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Bellingham
Saturday, April 4, 2020

Haunted Bellingham

By Monique Merrill

 

The days become darker and colder as Halloween approaches. The chill air you feel could very well be a ghost passing by. Whether you believe in them or not, the stories of ghosts haunting Bellingham are no apparition.

Junior Freya Lemon lives in a 113-year-old house near campus that has a reputation for spooky activity.

The house was built in 1904, when Bellingham was a hub for merchants and turn-of-the-century port businesses. Bernard Montague was a partner in the Montague and McHugh dried-goods store, which was located downtown on the corner of Railroad and Holly. The store was later expanded and moved into the Crown Plaza building where you can find The Union Coffee Shop and the Sandalwood Salon & Spa in its place today. Montague and his wife Anna had four children and built an expansive home on North Garden Street.

Montague Manor on North Garden Street. // Photo by Kirstyn Nyswonger

The story of Montague has been passed down through generations of student renters that have occupied the grand house.

“Mr. Montague, a merchant in the 1900s, had a beautiful young daughter. She died when she was our age of an old-timey disease,” Lemon said.

According to the story, the daughter died in the upstairs attic.

“I’ve heard the upstairs is more haunted,” Abbie Chacon, another roommate, said.

The house is divided into three separate units, one in the basement, one on the main and second floors, the other in the attic. Lemon estimated that between 15-to-20 people live in the house at any time, plus, of course, the ghost of Montague’s daughter.

The original architecture has been maintained with some modifications to convert the former dining and parlor rooms into bedrooms. Lemon said new walls have been added, separating the spaces, and some areas of the house have been entirely sealed off, including a staircase that leads to nowhere.

“We don’t know really what’s on the other side of it,” Chacon said.

With a name like Montague Manor, eeriness is expected. Like any old house, they hear ominous clinking coming from the radiator, noises that can be frightening when there is lore of a ghost. But they also hear more unexplained sounds, Chacon said.

“I hear knocks a lot. Knocks that aren’t there,” Chacon said.

Unknown noises in the house are common experiences for Chacon and Lemon.

“Sometimes I’ll feel like I’m hearing a knock on the front door and I’ll peek out from my room and there’s no one,” Lemon said.

The tenants said the house can be unsettling. Unusual sights and sounds have often permeated the space.

“Doors opening and closing are a thing a lot of people have said they’ve felt. We’ve had flickery lights,” Chacon said. “I don’t like to be in the house when it’s quiet and no music or anything because I’m so afraid I’ll see or hear something. But I do see things out of the corner of my eye very periodically.”

Lemon said about a decade ago there was a man living in the house who was dealing drugs and involved in organized crime who brought his dangerous cohorts around the house. Eventually the roommates became fed up with the behavior and forced him to move out.

“They kicked him out but he still had a key and he came in and left a decapitated goat head in the oven,” Lemon said. Chacon believes they still have the same oven. Lemon says they have yet to hear ghostly goat bleating coming from the oven.

Just up the street from the Montague Manor is the notoriously named Karate Church. The building originated as Bellingham’s first Presbyterian Church, built in 1889, before becoming a karate dojo in the 1970s and is currently home to the Alternative Library.

The Karate Church, home to the Alternative Library, is just up the street from Montague Manor. // Photo by Kirstyn Nyswonger

According to the Alternative Library, there are stories of a ghost that haunted the former dojo. The story goes there was a man who studied and practiced at the dojo and joked when he passed he would come back to haunt the space, Future Man, the Alternative Library’s founder, said.

“Numerous people had experiences of being here late at night, by themselves,” Future Man said. “Hearing footsteps around the space and hearing someone practicing a form but then looking around and nobody was around and the doors remained locked.”

However, ghost stories aren’t just limited to Bellingham homes. Maureen Scott has been volunteering for the Mount Baker Theatre for eight years and has conducted tours for much of that time. The rich history of the Mount Baker Theatre lends itself well to tales of ghosts and spirits.

Mount Baker Theatre has experienced several kinds of ghosts. // Photo by Kirstyn Nyswonger

Scott has facilitated many groups that come through looking to investigate the reported paranormal activity in the theater. Friends of Ghosts, a paranormal investigation group from Seattle, visited to see what activity they could pick up and found two spirits in the room that was formerly the theater boss’ office.

When the theater went through a renovation in 2002, builders found a locked safe in the office. When they returned to continue working on the room after lunch, they noticed the safe had been opened.

“It had not been opened in probably over 30 years because nobody had the combination and nobody could figure out how to get it open, but when they came back it was open,” Scott said. (9:30)

Casual ghost enthusiasts might be aware of Judy, the Mount Baker Theatre’s most well-known ghost. Scott said Judy was a young girl who lived in the houses that were later torn down to build the theater. She was a fan of live theater, but died before the Mount Baker was built.

“She doesn’t bother anybody, she kind of watches over the place,” Scott said. “But if there is a man there by himself late at night or after everyone else is gone, she will come up behind them and put her hand on their back.”

In her interactions with ghost hunters, Scott has learned a thing or two about spirits.

“There are intelligent ghosts that know they are dead, and aware of us, and are hanging out so they can interact with us, and then there are residual ghosts which are leftover energy,” Scott said.

One of the theater’s residual ghosts dates back to 1929. In the era of travelling vaudeville acts, the theater had many troupes with performing animals come through. Before one show, the lead panther in the act died. They wrapped it up in a canvas in a closet until after showtime when they could properly dispose of the creature.

When Friends of Ghosts investigated the Mount Baker, they picked up on a distinct large cat energy coming from the closet underneath the stage.

“His energy keeps jumping out of the closet. It’s kind of like a loop of film repeating is how it was described to me,” Scott said.

In the historic old town of Fairhaven, stories of ghosts are thriving in Sycamore Square on the corner of 12th Street and Harris Avenue. Shirlee Jones owns Shirlee Bird Cafe on the main floor of the building and had a strange experience when she was renovating her shop two years ago.

The inside staircases of the Sycamore Square building. // Photo by Kirstyn Nyswonger.

At three in the morning one night, when wrapping up a mosaic project, Jones was cleaning out a mortar bucket on the fourth floor of the empty building and had her first encounter with one of the resident ghosts.

“I kind of felt a cold breeze and the hairs on my neck stood up and a small child giggled in my ear, audibly, and then skipping footfalls on the hallway behind me,” Jones said. “I think that was one of the moments I became an adult because I could either run away screaming and just leave that bucket to turn into cement or harness my fears and realize the kid sounded happy, it’s probably fine, just finish cleaning your bucket and go home. So I did that.”

A year later, Jones had a new barista close by herself for the first time, and came in the next morning to find the grill had been left on. When asked about this, the new barista claimed she had turned it off multiple times but it kept turning on.

“After the third time, she stood here and watched [the grill] turn itself back on,” Jones said.

 

It’s refreshing to know that here in Bellingham, a nighttime walk around the neighborhood can be scary for all the right reasons.

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