Cara Cooley can remember it like it was yesterday. But she’d rather not.
A freshman in high school, she was returning home with her friend one night near the turn of the century when she noticed the bathroom light shining from under the door on the main-story bathroom of her family’s South Hill home.
Her friend, John, said he was positive Cara’s sister Clare had just walked in.
“Then I see the light go off and say, ‘Clare what are you doing in there?’ ”
Now 32 and living in Detroit, Cooley reminisced about that night: “I open the door and there’s nobody in there.”
With four other siblings, Cara was used to her brothers and sisters playing pranks. So she marched upstairs and asked her parents where her sister was hiding. They told her she was staying at a friend’s house that night.
“John said he swears he saw a girl,” Cara recalled on Sunday. “He saw her walk into the bathroom and turn the light on. It was a girl in a white gown. He never came back to our house after that.”
Stories like this are unexceptional at the large, six-bedroom, three-story house at 1217 S. Oak St. overlooking Polly Judd Park. While some homeowners are more skeptical than others, the last three families to occupy the house since 1999 have reported some semblance of the supernatural, whether it’s ghostly figures, doors slamming shut as if someone is leaving in a hurry or bulging as if someone is desperate to get in. The house has been blamed for causing general feelings of unease, stress and unhappiness.
“I can’t even believe that it was OK with me that we lived there,” Cara said.
‘House of Broken Marriages’
Tales of frightful encounters have plagued the home, which was built in 1905, throughout its long life.
Now, the neighbors there call it the “House of Broken Marriages.” Or, at least one neighbor does. And like any good haunted house story, this one is swirling with mysteries and secrets based on hearsay and rumors.
There’s the one about how it was built on top of an old cemetery. Another about its history as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era due to its proximity to a now-defunct railroad track below, making it a perfect candidate for running booze into the city.
Or how it was the scene of a violent death.
While all may be nothing more than tall tales, the house also has its truths. Some happy, some sad.
In the 1950s and ’60s, it was home to Polly Judd, Spokane’s famous gardening expert who pioneered the city’s Lilac Festival and had a hand in creating Manito Park’s beloved Japanese garden.
Stories recall that while visiting Japan after World War II, Judd became so enamored with Nagao Sakurai, the emperor’s gardener, that she flew him to Spokane to install a similar garden in Manito Park.
But while in the Lilac City, he suffered a heart attack, so Judd had him hole up in her home while he recovered. As repayment, he built her a personal Japanese garden on her property. The remnants of those ponds and fountains still litter the landscape, their cool blue water now dirty and brown.
In the 1970s, Judd’s daughter, Bobbee Judd Eddy, lived in the home. She moved out within a decade, and the living space was converted into a rental.
And that’s when, according to a neighbor, things began to unravel.
Hill with haunted house
The first couple to move into the rental were also its first victims, according to the neighbor who’s lived there since 1977 and prefers to remain anonymous.
The new tenant was rumored to get drunk and high and then beat his girlfriend. He would eventually die inside its walls – the victim of a drug overdose.
Other couples moved into the house but would soon leave. It was a revolving door of new tenants, the neighbor said. One man is rumored to have hanged himself on the second floor.
Years later, in the 1980s, the neighbor said another young couple took a swing at buying the home and fixing it up after years of disrepair. They sunk more than a half-million into it. Their plans didn’t work out. The money was lost and so was their marriage.
In October 1999, Gavin Cooley, the chief financial officer for the City of Spokane, bought the home. His daughter Cara still wonders what her parents were thinking.
“I remember everything,” she said. “I didn’t ever feel comfortable in that house.”
Cara remembers doors that would open on their own and sounds coming from seemingly nowhere. An old trapdoor in their basement leading underground would suddenly slam shut.
She remembers family and friends telling them it was haunted and they were never coming back. She remembers how her uncle was standing one night, a rifle pointed squarely at a door in the basement that was bulging inward. How nothing was on the other side.
Her father remembers too. Even though he grew up in old houses his whole life and was accustomed to the creaking and settling, this was different.
“I remember the first times I would hear this crash, it sounded more like a kid opening a top drawer and shutting it and the whole thing tipping over,” he said Monday. “You’d sprint upstairs and go, ‘What was that?’ And then it would be nothing. And by the fifth time, you’d realize this house doesn’t just have these loud sounds.”
The house also put a strain on his marriage. One night, while having company over, he moved his car to the far end of their driveway, near an old concrete wall. It rained and apparently compromised the wall’s foundation as it fell onto the car.
“Literally crushed it,” Cooley said. “It had to be towed out. I thought, what are the odds of a 100-year-old wall in that structure coming down where I parked the car? Just stuff like that. It was just kind of amazing.”
Before moving out in 2005, Cooley was divorced.
The next owners who purchased the home in 2007 had a similar story. They couldn’t be reached in time for publication, but Cooley said not long after moving out, he received a message from the husband, who sounded relieved to be out of the house.
“He was kind of rambling, but then he paused and said, ‘You know, my life has gotten so much better since I got out of that house, Gavin,’ ” Cooley said. “There was something bad about that house. My marriage was bad. Everything got dark since I moved to that house.”
The couple apparently moved out sometime around 2010 and put the house on the market. It sat on the market for a couple years.
In 2012, a family from Missoula, Montana, moved in.
Breaking the spell?
On Sunday, with the house draped in a morning fog, Greg Gordon gave a tour.
“Is it haunted?” he said while having a bite to eat at his dining room table. “I don’t think so.”
He shares the home with his wife, two sons, two daughters, two dogs and two cats. The family jokes that if there was a poltergeist, it would be long gone by now.
But not everyone is convinced. Greg’s son Charlie, now 15, said creepy goings-on were common when they first moved in. Especially in the basement, where he used to sleep.
“Sometimes the doors will just fly open all of a sudden even if they’re closed,” he said, pausing from a video game while sitting in the ballet room-turned-family room in the basement. “And one time, I was sleeping in that room and the door that’s closest to the bed right there, my head was on the door and the doorknob turned, so I just went upstairs and slept on the couch.”
It’s not that Gordon is skeptical. The Gonzaga associate professor of environmental studies contends he’s seen ghosts in the past, even if his stories are usually met with heavy eye movement from his 17-year-old daughter Caroline.
“One hundred percent not true,” she said Sunday, listening to her father’s tale of a ghostly encounter at his friend’s homestead in Utah. “And my brother Charlie, the one who won’t sleep downstairs, he does sleep downstairs occasionally, he just won’t sleep down there alone.”
The family has lasted five full years in the house. Even the neighbor who refuses to set foot in it admits things are turning around with its newest inhabitants.
Now, if only the Gordons could figure how to get trick-or-treaters to come farther down the street.
Alas, the “DEAD END” sign probably doesn’t help.
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