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.