The date was 1930, scarce days before Halloween, and curiosity whirled about the house at 29 East Lacrosse Ave.
Three weeks prior, the home’s occupants – Mrs. Idaho Johnston, her daughter Virginia, sister Jodie and several others – had fled the premise, forced out, they said, by a gray, winged apparition that tormented their nights and turned off their radio. Though all claimed “they never had believed in spooks,” the culmination of alleged visitations and odd signs compelled the women to break their contract and escape to a new location more than a mile away.
Johnston’s strange account, recently unearthed from the archives of The Spokesman-Review, was originally published by this newspaper on Oct. 26, 1930. By the next day, curiosity in Spokane had risen to such a pitch that a throng surrounded the property and police had to stand constant watch to prevent unlawful entry.
Harassed to the point of distress by the scrutiny, Johnston even pleaded with the paper to deny her story, though when asked by a reporter she and her family continued to stand by the facts of their tale. To wit:
That one night while alone, Johnston heard a noise at the window and, on looking out, saw a huge “gray thing” beating its wings against the pane;
A night or two later, Johnston, her daughter and sister entered the kitchen to find the gray specter moving “unimpeded” through the walls;
That a female friend, who did not give her name, was drowsing on the davenport one afternoon when she felt a choking sensation, and on waking, saw what appeared to be a huge, gray bat looming over her. She screamed and threw a book at the thing, she said, but the book passed through as if the creature were made of smoke.
Lights and water turned off on their own. A pictured fell from its hanging and slid slowly down the wall. Whenever jazz was played in the house, the radio would turn off or its signal would be distorted, Johnston said.
The visitations continued until, at her wits’ end, Johnston contacted a spirit medium to intervene. The seance offered cold comfort – after peering into the netherworld, the medium told Johnston that her house was indeed haunted, and that the ghost belonged to a body buried in the basement. Johnston and her cohort moved out several days later.
By October 27, a Sunday, a sizable crowd had gathered at 29 E. Lacrosse and police were standing guard “to prevent throngs from tearing it apart.” The newspaper reported seeing “50 or 60 automobiles each way” lined up outside of the house. Johnston, who considered herself still responsible for the property, asked a friend, Dr. A. T. Dodson, to drive the onlookers out, and “to use a gun if necessary.”
The guards and no trespassing notices proved inadequate wards, however. The mob overran the place Sunday night, ransacking it for souvenirs and breaking a window. “It’s a funny thing,” Johnston told the newspaper, “that a person can’t even have a ghost in private.”
On Oct. 30, the house’s original owner, one Sam Latterell, wrote to the newspaper to say he had retaken possession. On the subject of its alleged ghostly inhabitant, he said that hauntings were old hat to him.
“I have been on this earth for a matter of many years. I have rolled in my blanket and slept in Indian burying places where there were many of the dead still upon the poles, platforms and the ground strewn with bones,” he wrote.
“My way of testing out spooks is to shoot a 30-30 soft-nose Winchester bullet through it,” he continued. “… I will be at E29 Lacrosse some nights hereafter. There won’t be any lights on and I will have the aforesaid 30-30 Winchester near me and if the aforesaid seven-foot bat can stand the presence of a couple 30-30 soft-nose bullets and still wants to come and sit on the bed and talk, I’ll be willing to confab with it.”
“I will also use the same 30-30 on any other form of spook or humanity that will make an attempt to molest me,” he concluded. “So any one trespassing on those premises from this (time) on without my agent’s consent does so at his own risk.”
Now 110 years old, the house still stands in its place on Lacrosse street, albeit with a new coat of paint. Its current resident, Matt Midkiff, has so far been unmolested by spirits and was surprised to learn about the building’s haunted history.
“We’ve never seen anything like (a ghost),” he said, standing outside the house in the sun on a perfectly average autumn morning.
And bullet holes in the walls, say, the size of a 30-30 soft-nose projectile? “None of those either,” he said.
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