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Some claim real ghosts inhabit Oak Harbor’s Roller Barn

Immanuel McLaurin, a freshman at Oak Harbor High School, admits that working in the Roller Barn during the Frightville haunted house can be a bit creepy.  - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Immanuel McLaurin, a freshman at Oak Harbor High School, admits that working in the Roller Barn during the Frightville haunted house can be a bit creepy.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

It’s reasonable to expect the sounds of a few creaks and groans when you work inside a 100-year-old wooden structure.

Norrie Perreault has worked at the Boys & Girls Club of Oak Harbor inside historic Neil barn for 12 years and has heard strange noises that can be rationally explained.

But Perreault also has seen and heard things inside the barn that she simply cannot, and because of that, will not enter the building alone and no longer goes upstairs without company.

“I’m not afraid of the haunted house,” she said, referring to the barn’s autumn basement attraction, Frightville 13.

“But to come in here by myself? That real stuff. I won’t do it.”

Perreault, 49, was talking about the second floor of the Neil barn, known since the 1950s as the Roller Barn.

The spacious second floor houses the roller rink and is an after-school play and learning center for kids.

That floor also has been the site of strange occurrences that Perreault can’t explain.

The latest incident last month is the reason she’ll no longer go upstairs alone.

Perreault said she was standing in the kitchen when she heard a noise, then saw something over the counter that first made her giggle.

A broom handle, attached to a dust pan, appeared to be “dancing” around the floor.

Figuring it was a joke, Perreault called out to the club’s director, Nikki Barone, to knock it off.

When she heard Barone’s faint voice respond from the first floor, she freaked.

“I started screaming,” Perreault said.

Perreault wouldn’t step out from behind the counter without Barone taking her hand and leading the way.

It was the latest odd occurrence that Perreault has witnessed.

There was a time about three years ago when she and Barone watched a black shadow-like image pass through the upstairs bathroom. Both immediately looked at each other and acknowledged seeing it.

“There’s no window in the bathroom,” Perreault said.

There was another occasion when children’s laughter was heard during a sleepover. Just when a staff member was about to tell them to quiet down, the kids were found to be sound asleep.

Then there was an account two years ago from a roller derby participant, who reported walking out of the bathroom and seeing an elderly woman in old clothes standing behind the kitchen counter.

“Dressed like a dairy farmer,” Perreault said.

The experiences have led Perreault and Barone to believe in the paranormal. They believe some sort of spirits or ghosts inhabit the barn, once part of a dairy farm owned by logger and farmer James Andrew Neil in the early 1900s.

The barn was built by Dutch architecht Otto Van Dyk in 1913 and was the largest barn on the west coast at the time.

Despite their haunting experiences, neither Perreault nor Barone have safety concerns. They feel perfectly comfortable in the barn, as long as they have company.

“They’re only good ghosts,” Barone said. “Nothing bad has ever happened here.”

“I don’t feel like they’re here to hurt us,” Perreault said.

In fact, both say they love the old building and wouldn’t want the boys and girls club to be anywhere else.

They just prefer to not be in the barn alone.

Barone won’t enter the barn by herself. When pressed, she’s taken her dog in with her.

Both Barone and Perreault insist that the haunted house on the first floor, just a short distance from their office, is not the root of what skeptics might call overactive imaginations.

“The props don’t scare me,” Perreault said.

Not every staff member is afraid. Natasha Hilliard has heard the stories but has encountered nothing unusual herself.

Immanuel McLaurin, a freshman at Oak Harbor High School and volunteer actor at the haunted house, said the basement is creepy but he isn’t overly uncomfortable when he’s down there.

“It’s not so scary when I’m scaring,” he said.

Brian Boyle and Duncan Chalfant, the organizers of Frightville, say there are times when they’ve felt uneasy in the barn’s basement but often those feelings come during times of isolation.

Chalfant, who’s on the boys and girls club’s board of directors, said he remembers once when he was working alone at night that he felt like he was being watched, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up.

Boyle, Frightville’s manager, has spent countless hours working late preparing for the haunted house and hasn’t run into any real ghosts.

Not that he hasn’t had a scare or two.

Boyle recalled a time when he and a friend walked by one room that had dozens of dolls hanging from wires. Nobody bumped the dolls, but when Boyle looked back, he saw a single doll swinging back and forth while the rest remained perfectly still.

“At that point, we just left,” he said.

 

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