Renee Hughes says she hears "voices" at the Last Chance Mining Museum where she lives and works and believes ghosts of miners are in the area.
Josh Manculich took this photo in the Red Onion's "Wallpaper Room" on a tour after hearing it may have been where Lydia hung herself, he said. He, and those he sent it to at the Red Onion, think it may show a ghost in the bottom left corner. "I don't think it was a reflection or a throwback of anyone or any real thing," he said. "I haven't experienced my iPhone ever making a cloud-like face like that in any other photo."
Story last updated at 10/30/2013 - 6:04 pm
Editor's Note: Southeast Alaska definitely has its share of ghost stories. Here are five, in honor of Halloween. We'll have a few more in a future issue. Have additional stories? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Skagway: Golden North Hotel
In the summer of 1898 or 1899, the story goes, a woman named Mary got a welcome message from her sweetheart: he'd struck rich in the Klondike. She was to travel to Skagway so they could finally get married.
So she did. She brought a wedding dress. She booked a room at the Golden North Hotel, planned their wedding, and waited for her fiancé.
And waited. And waited. And waited.
He never returned - the victim, perhaps, of the notorious Soapy Smith and his gang, or another group that "saw a cheechako on the trail with a heavy bag of gold and did him in," according to Dennis Corrington, who now owns the hotel with his wife, Nancy.
Mary kept waiting for her fiancé. She waited through the late summer. She waited through the fall. She waited into the winter. It became apparent that he was not going to return.
"She didn't eat very much," Corrington said. "She kind of withered away to nothing and died in one of the rooms in the hotel. That was the story I heard when I moved, in the 1970s, from Nome to Skagway."
Now, the Corringtons rent out the bottom floor to various retail companies. They have restored the second and third floor, where the ghosts, including Mary, stay, but the hotel is not currently open for business.
"It's a very strong feeling when you go in the second level and the third level," Corrington said.
There's also another clear sign - sometimes, when there's no reason to, they'll smell cheap perfume. The people he's with - the hotel has its share of ghost-hunters, he says - will turn to each other, the hair on the back of their neck standing up, and say "Do you smell that?"
The day he bought it, he walked into the hotel and introduced himself.
"She hit me with a bunch of cheap perfume in the middle of the night, and I had an interesting dream," he said. "I told her I only loved one lady. She never hit me with perfume after that."
Corrington said he and Nancy feel that Mary looks after the hotel. There are numerous examples of times she may have been protecting people and the building, he said. Once, for instance, a bunch of rags on the floor spontaneously burst into flames - right when someone walked in the room.
"They could have burst into flames at any time," he said. "But someone just happened to walk in."
The Corringtons had an experience this summer that strengthened their belief. They were walking through Skagway with a man they've known for more than 30 years, a "highly creative artist" from out of town. They were walking past the hotel, which he didn't know the Corringtons owned, and he stopped.
"Woah," he said. "I got some real vibes from that building there."
The Corringtons told him they had a key, and took him up to the upper floors.
"We walked up the stairs, and he just kept saying 'wow, wow'. At first I thought he was just enjoying the restoration.... Then he confided in us that he was a medium," Corrington said.
They stayed in the hotel for more than an hour, missing meetings (which is uncharacteristic) as the man meditated and identified about seven different spirits in the hotel, pointing to details Corrington only knew through historical research.
"He told us things about the hotel that no one but a historian would have known," Corrington said.
Six of the spirits are comfortable, the man said. One is very angry.
The man stood with his hands out and began "kind of babbling. The words didn't fit, and then they all started to come together," Corrington said.
The angry spirit was a man. He was angry because his wife was having a baby, and he was doing his job - the artist grabbed the left side of his chest - and he got shot. He was mortally wounded, but wasn't killed immediately. He was scared and angry. He didn't have his gun, and he should have.
Corrington said he believes the man was describing Deputy U.S. Marshal John Rowan, who was shot in 1898 while trying to resolve a dispute between a bartender and a patron. When the deputy was dying that evening, his wife was either giving birth or had just given birth, depending what resource you're reading.
