From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:
Three mysteries emerge from an episode back when Spokane was known as Spokane Falls, one of them concerns a ghost, another is geographic, and the last is bibliographic. No, I’m not talking about a spirit scouring the online catalog– that is called BOOlean searching (heh-heh, get it?). This series of questions emerge from the following article in the Spokane Falls Review, March 21, 1885:
Spokane Falls Enjoys the Luxury of a Haunted House.
“Among the other many attractions in and about Spokane Falls, there has recently been added that of a haunted house, wherein the cheerful disembodied spirit holds high carnival, and the spectral inhabitants of the silent and bewitching midnight meet together to join in ghostly orgies, talk politics and frighten the timid denizens of this mundane sphere out of their seven senses. Belated pedestrians, with a tendency to scare easily, shun the side of street upon which is located the trysting place of the jovial spooks, while the more courageous have marched up to the premises, but, if not really frightened, have had no hesitancy in moving off at a speed above that of ordinary promenading when having their ears saluted with uncanny sounds.”
“The building that has been taken without the formality of lease, by these airy nocturnal roysters, is the old Phoenix beer hall that was the scene of a sad chapter in the city’s history; that of the unprovoked murder of a young man last summer, and which has been unoccupied for several months. We have heard vague rumors of the presence of a ghost, but have, so far, been unable to see anyone who will admit of having seen anything of a supernatural agency. Although the belief is so strong that the unexplainable exists that it is not every one you meet who will volunteer to take his blankets and camp in the room overnight.”
“It is said that on a certain occasion, recently, a man passing had his attention attracted by a strange noise that seemed to proceed from the room, and, going carefully up the alley, he peered into a window. He didn’t remain rooted to the spot. His legs refused to allow his body to remain in the neighborhood and he don’t remember just how he soon did get to bed, but it was only a small fraction of time after taking one gaze, when he had his head buried under the blankets.”
“He touches the subject tenderly and has kept much more rational hours ever since. What he saw could not have grown out of the character of the fluid he had been drinking, as he had religiously stuck to water that evening. To a limited few, he claims that when he reached the window he saw the shadowy outlines of a man that shone out with a phosphorous light. The shadowy tenant was walking with his back to the window and was giving vent to a noise sounding as though he was in a good deal of pain or was growling over the chilliness of the night. When the apparition turned about and headed for the window, one glance was sufficient for the individual. Considering that the specter would consider it an indelicate intrusion, the witness adjourned without apology. He calculates that, with ordinary luck, he will be able to outlive the sensation he experienced in fifty or one hundred years.”
“Making all due allowance for a vivid imagination and a bristly fright, there is still left a margin for the belief that the visitor from the other world is not a party that the average man would choose for a boon companion.”
“Since then, and perhaps before (although we have no data for going behind the returns) attention has been attracted to the spot by divers unpleasant sounds, as if a whole colony of the defunct were occasionally congregated for a jubilee. No thorough investigation has, so far, been made, as the initiated have perhaps felt a slight delicacy in forcing their presence in company where they were not invited. We suppose that in time, when the thing becomes shorn of the glamour of freshness, some one will want to deprive the public of the benefit of such an important tributary to the popularity of the Falls, and try to clear up the mystery.”
Mystery # 1: What the heck is it? In all my perusing through territorial newspapers, this is the most detailed and open account I have found describing public “ghostly” happenings.
Mystery # 2: The exact location of the Phoenix Beer Hall, which was designated as the HQ for these ghosts, is not easy to find. Apparently closed by 1885, it doesn’t show up on directories or Sanborn maps of the era. I’d be curious to know if that location has experienced other “supernatural” events in the 20th-21st centuries. But where was/is it?
Mystery # 3: In an attempt to find an account of the “sad chapter in the city’s history,” it was discovered the incident was the September 27, 1884 shooting of a quiet carpenter named Henry R. Roblin by John “Jack” Connerry, “a notorious rustler.” Apparently Roblin accidentally bumped into Connerry on a Saturday near midnight at the Phoenix Beer Hall, and that alone sparked the shooting. Connerry was captured the next morning but was moved from Spokane Falls city jail to Cheney as he was in very real danger of being lynched by an angry mob. It seems Connerry escaped jail in Cheney a short time later.
But here’s the mystery. In an effort to find a local article about this shooting, every single newspaper run we have in the Spokane area is missing the issue that would have covered this news. It’s like we have a nice complete set– except for this one period. Every one of them! What’s the deal here? I had to go to newspapers in California and Montana to get the details. Was the episode so shameful no one wanted to preserve the newspapers, or instead did they keep it as a souvenir? In any case, it is quite odd.
The Spokane Falls Review is one the historical newspapers digitized by the Washington State Library. The above article, and many other lively stories about Spokane can be viewed online on the WSL website.