There are no such things as ghosts. Aren't any zombies, boogeymen, monsters in the closet or spooks, either. Even so, that doesn't mean we don't secretly hope otherwise every year when Halloween rolls around. You see, every Halloween brings a certain conundrum to the Inlander editorial staff. Over the years, we've covered every haunted place we know of for our annual Halloween issues, as well as quite a few local events (silent movies at the Cathedral, Edgar Allan Poe readings at G.U., Halloween rock gigs at the local clubs). But this year, we ran out of haunts. Most Spokanites already know about the usual suspects: the music building at Gonzaga University, the old Patsy Clark's building and that old Spokane standby, the Thousand Steps. We've even expanded the smallish parameters of Inland Northwest hauntings to include such "spooky places" as the spot where Chief Qualchan was hung in 1858 and a cemetery in Moscow where flowers mysteriously appear every Memorial Day on the grave of a young woman who died in 1902.
So what to do this year? We briefly considered just listing a few Halloween events and calling it good, but continued to hope supernatural inspiration would strike. And then we found it -- the answer to our Halloween ennui -- while searching the Web. Ghost hunters! Real Spokane ghost hunters with flashlights, cameras, recording equipment and Web sites. Piece of cake, we thought, firing off a few e-mails and smirking to ourselves. Heck, our Halloween issue is gonna write itself.
Or not. None of the three local ghost hunter groups we contacted responded. We called a quick huddle and considered our options. And then someone suggested it: Why not go out on our own?
How hard could it be? A quick survey of the Web yielded the fact that in most cases, equipment is no more sophisticated than the mini tape recorders and digital cameras that most of us have lying around anyway.
A team was chosen - Mike Corrigan and Sheri Boggs would be the writer/investigators because of their obvious Mulder-Scully dynamic (Corrigan is the logical, scientific and skeptical Scully, while Boggs is the paranormal-fascinated, easily spooked Mulder). Amy Sinisterra would accompany the expedition with her trusty professional camera and rational curiosity.
10.19.04 - 9:30 pm
Just driving past Greenwood Cemetery at night can be an eerie experience. There are a lot of urban legends about the place, including stories of a gardener who appears and disappears moments later, countless theories surrounding the Thousand Steps and chilling tales of devil worship deep within the cemetery's layered groves. Still, we'd spent most of the day educating ourselves about contemporary ghost hunting lingo like "orbs" (balls of spirit energy that can look a lot like dust motes in a night picture), "ectoplasm" (mist or fog in a picture, also believed to be spirit energy) and "vortexes" (again, spirit energy, but in the form of moving light). We were apprehensive but ready.
Unfortunately, Greenwood was just as ready for us. As we coasted to a stop right by the reputed Thousand Steps (which are actually closer to about 75 steps), two cars pulled up. A no-nonsense security guard climbed out of a red Citation and walked right up to us.
Security Guard: If you think you're going in there, you need to know that it's trespassing.
Security Guard: It's a $500 fine for each of you, plus you'll go to jail and we'll tow your car.
Yes, they have taken all the fun out of Halloween. Still, we weren't eager to be calling our boss from jail, so we decided to move on. Consulting old Spokane maps, Mike knew of several cemeteries (including one for pets) on the North Side that might be good possibilities so we headed across town.
10.19.04 - 10:27 pm
We pulled off the road a short distance from the cemetery and exited our vehicle with several cameras, audio recording devices and flashlights. The mournful cry of a train whistle echoed in the distance as we began to make our way through the undergrowth of the dark, wooded area several hundred yards south of our destination. The first strange thing that happened was that my taping device -- which had been fine earlier in the day -- suddenly went dead. That left Mike as the sole audio recorder.
Sheri: "It's too dark in there."
Mike: "It's too dark? You kind of knew this was going to be a creepy assignment, right?"
Sheri: "Yeah. But not this creepy."
Mike stopped for a moment in the spiny, shin-high brush to take a digital photo. Upon inspection of the results, he discovered something in the image that he hadn't noticed as he snapped it.
M: "Hey. I got some orbs."
S: "Wow. Look at that. Good job."
M: "Oh, you know, there are orbs all over the place."
We continued on. Though we seemed to be heading in the right direction, the vegetation was getting thicker. Also, our path ran parallel to a deep ditch that worried me. We decided to head back out to the road and follow it until we found a clear access into the cemetery. The evening was, indeed, beginning to take on the feeling of a typical X-Files episode.
M: "Are you scared, Special Agent Boggs?"
S: "Nope. I'm better now that we're by the road."
