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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Haunted tales of Spokane’s past fill newspaper morgue

In the morgue of The Spokesman-Review, a windowless, dark and rarely visited room in the basement of the Review Tower, eyes of Spokanites long dead stare out from yellowing paper, and voices speak from the past. Tales of death, murder and missing people fill cabinet after cabinet, and envelopes are stuffed with the stories of ghosts, witches, sea serpents and monsters.

The morgue – a term common among newspapers describing their paper archives – is packed with thousands of these envelopes, and each envelope is stuffed with dozens of articles clipped from daily editions of Spokane’s 135-year-old newspaper.

For this Halloween, some of these ghastly and peculiar stories were pulled from their dusty confines. Though they all may not have really happened, they all happened here.

Matron falls to death

through hotel skylight

The Davenport Hotel's elegant lobby has a ghost story to tell. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The Davenport Hotel’s elegant lobby has a ghost story to tell. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It was nearing 7 p.m. at the Davenport Hotel on Aug. 17, 1920, and the lobby was filled with diners. The murmur of conversation and tinkling of silverware filled the stately main room of the hotel, open just six years at the time.

Not among them was Ellen McNamara, 68, a rich widow from New York City who was traveling around the West with her sister and two cousins. Their next stop was Glacier National Park, but McNamara wasn’t feeling well. She told her companions to go on without her, and they did.

As they sat in the Isabella Room, McNamara opened the wrong door and stepped out onto the hotel’s third-floor glass skylight. The glass under her feet did not hold, and she fell into the lobby near the Sprague Avenue entrance.

The crash of glass cut through the noise of dinner, and about 100 people saw her fall. Witnesses say her “shoulder struck the floor first and that her head crashed against the stone.” Some men carried her to a couch and, still conscious, she said her final words: “Where did I go?”

She became “insensible,” was taken to her room and died within the hour. Guests have reported seeing a woman dressed in 1920s attire leaning over the railing above the lobby, looking for someone but never saying a word.

Strange events near Fairfield

1977 photo of Fairfield, Wash. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)
1977 photo of Fairfield, Wash. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)

In 1927, a man in the Palouse town of Fairfield died in “a mysterious manner.”

Some said R.J. Mourning died when he fell out of a barn loft. Others said he fell from a car being driven by a man named Harry Ness. Still more blamed drinking.

“Death followed a drunken debauch,” a Spokane Daily Chronicle article read.

One way or the other, Mourning’s family began relaying stories of seeing a ghost, prompting a prosecutor to reopen his murder investigation.

“The prosecutor reports that a ghost has been bobbing around in the vicinity, some citizens believing Mourning met a violent death and his ghost is calling for vengeance,” the Chronicle reported on Oct. 27, 1927.

His family agreed with the ghostly vengeance bit. They reported seeing a ghost in a big ravine, “where he could not have escaped, but he finally vanished in thin air.” They saw another ghost pulling a car out of field with a team of horses, and another ran a car backward directly at their house.

Other “queer happenings” raised suspicions. The family reported strange marks on the floor of a deserted house, rockets fired from nearby hills, flashes of light seen in the night and “a man has made mysterious appearances and disappearances.”

“Some think they have seen the ghost and I have been looking for material evidence, but I am at a loss to know just what happened,” said the prosecutor, who is referred to only as Greenough in the articles.

The case remained a mystery, but local sheriff deputies believed they had the answer, and it involved “liquor runners” who used a deserted building that was found by Mourning. Those local law enforcement officers “have been hot on the trail of the ghosts,” a Spokesman-Review article read. “But they are inclined to believe that moonshiners and not phantoms are back of the strange manifestations.”

The Ghost of Union Park

Union Park on East Sprague looking towards town in 1940. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)
Union Park on East Sprague looking towards town in 1940. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)

In the winter of 1934, a sheet-draped figure terrorized the people of Union Park, part of what’s now called the East Central Neighborhood of Spokane.

The so-called “ghost of Union Park” had “frightened children and peeped into windows” but was also found roaming the streets at night. People called police to report a “gray ghost” and “wraithlike figure” who “just seemed to disappear” when they approached it, leaving no footprints.

The police department assigned “Prowl Car Officers Cole and Pymm” to the case, and the news made the papers.

