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Sunday, May 28, 2023
May 28, 2023

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Walking tour features old haunts on fort grounds

Stories of supernatural encounters bring fun, spooky vibe to National Fort Vancouver Historic Site Spirit Tales

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
7 Photos
An etched-glass portrait of a woman watches guests leave the O.O. Howard House on Sunday during the Spirit Tales walking tour around Officers Row and the West Barracks.
An etched-glass portrait of a woman watches guests leave the O.O. Howard House on Sunday during the Spirit Tales walking tour around Officers Row and the West Barracks. (Samuel Wilson for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

All seemed calm along the picturesque Officers Row in Vancouver on Sunday afternoon. Trees lined the street, displaying their autumn colors, and visitors happily strolled the sidewalks.

But perhaps something sinister lurked just out of sight.

The area is home to many ghost legends and reported supernatural encounters, local historian Jeff Davis said as he lead a Spirit Tales walking tour around Officers Row, the West Barracks and the shuttered military hospital. He told some creepy tales with the tour group while sprinkling in some local trivia.

Davis shared one story about a man who had a home office in an old Army building and a ghost who ruined a couple of the man’s dates.

The first time it happened, he had left his date momentarily and returned to find her shaken. The woman said a ghost appeared and told her to leave, but to be careful on her way out. The date decided to go home.

Another time, the man had a different woman in the building, and a ghost appeared to her when he left the room. The spirit identified herself as Elizabeth and told the woman to stop drinking.

If You Go

• What: Spirit Tales walking tours.

• Who: Not recommended for children younger than 11.

When: Tickets still available for 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Grant House, 1101 Officers Row, Vancouver.

• Cost:$15.

• Information: 360-992-1804 or www.fortvan.org

Davis’ best guess is that Elizabeth perhaps had had an alcohol-related accident in the building. Maybe she tripped down its steep stairs, he speculated.

Davis is a bit of a local celebrity. He wrote “Weird Washington,” a guide to odd local legends and secrets, and co-authored “Weird Oregon.” During more than 30 years of active and reserve military service, he had some stints as military historian, and he was the de facto Army historian of the Vancouver Barracks.

As the group of about 20 people walked up to the old military hospital, which also is visible from Interstate 5, he told the group about the time he, his wife and his friend stayed overnight inside the hospital.

The three decided to sleep in a basement hallway outside the door to the old hospital morgue. His friend set up a bed on top of a table in the hallway, and in the middle of the night, Davis and his friend awoke to a squeaking noise.

His friend, wide-eyed, looked at Davis said, “It’s not me.” Davis said he realized that the table was shifting back and forth along the floor, causing the sound. His friend rolled off of the table, and they all called it a night.

“It was time for us to leave,” Davis said. The three had synchronized their watches at the beginning of the evening; by the time they left, all three watches displayed a different time.

For Verna Sansom of Vancouver, this was not her first tour involving ghost tales. She had gone to a similar event several years ago all around Vancouver with another local historian, Pat Jollota. Sansom is also a fan of Davis’ and brought a copy of “Weird Washington” for him to sign.

She said Sunday’s tour still included a lot of material she wasn’t familiar with, and she was having fun.

“He tells a good story,” she said.

Sansom said it’s natural to have scepticism about stories of haunted places, but she believes in ghosts — in part, she says, because she saw one in her home.

“We just stared at each other in the house. It was not threatening at all,” she said, adding that it soon vanished, never to be seen again. “People think I’m crazy,” she added.

There are plenty of current and former employees at the Grant House on Officers Row who might believe her, though. Davis closed his tour at the historic house, which is now home to a restaurant. Several workers there have reported unexplainable events over the years, he said.

A hostess reported seeing a boy in a suit sitting quietly in the waiting area. After observing him for a time, she asked her coworker who the well-behaved child was. Her coworker responded, “What boy?”

Once, an accountant was working late and heard footsteps outside of her office. She peeked out, and nobody was there. She walked into the hallway and felt a cold sensation pass through her body, Davis said.

He said the ghost might be that of Gen. Alfred Sully, who was known to pace around his upper-floor apartment in the middle of the night. He died in 1879 at Fort Vancouver.

Columbian Assistant Metro Editor