Monday, January 24, 2011

Historic and Haunted: Port Townsend WA

How a weekend getaway turned into a real life ghost story.


It was not a dark and stormy night.

In fact, it was the longest day of the year, and I had taken a Summer Solstice jaunt to the historic seaside town of Port Townsend, staying in what appeared to be a charming Victorian hotel on the main drag.

The Palace Hotel
(photo credit: The Palace Hotel)
After a 4 1/2 hour drive, I walked into the main lobby of The Palace Hotel – sun blazing a trail in the late summer afternoon sky, and immediately asked the front desk clerk (Bob), “Are you going to tell me this hotel is haunted?”

And why did I blurt out this odd question? Because the main lobby had a strange kind of filmy feeling – as if a layer of gauze or a veil was laid over it.

Before I continue, I must digress. I have stayed in numerous “historic” B&B’s by myself, both here and abroad. I have also been in countless older homes for my job at Rejuvenation – and I have never encountered a place quite like this.

OK, now back to the story.

In regards to my question, Bob gives a nervous chuckle and tells me the hotel “does have an interesting past” (seaport brothel). In a half-hearted attempt at transparency, he offers me the hotel’s “binder” which contains guest reviews.

For reasons I can’t fully explain (the reoccurring theme of the weekend) I tell Bob I’m not up for the binder, and that I’d prefer to remain objective. Bob then asks if I’d mind paying up front. And again, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I tentatively hand over my credit card and commit to my stay at The Palace Hotel.


I follow Bob as he scurries up the main staircase which is presided over by a large portrait – “The Lady in Blue” – and plants my small suitcase in Room 4, Miss Claire’s room.

The Lady in Blue
a.k.a Miss Claire
(photo credit: KOMO News)
Despite its tawdry past, Miss Claire’s room is airy and bright. I enter, but immediately freeze in my tracks. The vibe overwhelms me. It feels like something is in the room – but I can’t see it. More specifically, it feels like a patch of sad energy gently hovering overhead – kind of like an invisible, clinically-depressed blimp.

My first instinct is to bolt, but after a few minutes of self-talk (there is NOTHING WRONG with this room, Laurie) I decide to stay. To get the weekend off to the right start, I send “the presence” a telepathic greeting (no joke). Something to the effect of “Hey Miss Claire, you seem kind of down, and I’m sorry about that, and I know this is your room, and I’ll be a really good roommate." I hit the telepathic “send” button and start to unpack.

Usually, for work purposes, I would take pictures in a historic hotel, but I decide not to use my camera (or for that matter, turn on the TV), fearing the camera flash or electronic devices might trigger a paranormal event. (Again, no joke.)

And now, I am truly beginning to grasp the Victorian concept of “going mad."

“Shake it off,” I tell myself. I pull myself back from the brink, buck up and head out to dinner. After a lovely meal and a healthy dose of wine at The Silverwater Café, I head back to Room 4. With the table lamp on, I go to sleep. Thankfully, the night is uneventful.


Saturday morning arrives, and summer light floods the room early. “How ironic,” I think, “my own little version of The Shining.” I get up and do a gut-check on the room. I feel Miss Claire is not present. Perhaps she’s out running errands. (Do ghosts run errands?)

Room 4, Miss Claire's boudoir
(photo credit: The Palace Hotel)

I head out for a day of sightseeing, and make sure to leave the room extra tidy, thinking that if Miss Claire moves anything while I’m out, I’ll be able to tell. I return later that afternoon after an invigorating bike ride to Fort Worden. The room feels normal. I breathe a sigh of relief and relax, and start to get ready to go out for an early dinner. Although at this point, I'm trying my best to apply makeup while NOT looking in the mirror, since I know from childhood slumber parties that mirrors and apparitions go hand-in-hand. (Mary Worth, are you listening?)

And wouldn’t you know! While primping, the closed door to my room pops open – in that scary movie kind of way – creaky sound effect and all. “Hmmmm,” I think to myself, “pretty sure that was closed.” I shrug it off and attribute it to an old building with old locks. I continue to blindly apply mascara, when suddenly, I feel something behind me.

So now I break out in goose bumps, quickly brush my hair and leave. “She’s back,” I think, “so I’ll just let her have the room to herself for a few hours.”

