by Ingrid Dean
I’ve never been what you might call “poltergeist inclined.” I enjoy a good horror movie as much as the next person, but I always dismissed alleged true tales of wandering spirits as figments of overactive imaginations. I always believed each strange occurrence had at least one logical explanation.
This was, of course, before I began working the late-night shift in City Hall at Skagway, Alaska.
Skagway’s City Hall and police department are housed in the McCabe College Building. The local court, Magistrate’s office, and Trail of 98 Museum also share the space. This grand old structure was built in 1900 as a woman’s college and was, for a time, the only granite building in Alaska.
As with any old building, it had the obligatory creeks, groans, and murmurs. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me it was haunted. I say this now with some certainty, even though it may damage any reputation I have left as being a practical man.
After a break-in period, my first duty assignment was working the midnight shift. Sitting in the office during the wee hours, I would occasionally hear a few strange noises, but never gave them much thought. One early morning, however, changed my perception of what goes bump in the night—forever.
I was working on some much-neglected paperwork at my desk. The building was silent except for the faint hum of the Macintosh computer and my fingers performing a slow dance on the keyboard. Fighting off sleepiness caused by a daytime person trying to be nocturnal, I struggled with a rather boring theft report.
I had nearly completed the narrative when I heard a door close. The door was in a rear hallway off of the court chambers. I recognized this door because of the many times I’d heard it close before. It was attached to a police storage room where uniforms and other equipment were kept. The solid oak door was at least two inches thick. An ancient brass knob and lock-set hinted at its age. The door would not stay open on its own and, if not held, would quickly slam shut behind you. As the door was swinging it made the most hideous screeching sound.
After hearing the door close, my first thought was that someone was in or had been in the storage room. This idea was quickly dismissed because the entire building was dark when I arrived. My second thought was that someone left the door propped open and whatever was holding it gave way.
I wasn’t the least bit nervous as I rose from the desk and confidently walked through the dark courtroom and into the even darker hallway. After some fumbling around I turned on the hall light and approached the storage room door. I pulled on the knob and found it properly latched. Upon opening the door, the equipment room was dark, as it should be. I turned on the light and all of the contents seemed to be in order. I turned off the light and let the door shut on its own and was treated to the loud screeching and confident slam. Before walking away, I pulled on the knob one more time. It was locked. Satisfied, I returned to my desk and began making finishing touches to the report.
A few minutes later, I again heard the loud screech and the finality of the door slamming shut. This made the hair on the back of my neck rise to attention. Spooks were not on my mind at this point. I knew SOMEONE must have opened the door.
I pulled my weapon and made my way back to the dark courtroom using my best there-might-be-a-bad-guy-on-the-premises stalking maneuvers. I listened for signs of an intruder. As I crouched outside the door, all was silent in the hallway. My left hand reached for the light switch and the bulb snapped into action. I pounced forward, gun pointing down the hall, prepared for whoever was breaking in or out.
The hallway was empty. It then occurred to me that whoever opened the door must be hiding in the storage room. Using the before-mentioned police maneuvers, I opened the storage room door. No one.
I carefully looked around the assorted boxes and racks, satisfied that I was, in fact, alone. Somewhat relieved, I stepped back into the hallway and secured my weapon. I opened and closed the door several times, performing the “this can’t be happening” test. Each time the door securely latched and held.
I even tried leaving the door shut and unlatched, and discovered that it would stay resting against the casing. Then, shutting the door with a forceful push, I pulled the knob as hard as I dared, making sure it was properly latched. I returned to my desk feeling confident all was in order. As I settled into my chair, the door screeched. This time, I was scared. My previous search had confirmed that no living being was stalking City Hall, which left only one possible explanation. Since the door could not have opened by itself, some thing had caused this to happen.
Ever so slowly, I walked toward the hallway, with my gun secured. Whatever was opening the door would not be stopped by bullets. The door was, of course, closed and securely latched. I stood in the hallway for awhile, carefully listening and watching for signs of movement. Nothing happened.
Completing the report was the last thing on my mind, but I decided to finish the task. All was quiet as I returned to my desk. I sat stiffly in the chair, determined to not be chased from the building.
Minutes ticked by as I waited for the next occurrence. All right, I thought, if some sort of supernatural phenomenon is going on here, it will have to deal with me. I will not be run off by some annoying spirit held over from the Klondike era. Not Alan White, no sir!
You might say my sitting and listening while encamped behind the desk was admirable; after awhile, though, it became boring. I was about to write the whole episode off to midnight shifts, when the door screeched shut. Once again, I got the familiar feeling of hair leaping to attention on my neck; however not as bad this time.
Is that the best you can do? I smugly thought. What’s to closing a door? Any old spirit can handle that, you two-bit piece of suspended animation! As I considered additional insults, a two-bit something began to walk across the creaky wooden floor of the museum above me. I was familiar with the sound. I thought this new noise might be a result of my over-active imagination, but the footsteps were, well, hauntingly real.
When my heartbeat slowed to a reasonable level, I studied the new sound. Definite footsteps could be heard crossing the floor from east to west. They would stop for a time, and then return to where they had begun. Having no intention of going up to the museum, I chose to remain at my desk, in a cold sweat.
The door screeched again. I threw up my hands in disgust. Great, this is all I need! Everyone thought I was nuts for coming to Alaska in the first place, and now I find myself in a haunted department. I sat in my chair for another half hour, listening to the supernatural activities. Then anger set in. I didn’t need this. What had I done to deserve this phenomenon? I was now totally disgusted.
The door shut again. I jumped from my chair, just as whatever was walking around upstairs bumped into something. I began my first attempt at ghost-busting. “Now, knock it off!” I yelled as loudly as I could. The sound of my voice startled me and, apparently, the spirits moving about. There was absolute silence. Ha! They’re intimidated by me! I thought.
Then continuing my tirade, I strutted around the room. “I did not travel over three thousand miles to be haunted! Why don’t you guys, or girls, or whatever, find some other building to run amuck in? Hey you, upstairs! You bump into something? Good! I hope you stubbed your, ah … thing! Now, go back to wherever you go during the day and leave me alone! You’re really starting to tick me off!”
Returning to my chair, I enjoyed the new peace and quiet. My fit seemed to have worked.
Later in my shift, I went back out on patrol, feeling rather good about myself. Told them a thing or two, I smugly thought as I drove down Broadway and checked out a few buildings.
Larry relieved me at the shift change, but I said nothing about ghostly wanderings. A bright sunny day had dawned and now it all seemed like a dream. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share an experience like this. I had no idea how common it was for someone who carried a weapon for a living to experience strange night moves.
Luckily, the City Hall spirits left me alone—most of the time. Every few weeks though, the midnight shift would get weird. After listening for awhile, I would yell, “Knock it off!” And all would be quiet for the rest of the night. I became so used to this procedure that I started to be rather matter-of-fact about it.
On one of the few days Larry and I had off together, we were sitting in his living room. “Hey Larry,” I asked, “you ever hear anything, you know, strange, working in the office late at night?”
The look on his face was telling. “What do you mean when you say strange?” Larry asked, choosing his words carefully.
“Ah, you know, doors closing, footsteps overhead in the museum, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, thank you,” Larry sighed. “I thought I was going insane or something.”
Larry and I discussed the situation for some time. “Just yell ‘Knock it off!’” I said, feeling like an old pro. “They hate that.”
Excerpt from the book Alaska Behind Blue Eyes by Alan L. White.
More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.