Sightings

Posted by Ken Campbell July 3, 2008 0 Comment 691 views


It is possible that there is a place more haunted than Port Townsend, but if there is, I haven’t heard of it. When you consider that it’s not really all that old – the town was founded in 1860 – the sheer number of disembodied souls seems out of scale with the size of the community.

At the Manresa Castle Bed and Breakfast, the ghost of Kate Eisenbeis roams the rooms she used to walk through when she was alive. When her fiance was lost at sea in the early 1900’s, she jumped from the balcony on the third floor, thereby joining her love instantly in death. Her uneasy spirit still hangs around what is now room 306, and she has been known to brush up against unsuspecting mortals as she passes them on the staircase or stand silently at the bedsides of sleeping guests.

The Holly Hill House, another B’n’B, has its own ghost stories. An older, bespectacled man dressed in 19th century garb shares the haunting duties with a younger woman. It’s hard to say exactly who they are, or were, but it’s believed that they are former residents of the building. There is an old painting that hangs at the top of the stairs and the woman, it is reported, often steps out of the painting and makes her rounds before getting back onto the canvas.

At Fort Worden there are others. The guard shack is rumored to be the spot where a soldier was fatally injured with his own weapon. His ghost prowls the immediate area, but there are others as well. On the parade ground, in the weapons bunkers and in the stately houses of Officer’s Row.

Often, during the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium which is held at Fort Worden each September, I have stayed in one of the houses on the row. Now that it is a State Park, the officer’s houses are rentals, ideal for a large group. There are framed photos on the walls of old fort scenes: observation blimps being launched from the parade grounds, horse-drawn artillery and columns of soldiers marching pass-and-review. The photos help to bring a little perspective to the facility, a sense of what has come before.

There is one picture that has caught my imagination since the first moment I saw it. It is a photo of a young woman standing on the walkway above the beach at Fort Worden. Behind her, on the water, are a couple of small boats tied alongside an old dock. It is a sunny day but it must be cold, because she’s wearing a long fur coat and she has the collar done up all the way around her neck. The look on her face is neither happy nor sad, but wistful, it seems to me. Faraway eyes. Like she’s thinking of something else, like she’s wishing she was some other place. It’s a Mona Lisa look, transplanted to the Pacific Northwest on the face of an officer’s young wife.

I look at that picture and I can’t help but wonder who she was and what happened to her. Did she stay here long or was her husband transferred after a short hitch? Did he die in the war? Did she die in childbirth or live a long and happy life? Would she even remember her time at Fort Worden or was it just part of the blur of assignments that the Army throws at its members?

I’m not sure I’ll ever know for sure, so here’s my story: I think she died there, at the fort, later on the same day that photo was taken. Her husband was on maneuvers over near Fort Ebey, on Whidbey Island, and she took advantage of the sunny day to go riding with one of the enlisted men at the fort. He was a soldier in one of her husband’s regiments, and he had the kind of boyish smile that she just couldn’t resist. She shouldn’t have gone, she knew it wouldn’t look good, but when he mentioned that he was going riding, she just had to go along. He took some photographs of her standing on the hill. They had gone to the beach, and they had napped in the warm sand while their horses rested. On the way back up the hill, she was thrown from her horse and hit her head on a rock in the trail. The soldier carried her limp body to the infirmary, where she was pronounced dead on the scene.

Ever since, she has wandered the paths and the woods of Fort Worden, a woman who has nowhere else to go. On stormy nights, she will climb from the photograph and search the houses and grounds for her husband, for a chance to explain, to make it all right again. When the mist hangs low on the water and the wind shakes the needles from the towering trees all around, she shimmers her way between the buildings and across the dunes, always moving, a shy and uncertain look on her shadowy face.

Maybe this is how ghost stories get started.

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