M: "Well, we're gonna get away from the road again pretty soon."
S: "No, we're not."
M: "Oh yes, we are."
Sure enough, another 100 feet down the road and to our left, we discovered a clearing and a path leading up to the burial grounds. We could see a scattering of headstones in the distance.
M: "Ghosts don't hang out on the roads."
S: "I'm not afraid of ghosts. I'm afraid of people. In the bushes."
Amy didn't jump into our highly scientific discussion, as she was busy setting up her camera and getting a few preliminary shots. Unlike Greenwood, this cemetery was overgrown and appeared to be largely untended. Headstones were in various stages of decay and dilapidation, with inscriptions that were sometimes difficult to read. Pine needles crunched underfoot, and we walked carefully so as to not bang our shins on unseen headstones. Mike helpfully pointed out that we were also walking on dead people, an observation that Amy and I chose to ignore.
We randomly snapped pictures in and around various graves while briefly discussing the need for discretion while taking flash photos in a cemetery along a lonely county road in the middle of the night. We made our way up a hill to a portion of the grounds hemmed in by a chain link fence. There was a rather large obelisk-shaped monument just inside the gate, and we stopped for a moment to notice the random funerary decorations -- a floral cross here, a cluster of plastic roses there -- hung along the fence. This part of the cemetery was high up on a hill, and in the distance we could see a few house lights. Owls were nearby -- we couldn't see them but their low hoots made them sound very close. According to a lot of the sites we found on the Web, ghosts like to stay near their final resting places, which is supposedly why there are so many "orbs" in nighttime cemetery photography. Although we had a professional photographer on board, Mike and I couldn't help snapping our own cameras at the various headstones. Mike stepped back to get a better shot of the obelisk (a monument to fallen World War II soldiers, it turned out) and almost fell backwards over another headstone.
M: "You know, more than one ghost story has ended with someone tripping over a headstone and falling into an open grave."
S: "Heh. Nice."
We examined our digital pictures for evidence of ghostly activity, but mostly we seemed to be taking pictures of floating dust. Some ghost hunters say that if you look closely, the orbs will have faces in them, but my orbs were flat and featureless. It's also commonly believed that the temperature suddenly drops when ghosts are nearby, but it was hard to tell if the pervasive chill was due to ghosts or just late October nighttime temperatures. We worked quietly for awhile, with no sound except for the plaintive owls and the buzz and crackle from the massive power lines overhead. Suddenly Amy said, "I think it's time to go."
Something in her voice made us decide that, yes, it was time to leave. We quickly gathered our things and made our way down the hill, pausing to look at unusual markers, or in one case, a lonely pair of them, cracked and leaning against each other as if their owners had leaned on one another in life. Standing on the hillside, stars glittering in the cold night sky, I felt something. Certainly nothing as exciting as a ghost and nothing that was particularly scary. It was more like a presence -- whispers of memory hanging in the air, echoes of the living. I was a little disappointed we hadn't seen or photographed anything remotely ghostly, but the weirdly peaceful environment of the cemetery at night made up for it.
And then, just as we got to the road something scary did happen: Flashlights jogging up the hill right where we'd been. And we were still a hundred yards from our car and miles away from anything else.
"Whoa," said Mike. "That's the human factor we were a little worried about."
We couldn't see the figures at all or make out how many there were, but when the lights started coming down the hill -- fast -- we picked up the pace.
"What do we do?" I whispered. For the first time that night I felt truly afraid (rather than mildly creeped out), and my knees went wobbly in spite of how fast we were walking. "Just move," said Mike. Amy didn't say anything but just looked straight ahead. In the distance ahead of us, we could see our car, along with a second vehicle that had been pulled in behind ours. We had clearly drawn the attention of someone. I looked back and noted that the disembodied flashlight beams were now on the county road directly behind us. We were trapped.
Disembodied voice: "Stop."
We kept walking.
Disembodied voice: "Stop!"
Disembodied voice: "Sheriff."
Mike: "Heh. Thank goodness."
Instead of devil worshippers on bikes or murderous hill people, the mysterious flashlight bearers who had now overtaken us were, in fact, two members of the Spokane County Sheriff's Department. They checked to make sure we hadn't been graverobbing; we explained our journalistic mission. After walking us to our vehicle, the sheriffs drove off and we shakily got into our car.
Ghosthunting, we decided, was a job best left to the professionals. So, let's close with the immortal words of Ray (Ghostbusters) Parker Jr.: "If there's something strange / in your neighborhood / who you gonna call?"
Uh, not us.
Publication date: 10/28/04