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The Ghosts of Friday Harbor

It’s that time of the year, when the veil between the living and the spirits is said to be the thinnest, when we light fires and lanterns, wear masks and costumes to ward of the ghosts, when we remember our dead and our saints and plead with them to let us make it safely through another Winter.

Every small town has them: folklores about the unexplainable, stories, that live on from generation to generation. What greater fun than to explore those stories and the cool architecture of our small town’s buildings on a foggy October evening while staying in a historic hotel on a small island? That’s right, our Bird Rock Hotel was built in 1891 as the Tourist Hotel, and was the first island hotel with indoor plumbing, a rare luxury at the time. It had a restaurant, bar, pool hall and a reception room for the ladies, who were not allowed in the bar. A dentist periodically provided his services in the lobby, most likely with anesthesia dispensed from said bar. While our Bird Rock doesn’t have any ghosts in residence, one of Friday Harbor’s most prominent ghosts supposedly resides right across the street, in what is today the Friday Harbor Whale Museum.

 

Friday Harbor Whale Museum
The Friday Harbor Whale Museum has a turbulent past

Whale Museum – 62 First Street

In 1895, a schoolteacher from the neighboring Blakely Island, was tried for murder here in Friday Harbor in what was then the town’s Odd Fellow’s Hall. He was found guilty, much to his surprise, and later hanged on the corner of First and Spring Street, in view of the hall. After his death, on the second floor of the hall, which is today the main exhibit of the museum, filled with whale and other marine animal’s skeletons, a tall thin figure was said to appear, footsteps were heard and a presence was felt after the museum had closed for the day. From old photos, the tall thin man was identified as the schoolteacher.

 

Windermere Real Estate on San Juan Island
San Juan Hotel on the left, today Windermere Real Estate, photo: San Juan Historical Museum, Friday Harbor's Spring Street in 1886

Windermere Office – 50 Spring Street

A few blocks down the street, you will find the Wm. Douglas House built in 1880, later known as the popular San Juan Hotel and currently the local Windermere Real Estate office. The story goes, that one particular guest, a short, pudgy, mustached gentleman with a grey flannel suit, by the name of Walter, never checked out. When other hotel guests long after his passing sat in his favorite over-stuffed chair, things went flying and loud rattling sounds were heard. It was assumed, that Walter, tired after a long tourist season, wanted his chair back.

Serendipity Book Store on San Juan Island
The Adorable Serendipity Bookstore

Serendipity Bookstore – 223 A Street

This adorable Victorian building overlooking the ferry lanes was built in 1892 as a private residence, became the Presbyterian Manse in 1903 and a private residence again before becoming the fun and comprehensive used bookstore it is today. One morning, when the storekeeper opened the front door, she saw a woman in a black Duster Coat sitting inside by the window. Once she entered the store, the woman was nowhere to be found. The shopkeeper told her story and at some point, members of the family, who had previously owned the house, visited the shop, an old photo album in tow. When looking through the pictures, the shopkeeper suddenly saw the woman, who had been sitting in the window. A previous owner of the home, who passed away in 1957.

Whether you are a true believer or you just enjoy a good tale, come check out Friday Harbor’s rich history this Fall and ponder what we think we know and why we so want to believe.

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