As days become darker and night lingers longer, fog rolls in from the water, blanketing Whidbey Island each night and the moon hangs in the air, like a giant eye staring. The coyotes are restless, crying in the dark. Headlights on twisting roads illuminate something large moving in the bushes ahead.
It’s a little creepy out there, which means Halloween and the haunting season is close at hand.
Perhaps it’s this climate of creepiness that sets the imagination of island residents running a little wild, imaging something other-wordly moving in the shadows, something not-quite-human reaching out from the darkness.
Or maybe a few local folks have been witness to a world ancient and ethereal, perhaps a bit sinister, in seemingly ordinary places.
It’s amazing how many stories of haunted places there are on North and Central Whidbey Island. So many, in fact, that the area caught the attention of well-known paranormal researcher and author Jeff Davis of Vancouver, Wash. He came to Oak Harbor to investigate strange goings-ons at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s Seaplane Base and has included several Whidbey haunted spots in his four books, which include the “Haunted Tour Guide to the Pacific Northwest.”
Davis said he interviews people, talks to them about their haunts and then examines the place. Sometimes he brings a psychic to a haunted locale and performs a vigil, often staying overnight.
He’s convinced that ghosts do exist, though he said people report experiencing a wide variety of phenomena. Folks tell stories of strange, inexplicable sounds, smells, even things moving on their own.
“The rarest is an apparition,” he said. “A visual, 3-D image of a person.”
Davis admits he’s never actually seen a visual apparition, though he tells a humorous story of seeing a ghostly shadow of a dead woman under a door and hearing her brush by a decoration adorned with bells. He was alone on the second floor of a flat in England, going to the bathroom.
“I felt the ghost was checking up on me,” he said, “but she was too polite to go into the bathroom.”
On Whidbey, Davis found plenty of folks willing to tell him their ghost stories about places on the island. One of his most in-depth stories is of the so-called “lurker” at the Navy Exchange building on the Seaplane Base.
The building originally was an aircraft hangar for the PBY seaplanes. The story, Davis said, is that a member of an aircrew was hit by a propellor and killed inside the hangar about 50 years ago. The man’s ghost supposedly lurks around the building.
Davis said he had “a weird thing happen” when he was researching the story at the Exchange a few years ago. He and his wife went to the Exchange early and were standing outside, interviewing a janitor. The man was telling him about his stories of hauntings. Davis said he set his notebook on top of a garbage can lid, but he and his wife first checked to make sure he wasn’t putting it on top of anything nasty, like chewed gum or other trash.
Davis asked the janitor what year the ghost-man died, but the janitor didn’t know. But Davis said he picked up his notebook and noticed that a 1948 penny was underneath it, appearing out of nowhere.
“I wouldn’t say I was scared,” he said, “but I was tongue-tied for several seconds. … Could this have been some kind of ghostly effect, called an apport?”
Beyond his experience, Davis said several people reported weird occurrences at the Exchange, The janitor said he saw a man in coveralls in a storage area and chased him up onto scaffolding. “When he was cornered,” Davis said, “the man backed into the shadows and disappeared. He was just gone.”
Others reported seeing a rack of clothes “ruffle as someone was walking past, but there was nobody there” or repeatedly smelling a very strong odor of popcorn in the store when they come in early in the morning, Davis said. He was also told of a large pad lock that would mysteriously fall open, just as people turned their backs.
Eileen Brown, former editor of the Crosswinds, used to work in the top floor of the Exchange, in the sign department with the mannequins all around, and said she was warned that the place was haunted. The story she heard was that the ghost was that of a man killed in the construction of the facility.
It was an eery place to work. “We heard all kinds of moans and high quivering when the wind came through the cracks,” she said. “I decided if they didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother them.”
Brown said that Bobbie Arnett, a woman who worked in the children’s department and has since died, told her about mysterious happenings. Arnett came to work in the morning a few times to find complete baby outfits, very well organized, laid out expertly on the floor. Or in the morning there would be things like baby clothes in the shoe department.
“She’s was a completely believable person. A good, honest woman,” Brown said.
Similar Davis’ story, Brown said employees sometimes found that popcorn was scattered around the Exchange overnight, even though the building was locked tight and there was no popcorn machine or even popcorn sold there.
Other haunted places on Whidbey that Davis details in his books include the abandoned Hurn house, which is an old farmhouse north of Oak Harbor near the the CPO Club. He collected stories of lights and piano music coming from the house in the middle of the night. He said he took a photo through a window of the house, which showed a mysterious globe of light — even though there were no lights on and he didn’t use a flash.
A mailbox on Zylstra Road is also supposed to be haunted. The story, Davis said, is that the homeowner has to watch the mailman put the mail in the box and then immediately retrieve it. If he ever loses sight of the box, even for just a second, he’ll find his mail strewn across the road. Davis said he was told that a sailor and his wife used to live there, but he went away to war during World War II and never returned. “She still checks the mail,” Davis said.
Nearby is the old San de Fuca schoolhouse, which has long been the focus of local ghost stories, usually involving apparitions of children. People who drive past, usually in the early morning, have seen mysterious children on the doorstep or peering out the window. A woman who used to lie there said she was awakened by a group of mischievous kids yelling “wake up,” though she was alone at the time.
The Captain Whidbey Inn has also received a lot of attention for the so-called “gray lady” who roams the halls at night. Davis said the poltergeist may be the residual image of a cleaning lady who once worked there.
Davis also writes about accounts of a headless ghost in Sunnyside Cemetery, presumably the restless soul of Isaac Ebey, who was beheaded by the Indians. And he said he’s heard stories about spooks at another building on the Seaplane base, the former medical clinics.
“There’s something out there. I’m sure of that. The problem is finding proof,” Davis said. “Every culture of the world believes in the paranormal and ghosts. Ours is the one in denial.”
You can reach Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 675-6611.