Editor’s Column: Haunted newsroom is a tale untold

Over the years, the Whidbey News-Times reporters, or one in particular, have delighted in covering tales of haunted houses and other ghosty places that are part of the island’s lore.

The Navy Exchange is haunted, they say, by an apparition who drops pennies and pops popcorn. A benign but lonely “gray lady” wanders Captain Whidbey Inn. At night, translucent figures appear in the hallways of the former Navy morgue, which is now part of Skagit Valley College. A closet-dwelling ghost in a house near the base kept the kids who grew up there on their toes. A Coupeville resident suggested a cigar-smoking ghost was to blame for starting a house fire.

A mailbox on Zylstra Road is haunted, the story goes, by the ghost of a woman who’s waiting for a letter that will never come. The forlorn spirit throws the mail across the road if it’s not taken in quickly enough. Nearby, the San de Fuca schoolhouse is either haunted by the soul of a woman whose husband was lost at sea or the ghosts of children, who are presumably still upset about wooden benches and rote learning.

One story that has never been told, however, is the haunting of the Whidbey News-Times.

After occupying a spacious and occasionally ant-infested office in Coupeville for a decade, the newspaper staff moved back to the 1949 building next to the police office in Oak Harbor around the time COVID struck. The staff used to take up the entire building, but now the Garage of Blessings occupies the first floor and the newspaper is upstairs.

Yes, it’s an unfortunate sign of the times. While far more people than ever are reading the Whidbey News-Times — 900,000 unique views online this year — it’s no secret that the internet has made it challenging for newspapers to profit. The page count has dropped along with the number of employees and office space. Yet while the staff might be small, it’s mighty — and award-winning.

What concerns some staff members about this office, however, isn’t the 25-year-old carpeting or the occasional need to call the police because of trouble in the neighborhood, but something much more ephemeral.

On several occasions, ad rep Nora Durand and officer manager Davene Jones have arrived at the locked office in the murk of the early morning to discover that the water was running in the bathroom sink and lights were turned on. Even the lights in a locked office had mysteriously come on. Alone in the office, Davene sometimes has the feeling that someone is watching her and she swears she can feel breathing on the back of her neck. She is about to turn around … then someone calls and complains that the post office delivered the paper late.

Years prior, when the newspaper offices were downstairs, several people were scared to work alone at night because they had heard the sound of someone moving around the empty rooms upstairs. Loud tromping, knocking noises and perhaps a hint of rattling chains. Sometimes a foul breeze would blow down the stairs, even though the windows were all closed tight. Most fantastic, a former employee claimed to see a poltergeist in a fisherman’s hat hanging out in the break room.

Believers have pointed to quite a few reasons why the building might be haunted. Plenty of long-suffering, underpaid reporters have trudged across these floors over the many decades, as have beloved members of the community. Perhaps some are having a hard time letting go. The printing press used to be in the building and it’s speculated that a ghost may be upset about a fatal ink-related accident.

In order to investigate these claims, a reporter suggested that the entire staff make a night of it in the office of terror. Like a slumber party with infrared cameras and EMF meters, plus some popcorn and scary movies. Unfortunately, one reporter quickly chickened out and another objected to sleeping on the 25-year-old carpet which hasn’t been vacuumed in a year.

A longtime and permanent resident of the newsroom is Old Bones, a skeleton holding a camera bag who gets decorated with the season. If she’s seen anything spooky in the dead of night, she’s not saying.

So like all the other spooky Whidbey Island stories, the haunting of the newsroom will remain unsolved.