Which is where the ghost’s mother heard about the whole thing. She told authorities her son was a “shell-shocked war veteran” and said she “now keeps him at home at night,” an article read.

“In view of the pitiful angle to the affair nothing more will be done about it at this time, police said,” according to the story.

The serpents

1962 photo of Omak Lake. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)
1962 photo of Omak Lake. (PHOTO ARCHIVE / SR)

On Aug. 27, 1944, M.L. Little, a Tonasket man, wrote a letter to the editor relaying the tale of a sea serpent in Omak Lake.

Little said he was traveling to Omak with Fred Howard and saw “what appeared to be two large long logs lying close to shore. Seconds later, another look showed one of these to be swinging around and heading out into the lake.”

They were 12 to 16 feet long, 2 feet in diameter and submerged just under the water’s surface.

“The rough blotch of the body remained quite visible and the water in turmoil during its passage,” Little wrote. The head broke the surface a few times, and it was the size of 30-gallon drum. The men “easily followed its progress the entire distance to the cliffs at the far end of the lake where it splashed for a very few seconds, then disappeared from view.

“I should be greatly pleased if any who may have seen this creature would write me,” he wrote, and included his mailing address.

A decade later, on May 15, 1956, another letter to the editor, this one from C.F. Dement, brought up the storied monster of Rock Lake, a deep, cliff-lined lake in the Scablands.

Dement’s grandfather purchased some land near the lake in 1890, and Dement spent several summers on the lake as a child.

“It was during these visits that I heard stories of a huge prehistoric monster which lived in Rock lake, and it was said that the Indians shunned the location,” he wrote.

In 1995, The Spokesman-Review profiled the lake, mentioning the “Indian and urban legend” that the lake is home to a monster.

“My sis owns property on one of the lake’s points,” a local landowner and hobby historian of the area anonymously told the paper. “One evening, she was rounding the point into a bay when she saw something huge on top of the water suddenly splash and go under. I asked her how big it was. ‘It was as big as a tree and stretched further across than my living room,’ she said. I think it was a sturgeon myself.”

Monster or no, the article quoted a scientist, leaving a more harrowing note on the notoriously dangerous lake.

“Once a body gets down 200 feet or so, it will just stay there,” said Bob Peck, a Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist, describing the potential fate of careless boaters on Rock Lake. “I hear they stay in a pretty good condition too, until someone pulls them up – then they just fall apart.”

The sixth realm

The Spokeaman-Review archive folder containing stories about sea serpents and monsters is photographed on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokeaman-Review archive folder containing stories about sea serpents and monsters is photographed on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

In August 1982, The Spokesman-Review profiled Judy Laddon and her claims of communicating with a spirit.

“I know it sounds batty, like I’m crazy,” she said. “I hear voices. I talk to God.”

But as the article made clear, Laddon didn’t say she talked to God, but rather to a resident of the sixth realm, one realm under God, named Af.

With a Ouija board as intermediary, Af would answer Laddon’s questions not just about the “afterlife, death and the human condition,” but also “the economy, criminal behavior, modern medicine, marital spats, reincarnation, black holes in space, suicide, the fate of Hitler’s spirit and the movie, ‘E.T.’ ”

Her sessions with Af would last as long as two hours and generate as many as 2,000 written words, with Laddon transcribing Af’s coherent and verbose descriptions. Af would visit Laddon anywhere – in her downtown office or at Riverfront Park. All she had to do was clear her mind.

“It’s not actually a voice. What I hear is a stream of thoughts which are not my own. It’s real clear. It’s just as if it were spoken to me. I can feel expression, emphasis, exclamation. I can feel laughter. I can feel the good humor,” Laddon said.

Like most other people would if they believed a spirit was communicating only with them, Laddon worried that Af was not real but a figment of her imagination. Af assured her that was not true.

“It is Af speaking,” he told her. “I come to you from the highest realms of the universe. You are truly privileged to be the messenger of these glad tidings.”

Laddon would go on to collect Af’s words in three self-published books: “Beyond the Veil,” “A Further Step Beyond the Veil” and “Another Look at Life Beyond.”

As the books and news profile showed, Af had a lot to say. Not only was “E.T.” poorly reviewed in the sixth realm, but the sex was good.

“I’ll shock you again,” Af told her, saying “sexual interaction over here is much different, and much more fun, than anything you know on Earth.”

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