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Reading the North: ‘West of North’ and ‘Spirits of Southeast’

 Author:        Updated: April         Published April 9

‘Spirits of Southeast Alaska: The History & Hauntings of Alaska’s Panhandle’

By James Devereaux; Epicenter Press, $15.95; 129 pages

What it’s about: Ghostly footsteps and flickering lights, a silhouette in the window of an abandoned building, a restless presence at the scene of a sunken ship, spectral wails and poltergeist theft of office supplies, mythical Native American legends, and other paranormal happenings scattered across the Alaska Panhandle come together in “Spirits of Southeast Alaska,” a grand adventure into the historical hauntings of the southeastern corner of the Last Frontier.

Author James Devereaux lived in Alaska for years, working as an archaeologist. Inspired by ghost stories as a child, and by accounts by Alaska residents of paranormal phenomena in the area, he set out to collect the ghost stories of Southeast Alaska.

Excerpt: On August 11, 1897, an unfortunate soul named Dwight B. Fowler was crossing the Skagway River with a full pack of goods. As was far too often the case on the White Pass, Fowler’s ambitions exceeded his abilities. The sheer force of the rushing Skagway River on his 100-plus pound pack proved too much, and he found himself swept downstream. Even without the weight of a pack, the Skagway River can be fatal to the unwary traveler …

After fishing Fowler’s body out of the river, a hastily assembled committee decided Cleveland was to bring the remains back to his packing operation in Skagway. To the dismay of the miners, Cleveland would not perform the deed unless he received his customary $10 packing fee. The miners refused to pay, so Cleveland simply fished through the pockets of the dead man until he procured his fee. He continued on his way down the slopes to his waterfront lots, where Fowler’s mortal remains were stored in the exposed and swampy lot. Where he was eventually interred is lost to history, though the tidelands of Alaska have been known to swallow cars. Could the brutality of life and death on the tidelands and man’s indifference to fellow man have provoked Fowler’s spirit?

Regardless of his final resting place, the soul of Dwight B. Fowler could very well be the source of reported ghostly activity in the Mascot Saloon. Over the years, visitors and employees have seen the Mascot’s first-floor bathroom faucets turn on and off by themselves and have felt icy, cold spots pass through the premises. There are reports of the men’s bathroom hand dryers turning on when no one is nearby. Park Service employees have also reported doors on the first floor locking and unlocking by themselves without anyone with keys near the building.

Book gives haunting history of Southeast Alaska

History and horror make the most sinister of bedfellows, and fortunately – or unfortunately depending on one’s point of view – Southeast Alaska has a very rich history to draw upon.

Written by former Skagway resident Jim Devereaux, “The Spirits of Southeast Alaska: The History and Hauntings of Alaska’s Panhandle” recounts the haunted past of the last frontier. The book is a labor of love he toiled on while living in Skagway; a place well represented the book’s pages.

For Devereaux, history is a life-long calling. He worked as an archaeologist for the National Parks Service for several years. That work brought him up to Skagway, where he met his future wife, Katie Emmets, a former editor for The Skagway News.

Eleven tales about Southeast Alaska appear in the book – four of which are focused on Skagway. Part of the reason Skagway makes so many appearances in the book is thanks to its rich historical tradition and the integral role Skagway played in the gold rush period.

“It’s an important place,” Devereaux said. “It has always been such a major travel center that I found myself working with it a lot.”

In later volumes, Devereaux said he hopes to include even more Skagway stories.

Luckily Devereaux said he’s come across no hard proof which would indicate The Skagway News’ Broadway offices are infested with anything paranormal, meaning the only thing haunting the newsroom late at night is the editor.

“The Spirits of Southeast Alaska” was partly born from Devereaux’s love of history. While living in Skagway, he would see tourists wanting to go fishing for salmon, go see wildlife, see the scenery about the town.

“As much as I loved watching them do that…I was always a little sad that they never had the opportunity to truly take in the rich historical tradition of the place,” Devereaux said.

Using the paranormal provided a palatable medium to tell that history to tourists and longtime Alaska residents alike.

Devereaux said he spent as much, if not more time, researching the history of the events surrounding the hauntings featured in his book as he spent investigating the paranormal tales themselves.

While his love for history provided a part of his motivation to write the book, he got the second part of the creative spark from his time spent doing radio reporting for KHNS. Near Halloween one year, he threw out the idea of collecting spooky stories.

“As I spread that word around town and via the airwaves, I found myself inundated with firsthand accounts of these ghost stories,” Devereaux said. “People loved them.”

One haunting story in the book, for which Devereaux got firsthand accounts for, surrounds the Mascot Saloon, which Devereaux said is one of the few remaining buildings in the downtown area that has not been moved.

“Without going into too much detail, there’s a lot of poltergeist activity that takes place there,” Devereaux said. “Quite literally the things that go bump in the night.”

Strange phantom knockings, crashes with no discernible cause and toilets flushing by themselves are all phenomena Devereaux said have been reported on that property.

These haunted happenings in the Mascot can be traced back to two separate historic incidents.

One was the drowning of a man in the Skagway River; his body was stored on the grounds the Mascot came to be built on.

The other tragedy related to the mysterious activity is the Palm Sunday Avalanche – the deadliest event of the Klondike Gold Rush.

At one time, Devereaux said many of the artifacts identified as being associated with the Palm Sunday Avalanche victims were stored at the Mascot.

“Regardless of what the origins [are], that place does continue to be reported as haunted by parks service employees and visitors alike to this day,” Devereaux said.