Frightening Corners of the Flathead

By Beacon Staff

While the Flathead has a growing population of active, new residents, it also has a lesser-known population of active, dead residents – in other words, ghosts. Few have witnessed the valley’s ghosts but many have heard about them or know someone who has. Sightings range from West Glacier down to Kalispell, from well-documented legends to little-known specters, and from the friendly apparition to the angry. These ghosts have names and stories, and both the specters and the living people who know of them inform the Flathead’s culture just like any other artifice of local history.

Be it a haunted museum or a haunted bar, the settings of paranormal activity in the Flathead are many. The following stories and legends might not be an exhaustive list of every spook, but they serve as a starting point for aspiring ghost hunters out to scare themselves silly this Halloween. Be afraid. Be – sort of – afraid.

Martha in the attic

Martha, the female spirit who resides in the attic of the Kalispell Museum at Central School, is well known to the volunteers there. Susie McAllister, a new volunteer, was searching for a co-worker earlier this month when she found herself unable to step out into the attic.

“All I had was one foot out of the elevator,” McAllister said. “My backbone went ‘whoops!’”

McAllister, who said she has always been able to “sense things,” remembered the stories she had heard about a young woman in an old-fashioned dress, seen in the southeastern corner of the attic – and the way the school bell would sometimes ring when there was no one there to yank the rope which hangs down into the attic.

“It was like I walked into something,” she said, “I don’t want to say a barrier, but a different kind of air.”

Dottie, another volunteer at the museum who did not give her last name, has also had odd experiences in the attic, which is off limits to the public and contains stacks of old newspapers, furniture, tools and maps. Dottie hasn’t felt the ghost’s presence for years, but describes it as “pleasant.”

“I have the feeling that she didn’t die here,” Dottie said. “She died somewhere else.” Dottie wonders if one of the historical artifacts stored in the attic brought the ghost along with it.

Jesse Malone, a 10-year volunteer at the museum, speculates that the “good ghost” is a former school teacher reluctant to leave the building where she once taught. But friendly ghost or not, McAllister swears never to enter the attic again.

“Honey, there’s not enough money in Texas to get me to go up there,” she said.

George in the bathroom

Ghost stories tend to be based upon rumors or stories passed along from person to person until whatever kernel of truth that might have existed becomes embellished beyond recognition. Such is the case regarding the Remington bar in Whitefish, where longstanding ghost rumors persist that the building, once an illicit hiding spot for Japanese railroad workers, has a basement rife with the spirits of the restless laborers.

Patty Higgins, a bartender at the Remington, said she believes that particular rumor arose because the building’s original owner, M.M. Hori, was Japanese and housed some of his workers in the basement. Any tales about the spirits of Japanese workers in the Remington’s basement are pure fiction, she said, but that doesn’t mean the place is ghost-free.

“The basement’s never been haunted,” Higgins said. “It’s always been haunted upstairs.”

“George is his name,” she added. “When anything goes wrong, George is blamed.” Remington employees believe George is an old railroader killed on the tracks or a former bar manager who shot himself in the building. The ghost is often blamed for occasionally messing up the kitchen or flipping on the TV.

About a year ago, after closing the bar down and locking up, a night manager was in one of the ladies’ room stalls when she heard heavy boots walking along the bathroom floor. When the frightened manager looked, there was no one there and the building was empty. Higgins had a similar experience three months ago when she heard the same heavy footsteps in an upstairs hallway. Again, there was no one there.

Walter Sayre, a former president of the Stumptown Historical Society and the author of a book on the history of Whitefish, has collected a handful of the town’s ghost stories over the years. Just about every town has a phantom hitchhiker, he said, and Whitefish is no different.

Sayre has heard many secondhand stories about a young woman hitching a ride on Wisconsin Avenue and asking to be let off at the building that once housed the Mexican restaurant Dos Amigos, currently home to the Pollo Grill. The unsuspecting driver would drop off the girl and continue on their way.

“Invariably, she would leave something in the car and the Good Samaritan would go back to return something to her,” Sayre said. “And of course, nobody (at the restaurant) knew what he was talking about.”

Sayre knew a man who, as a teenager, was part of a group in the 1940s that claimed to have seen some kind of headless horseman on the Baker Street Bridge in an incident that never made newspapers at the time.

“They saw this thing come galloping down the street, across the bridge,” Sayre said. The witness to the horseman eventually tried to joke it off, but Sayre said he remembers the genuine fear the teenagers had in the immediate aftermath of the sighting. “He kind of puts it down to a little bit of hysteria and fooling around, but it actually scared the daylights out of them.”

A few years later, a house – which no longer stands – on the south end of Karrow Avenue developed a reputation for being haunted after two teenagers snapped a picture of some sort of form there. The house was originally inhabited by two women who suffered some harassment due to a belief that they were gay, Sayre said. The women eventually died, but people believed the anger over their treatment lingered in the house.

Dapper on the deck

Angry ghosts also haunted the lodge and chalet building of the Belton Chalet hotel in West Glacier, until the owners invited a spiritual leader from the Blackfeet Reservation to hold a cleansing ceremony eight years ago.

According to Cas Still, one of the co-owners of the chalet, a general manager was once pushed into a bathroom and a chair was lodged against the door in an empty room. Shortly after purchasing the hotel in the mid-1990s, Still said she and the other owners were restoring and repainting some of the walls. Upon re-entering one room, they found a wall marred by fan-shaped black burn marks, as if from a kerosene lamp.

“It was really odd, of course, because there weren’t any kerosene lamps,” Still said.

Apparently the Blackfeet ceremony did the trick, though. “After that point, the kind of malevolent presence was calmed,” she said. But ghost encounters are still frequent there, particularly when tourist season quiets down in the fall. Guests often see a man dressed in a derby hat and early-20th century suit wandering on the deck of the chalet or near the train tracks by the Glacier Highland Motel. “He’s got the run of the place,” Still said. “He’s kind of a dapper guy.”

Other spirits include a young Native American girl who laughs, cries and throws marbles down halls. Room 37 is a notorious center of activity, where voices and drumming can often be heard.

While Still said she has received a few complaints from guests who wish they had been told about the chalet’s high level of paranormal activity, “most people are more interested than intimidated.”

Still is confident the ghosts wandering the lodge and chalet are harmless, but she’s not eager to test that theory.

“I don’t spend a lot of time in those buildings alone,” she said. “That isn’t comfortable for me.”