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Clark: A frighteningly good time at the center of universe

Tue., Oct. 19, 2010

We’ve reached that time of year when we all start getting our fright on. And it seems like this Halloween season is offering more scares than ever to choose from.

I’m talking terrors like Scarywood at Silverwood, the Amaizing Corn Maze, the Rossi/Murray debates …

You know, blood-curdling stuff.

But if you’re looking for a gentler haunt and a scenic drive, here’s a suggestion.

Head to Wallace, where you can spend the night with a 100-year-old ghost named Maggie.

My lovely wife, Sherry, and I did just that this past weekend.

We were looking for an out-of- the-norm adventure. So on a lark, we decided Saturday morning to take a getaway to this beautiful North Idaho mining town where we booked a room in the landmark Jameson Inn.

The rates are very affordable. Plus the Jameson’s new owners, Barry and Debi Baker, will toss in any ghostings free of charge.

As luck would have it, we were the only guests staying in this historic hotel with its high ceilings, carved beams and one of the most majestic mirror-backed bars in the Silver Valley.

Being the lone overnighters meant we were able to pick Maggie’s Room on the third floor. Apparently this small, five-sided room is the very digs Maggie has been known to favor.

A word about Maggie.

This is not the malignant presence popularized in horror films like “Poltergeist” or “Frost/Nixon.”

Maggie is so benign she’s actually advertised in the Jameson’s official brochure, which depicts the ghost as an elegant lady in a flowing dress and straw hat.

“Throughout the Jameson’s history,” the brochure states, “hotel guests have reported seeing visions of Maggie’s reflection in mirrors, sometimes accompanied by the barely heard whispers of voices.”

That’s the kind of ghost I can appreciate – polite and well-groomed.

You probably catch my cynicism. I’ve long been on record as a doubting Douglas when it comes to all things occult.

But I’ve faced many creepy things over the years.

I’ve spent the night in several alleged haunted houses, sat in on séances, had my aura deciphered by so-called psychics and worked for the Hagadone Corporation.

Yes, I’ve been exposed to all levels of the weird and the supernatural.

Bottom line?

I’ve never seen any paranormal phenomenon that couldn’t be explained by swamp gas, wishful thinking or that strongest drug of all, delusion.

But, hey, I still love a good ghost story as much as anyone.

And if you’re going to create a spooky legend, the Jameson is the perfect venue, with its long hallways, occasionally creaky floors, and steep stairways. Add to this the decades of human drama that have been acted out within these stout walls.

This cool old hotel opened in 1892 and it’s worth visiting.

But I don’t know what’s scarier.

Having a ghost running around in your hotel?

Or trying to run a hotel in today’s Grim Reaper of an economy.

The Bakers, who took over the Jameson just last month, are intent on making it work. They have set about upgrading the service and the menu. (Hint 1: the biscuits and gravy are to die for.)

The Bakers served us complimentary wine and hot appetizers before dinner, and desserts and hot chocolate before bedtime.

The couple moved to the Silver Valley from Norfolk, Va. As chefs at the Azalea Room Café, they received recognition serving the likes of Willie Nelson, Prince, Ringo, Kid Rock, Tony Bennett and Tom Petty as they passed through.

They ran a Pinehurst drive-in before tackling the Jameson, but they seem up to a tough challenge.

For example: Debi told me she once asked shock rocker Marilyn Manson what he wanted. “He asked for a shaved gerbil,” said Debi.

OK, then.

It had been years since I had set foot in Wallace.

But I have always had a fond spot in my heart for a place brash enough to boast “The Center of the Universe” right in the middle of town.

Today’s Wallace looks better than ever. With the mining industry a specter of its glory days, the town has recast itself into a tourist destination filled with antique shops and wonderful grub.

(Hint 2: The Smoke House Barbecue & Saloon at Fourth and Bank serves some positively rockin’ ribs.)

Visitors will definitely want to drop in at the Red Light Garage and say hello to my longtime friend, Jamie Baker, and his wife, Barbara. (No relation to the Jameson Bakers.)

Jamie, a sax player, and I, a trumpeter, went to Ferris High School together where we spent untold hours playing in the band program.

The Red Light is located on Fifth Street, but you won’t miss it. No other Wallace enterprise has a flying saucer in the parking lot.

The food is highly regarded, as is the beer. An eclectic mélange of antiques and musical instruments hang from the ceiling of this remodeled filling station.

Ask and Jamie will whip up the best huckleberry milkshake you’ve ever tasted.

“This whole town is trying real hard,” Jamie told me.

I believe it.

Jamie’s still the same fun-loving character. To honor our visit he stuck up the following message on his reader board:

“Be nice, Doug and Sherry Clark are in town.”

As for our night in the Jameson, well, the jury’s still out on Maggie the Ghost.

But in the spirit of tell-all journalism, I must report what happened when I made a 2 a.m. journey to the communal bathroom at the end of the third floor hall.

(Hey, I’m 59 years old. I get up at night.)

While I was inside the commode, one of the two hanging lights flicked off.

A second or two passed and …

It flicked back on.

Then it repeated the same off/on sequence and stayed on.

I started chuckling. See, many of the tales I had already heard about Maggie involved flickering lights or lights mysteriously switching off and on.

So was it Maggie?

Or is she just a convenient excuse for an ancient hotel’s sketchy wiring?

Which, in that case, would make Maggie just a “scapeghost.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at

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