"He (the artist) never heard diddly squat about Skagway," Corrington said. "I became a believer in what he was talking about. It was either a smoothly put-together scam, or in reality this is what he was experiencing. I've known this guy for 30 years, and I didn't even know he did channeling.... It kind of makes you think there might be something."
Skagway: Red Onion Saloon
The Red Onion Saloon, the former brothel, has a resident ghost named Lydia who has entered the establishment's lore - and, at times, the lives of the people who work there.
Maintenance and security man Steve Bagwell, who has worked at the Red Onion for several years now, said he believes he may have seen a ghost there this June.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life," he said. "I was here all alone real early in the morning, and a woman - I was at the top of the stairs and down at the bottom of the stairs a woman crossed the room going really fast. It wasn't a normal walk. It was really fast."
About 15 minutes later, the same thing happened in the upstairs room where he was working. A woman crossed the room, moving faster than a person would walk.
"That time I followed, and it was a dead end where I seen the woman go, and no one was there. And that's the only thing that's happened to me. Nothing was threatening or aggressive or nothing, but it gave me the willies," he said.
He said he couldn't see her face. She was wearing a dress and a shawl, she was slim and small, and he got the impression she was a woman on the younger side of middle-aged. She also looked solid, not transparent.
That's the only time he's experienced anything like that, he said - there are lots of "weird noises" in the building, but most of them could be blamed on the wind and the building's age.
Operations Manager Liz Lavoie said Lydia is often seen in a corner of what's known as the "wallpaper room," where a nickel-plated dress found in a trunk more than 30 years ago hangs on display. Some hypothesize that she may have hung herself there, though Lavoie said that's nothing she could verify.
Some also hypothesize that she may have hung herself after contracting syphilis and losing her ability to work. One woman who used to work at the Red Onion saw Lydia once, Lavoie said, and said she had a branding on her face. Sex workers were sometimes branded as diseased so that they couldn't keep working, Lavoie said. She added, however, that what may have happened to Lydia is all guesswork.
Recent events - or at least how people perceived them - are more verifiable.
A full-time janitor regularly heard footsteps when he was working alone in the building. It got so common he didn't notice them anymore, Bagwell said.
Not all experiences are positive or neutral: recently, a cook quit the Red Onion and left Skagway, because, according to a text he sent, he was being "f-ed with on another level," by a ghost, said Lavoie.
Sometimes, men - never women - that work at the Red Onion have had "more aggressive" encounters, she said, feeling, for example, a shove when walking down a staircase. Nothing aggressive had happened for quite a while until this cook began working there.
"He was feeling pretty tormented," Lavoie said. "He felt like it followed him home and took a more nightmarish sort of quality."
Though Lydia is the Red Onion's most well-known ghost, they've been told there are other presences in the saloon as well, says Lavoie. Like the Golden North Hotel, they get a good number of "ghost hunters" and mediums.
One cruise ship passenger this year told her "I bet this town is fascinating when it closes up. This town is filled with spirits," Lavoie said. The man told her he had seen a spirit walk down the stairs and sit at the bar once it quieted down.
"I just wanted to pull up my chair and listen to this man speak forever," she said.
Lavoie said she's never seen Lydia, but has "definitely" felt her.
"She tends to be more active in the spring and fall, and in the early morning when there are less people around.... I just feel like it's been a lively year in the spirit world for us," she said.
Sheep Camp: The Chilkoot Trail
Sheep Camp, a stop about 13 miles into the Chilkoot Trail, was once a pretty happening place.
"During the Gold Rush, it had pianos," said Karl Gurke, Historian with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. "It had a number of saloons. It was a wild life at times." After the White Pass railroad was built and there was a much easier route into Canada, Sheep Camp's population quickly shrank.
In early August of 1979, about 80 years after Sheep Camp "faded into history," Bob King, along with two other contractors, was working on an archeological assessment for the Park Service along the Chilkoot Trail. For about a third of their work, they based themselves at Sheep Camp.
"It had a very large population at one time," King said. "A lot, but not all, was in the wintertime. At that point, it was cold and there were people that were actually camped over portions of what were the frozen streams... it was that frenzied and that jam-packed. It was a very lively place."