I fear I am starting to lose it.

Dinner is another lovely meal at the The Silverwater Café washed down with two very large glasses of wine. After taking in some live music and knocking back another stiff drink, I feel fortified and ready to return to Miss Claire’s room. “One more night,” I say to myself.

It’s still twilight when I return, but I decide to turn in early. I switch on the table lamp, get into bed, pull the covers over my head, and hope for the best. I drift off.

Fast forward a few hours. I’m sound asleep – that is, until the locked door once again mysteriously pops open. I sit bolt upright in bed and say loudly, “Hello? Hello?” No answer. I walk to the open door and look out into the still-lit hall. I see nothing.

And then I have a funny thought – an epiphany of sorts. I realize that I don’t really WANT to see anything. I’m tired of this ghost stuff, and I am now more annoyed with than scared of Miss Claire. She reminds me of so many roommates from days past, stumbling in late on a Saturday night, probably a little tipsy, but meaning no harm.

At least she didn’t bring home a guy.


Sunday morning arrives – bright and sunny! My first thought of the day is, “I’m getting the hell out of here.” I skip the shower (no more creepy bathroom for me), quickly pack up, and say good-bye to Miss Claire. This time I speak out loud for I am no longer in denial about her existence.

But before I go, I do review “the binder” which is chock full of experiences similar to mine – and then some. I also learn legend has it Miss Claire was engaged to be married, but was jilted by a sailor who left her at the dock. Her never-used wedding gown was stashed in a trunk found in Room 4.

I hit the road. By the time I’m in Tacoma, I realize I've spent the weekend with a broken-hearted ghost, and have a full-blown case of the heebie-jeebies. For closure, I call Front Desk Bob when I get home and tell him my tale. Bob confirms that my story is “consistent with other events” at the hotel. I guess that’s paranormal-speak for this stuff goes on all the time.

As for me, I still sleep with a light on.

The Palace Hotel
1004 Water Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gettin' Crabby: Netarts OR

With crabbing, like most things in life, timing matters. And there is some truth to the saying that crabbing is best during the months that end in “er”. My first outing was in September, and was pretty successful (several mature crabs for the taking) while my second outing in June was a little disappointing (fewer mature crabs for the taking). Something to keep in mind.

My gang’s favorite place to crab is Netarts, a charming little seaside town on Oregon's north coast. We’re big fans of Big Spruce RV Park and Boat Rental, where you can rent a nifty aluminum boat and crab cages complete with bait (frozen raw chicken and raw fish). You also get a special crab “ruler” which helps you determine which crabs are large enough to keep.

Catch of the day

Crabbing was pleasingly straightforward in a physical sort of way. First, we fastened slimy frozen bait to the bottom of the cages, putted around the bay, hurled the cages overboard at staggered intervals, and let them sit for about 20 minutes. Then, we pulled the cages back in. And that’s when the real fun began.

Squirming, snapping crustaceans had clambered into the netted cages, and much squealing and swearing ensued as we measured the “keepers” – large males – and tossed back females and babies– all the while trying not to get pinched by agitated crabs hanging onto the cages for dear life. We found ourselves swinging between the thrill of the hunt and feeling bad for the little critters. At one point, I asked a fellow crew member (who happens to be a doctor) if crabs had feelings. She paused, then answered thoughtfully, “Well, I think it’s more like they have sensations”. Somehow, this made us all feel a better - as if we weren’t causing them “real" pain.

After our exhilarating expedition, we headed back to land with our haul, where the friendly and helpful folks at Big Spruce cleaned our crabs, explained the difference between Dungeness and Rock crabs, then sent us happily on our way with our catch.

Crabbing Tips:
• Go during an "er" month
• Call ahead and reserve your boat. Boats go fast during peak months. (Crabbing is contingent on the tides, so you just can’t show up whenever.)
• Wear quick dry clothing. You will get wet.
• Wear shoes with traction. (Keens are ideal). All that water and bait juice (eewwww!) makes for a slippery boat, and you’ll need a good grip when you haul in your catch.
• Bring a change of clothes – especially shoes.
• Bring an ice chest to transport your crabs to their final destination.