunted and cursed objects than any other museum presently known, which serves as evidence of the paranormal and supernatural forces that are at work within this world. Although I have never been to the museum myself, it is said that the collection is dominated by dolls that are haunted or inhabited by evil spirits—the most well-known of which is actually the real Annabelle doll. There is a rather long and convoluted history about the doll and its origin, which is further convoluted by the fictional embellishments added to the movies.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) Trailer

What has been alleged is that the doll’s original owner consulted a medium who said the doll was actually inhabited by an evil spirit and not a ghost at all—which is when the Warrens took possession of it, had it exorcised, then locked it in a blessed cabinet to ward off any potential activity from starting at their own house. The whole story is spoken of in-depth in the book The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The real Annabelle is quite a bit different from her presence in the films, where she is portrayed as a fragile, yet incredibly creepy porcelain doll with exaggerated features. In reality, she is what seems to be a run of the mill Raggedy Ann doll, the same type that many of us girls owned as children, something that would seem soft, safe, and cuddly.

Dolls like Robert and Annabelle remain objects of scary stories and fascination for a lot of people across the world and while the idea of them definitely belongs to the public, the dolls belong in a place where they can be properly warded and kept away from unsuspecting bystanders.

Van Gilder Hotel, Seward, AK

Date of Establishment & Haunting

This hotel was built in 1916; the alleged haunting, however, took place after the death of Fannie Guthry-Baehm between 1947 and 1950.

Name & Location

Location

The Van Gilder Hotel in downtown Seward, Alaska

Apparitions

Fannie Guthry-Baehm is said to be one of the resident ghosts that call the Van Gilder Hotel; she is one of many except she’s the only one that people have identified.

Physical Description

Location

A three-story reinforced concrete building with a full basement, on the exterior it is a white and maroon, unassumingly elegant building that is ripe with old Alaskan history.


“The first two floors contain twelve office suites with hot and cold running water and lavatories in every suite. The hall partitions and doors are of non-transparent glass. The third floor is being fitted up for lodge purposes and will be second to none in Alaska.

All exterior doors and windows are to contain wired plate glass. The windows are the celebrated Whitney windows and the building will be heated by an “Ideal” down draft boiler 3750 feet capacity, with a Honeywell automatic temperature regulator. The radiators are of the “Peerless” screw nipper type.

On the whole the building is one of the finest in Alaska. It is one of three fine concrete buildings which have just been completed but it is the largest of the three. Mr. Van Gilder deserves a tremendous lot of credit for giving a building like this to Seward. He came in a stranger and seeing that Seward must grow he set to work unostentatiously to erect The Office Block. It is an enforced concrete building eighty-four by thirty-four feet in dimension. On the first and second floors it has twenty-seven rooms. The basement is large enough to house the whole plant of the Gateway and on the third story, in addition to all the rest, are splendid lodge rooms.

At present there are 31 rooms available for rental. Six more rooms make up the manager’s apartment and lobby. The basement contains seven rooms and two bathrooms.”

News Account: Description of the building when it was opened in 1916


Apparitions

Van Gilder Hotel
Van Gilder Hotel

There is a lone unidentifiable man is said to appear only as wisps and orbs, but there have also been sightings of two men wearing bowler hats standing behind the front desk, as well as three children running from room to room giggling when there were no guests in the hotel.

Fannie Guthry-Baehm

Fannie is described as a young woman who has long blonde hair and wears a blue dress.

Origin

Location

A well-known historic building in Seward, Alaska–the Van Gilder Hotel was initially built as an office building, then underwent the conversion to apartments, and finally a hotel. Between being built 1916 and 1921, the building originally played host to the Masonic and Odd Fellows Lodge on the third floor, but after the two lodges constructed their own buildings, the third floor got turned into a ballroom. Once the building made the transition to a hotel, the third floor became the space for hotel guests.

In the last hundred years, the building hasn’t changed much from the time it was built to now, save for some upgrades to keep the building up to code through the years. Changes to the interior were cosmetic, but they only aid in keeping one of the oldest hotels in Alaska feeling authentic to its origins.

Apparitions

There are apparently several reported apparitions that call the Van Gilder Hotel home, but only one is known by name. The rest have been seen, but are unidentifiable.

Fannie Guthry-Baehm

According to local lore, in 1947 a woman named Fannie Guthry-Baehm was said to be shot in the head by her husband; the stories told around town were that her husband was a violent drunk and shot her in a whiskey-fueled rage. Although even some of the locals are not exactly sure about when she was killed–but they know it was between 1947 and 1950, but according to sources, it is more often believed to have been 1947. The details of the room in which she died are also unclear, some sources say room 201, while others say it was room 202 or 209, however, former staff of the hotel insist it was actually room 202.

An eyewitness account suggested in 2001 that at exactly 1:21 am they were awakened to the whole building shaking and windows squeaking right before they heard someone running up the stairs, followed directly by someone running down the stairs. When the customer asked the staff if there had been an earthquake, but was told that there hadn’t been–that what the customer had actually experienced was the ghost of Fannie Guthry-Baehm reliving her murder.

Mythology and Lore

Apparitions

The spirits of the Van Gilder Hotel don’t appear as often in sources that allude to their existence as Fannie, but accounts from the housekeeping staff make it clear that there are a plethora of ghosts who spend their afterlife within the walls of this historic hotel.

Fannie Guthry-Baehm

The book was written by Jonathan Faulkner The Ghost of Fannie Guthry-Baehm (2010) and set the murder as a mystery piece and at face value poses as a tale woven with historical facts. There is one passage in the book that gives what is alleged to be an eyewitness account.

At about 12:30, just after midnight early on the morning of the 13th of July, the room was beginning to get dark, as it was summer in Alaska. As I rolled over, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what I perceived as a woman in a dressing gown with long light-colored hair. I could not tell if it was blond or gray, but my sense was the woman was not old and gray. She appeared tired as she moved from the corner of the bed ‘through’ the dresser and to the door. She paused and went ‘through’ the door and out of the room.

The Ghost of Fannie Guthry-Baehm (2010)

According to housekeeping staff, Fannie has a tendency to sit on freshly made beds and leave a butt print, she’s also known to move cleaning supplies, tools, as well as opening and closing doors and windows. Many people have reported seeing her while they were sitting in chairs in the hallways, as well as people who have woken up to find Fannie sitting at the foot of their bed.

Modern Pop-Culture References

There is some controversy about the validity of the only known publication made about Fannie Guthry-Baehm’s murder–although we’re waiting to hear back from the family, we’re under the impression that the book falsely represented many of the details about the life and death of Fannie.

Books & Literature



Is there anything we missed about the Van Gilder Hotel, Seward, AK? Let us know in the comments section below!