Historic, haunted house burns

A historic and possibly haunted house in Coupeville was destroyed in a mysterious fire early Tuesday morning.

Staff members at the nearby nursing home, Careage of Whidbey, smelled smoke and went outside looking for the source. They ended up reporting a possible brush fire at 2:47 a.m., according to Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Joe Biller.

When firefighters arrived, however, they found that the small two-story house on NE Third Street was nearly fully involved in flames. Biller said it took a force of 13 firefighters and six fire engines from Central Whidbey Fire, plus a crew from Fire District 2, about two hours to extinguish the blaze.

Fortunately, no one was injured.

The larger difficulty, and what kept firefighters on the scene until the afternoon, was determining how the fire started.

Biller said the fire originated in the back bedroom, which made the blaze difficult to see from the road. He said fire investigators brought a gas-sniffing dog to the house, but found no evidence that flammable liquids were involved.

An electric blanket on the bed wasn’t plugged in. There were no obvious signs of electrical problems.

“Arson seems unlikely,” Biller said. “It’s probably accidental, but I just can’t say for sure right now.”

The owner of the house, Wayne Davis, was on vacation in Arizona at the time of the fire. He’s been traveling the country in a motor home while his daughter and her husband, Leslie and Mick Hardesty, were taking care of the property.

Rob Harbour, the manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, said the house wasn’t on the national historical register, but it definitely had local historical significance. It was built in 1912 for the brother of Capt. Thomas Coupe. While the town is named in honor of Thomas Coupe, Harbour said he doesn’t have records of his brother’s name.

Harbour said the house’s architectural style is considered “vernacular residential.” It stayed in the Coupe family until 1960, when the Davises bought it.

Leslie Hardesty and her brother and sister, Stephen Davis and Becky Gorlick, grew up in the house and graduated from Coupeville High School.

Probably the most unusual thing about the house is that the family believes it was haunted by the apparition of a cigar-smoking man.

Leslie said the ghost mainly stayed upstairs, where family members often smelled the odor of cigar smoke. Her sister refused to stay upstairs after the ghost “tried to pull her off the bed,” Leslie said.

Leslie and her husband were sleeping upstairs in the house one night. He woke up to see the form of a man in the bedroom. The spirit tried to pull his blankets off.

Another time, a roofer working on the house complained that he felt someone watching him intently. Wayne Davis nonchalantly explained it was his ghost.

But maybe the poltergeist got tired of living alone.

“One of the first things I thought,” Leslie said, “was that maybe the ghost threw down his cigar and started the fire.”

She believes the ghost is probably gone now.

The family has a lot of memories invested in the home. They used to keep a horse in a long-gone barn out back. They raised ducks and Weimeraner puppies. The sisters shared the upstairs and would sneak out the window in the middle of the night.

Their parents, Wayne and Dorothy, lived at the house and were active members of the community until Dorothy died two years ago. Leslie spread some of her mother’s ashes in the gardens around the house.

In recent years, the couple had spent a lot of time and money remodeling and re-furnishing the house. It had new carpeting, new furniture, new appliances — all of which are gone now.

Only one bedroom, which had a shut door, was unravaged by the fire. Mick said he was able to rescue furniture and pictures from the room.

Fortunately, everything was insured. According to Biller, the house was insured for $160,000 and the contents were insured for $115,000.

Leslie said she “doesn’t have a clue” what her father plans to do with the lot, which has a gorgeous view of Penn Cove and Mount Baker.

For now, passers-by probably probably wouldn’t even notice the fire damage if it wasn’t for the yellow fire department tape. The front of the house stands like a facade from a movie, hiding the burned-out shell behind.

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