Thirty years ago, when King and his colleagues were clearing out devils club and alder from the trail, much of the remains were still visible - not standing buildings, but logs that showed the dimensions of some of the more permanent structures.
At the end of a day of clearing, mapping, and recording, the team would join the National Park Service crew in their kitchen for dinner and conversation. Then they would each go to sleep. King estimates he and his colleagues camped about 1,000 yards away from the Park Service's bunk, setting up tents about 50 yards away from each other in what they came to realize was likely where downtown Sheep Camp may have once been.
On one particular night, King was the last to leave the kitchen. He took the kerosene light to his tent, put it out, and crawled into his sleeping bag.
That's when he heard voices.
"It sounded like voices that you would hear if you were across the street from a busy nightclub or a tavern," he said. "Voices and voices and voices talking over one another. The whole mélange of voices, just mixing."
He couldn't hear anything distinct. The voices seemed to be coming from all around him - not close, but as if they were across the street.
"It was not increasing, not decreasing in volume," he said. "It was a constant drone of what really sounded like voices.... At the time I was amused with the idea of thinking 'Maybe we're hearing things from the past,' but not really believing in that type of an explanation, I thought 'Well, perhaps this is being carried some way from another campground area... that seemed to be a more logical explanation."
The next morning, the three teammates had their breakfast campfire. That was when King realized he wasn't alone. Both of his companions had heard voices as well.
One of them, on other occasions, had heard moans, which King says is "the most explainable, because it could well have been one of us, or an animal."
One of the most intriguing things, however, was that the other had heard music. And not just any music.
"They'd heard what they described as what sounded like an old piano. A honky tonk piano," he said.
Though King said he's scientifically minded and doesn't really believe "that ghosts are whooping it up big time at Sheep Camp," he said they had fun talking about the possibility. And though he can think of explanations for it - sound echoing off canyon walls, for example - he said he still dwells on the experience at times.
"I've not had anything quite like that (since)," he said.
Juneau: Silverbow Inn
When husband and wife Ken Alton and Jill Ramiel bought the Silverbow in 1997, it came with a friendly ghost - one generally believed to be Gus Messerschmidt, the bakery's founder.
"In the kitchen in particular with the bakers, things would move suddenly, carts would roll across the floor, a sound would come through the ceiling," Alton said. "It was never anything hostile - things along those lines."
Alton said bakers, including him, were more likely to be working alone in the kitchen in "the wee hours."
"That's when the weird stuff would happen," he said.
One morning, one of the bakers, who was also living at the Silverbow, woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw Messerschmidt looking back at him.
"It freaked him out," Alton said.
Around 2000, an Inupiaq man who no longer lives in Juneau began working as a dishwasher.
"He asked matter-of-factly if we had any spirits in the building," Alton said.
The man said it made him uncomfortable to work in the building at night and asked if it would be okay if he conducted a ceremony to make it go away, Alton said.
So he dressed up in a robe and the regalia he had and conducted a short exorcism.
"Honestly, after that point we haven't really had any sightings," Alton said. "The exorcism really did happen."
Juneau: Last Chance Mining Museum
Renee Hughes, chief volunteer at the Gastineau Historical Society, lives at the Last Chance Mining Museum with her husband, Gary Gillette. She says the museum has several ghosts.
"I consider them to be old miners that were looking for gold and that never gave up," she said.
One volunteer said he saw someone dressed like an old miner looking in one of the museum windows, she said. When he went outside to look for him, he was gone.
Hughes has never seen the ghosts herself. Instead, she hears male voices talking, frequently when there's no one but her around. She's been hearing them for the 20 years she's lived out there, but she can't understand what they're saying.
"I think they're just talking to each other," she said. "They're not talking to me. They're talking about prospecting, looking for gold."
She seems to hear them more in the summer, she said.
In the museum, strange things sometimes happen. Doors open when they shouldn't. People hear footsteps when no one else is in the building.
Some people ask her if she's afraid. She's not.
"I think they're pretty cool," she said. "They give me comfort knowing that they're there. Knowing that they're these old guys that have been around for years and years and years and years and years, just enjoying the basin and looking for gold... I'm a true believer in the fact that there are spirits out there that come back."