One of the things I love about Astoria, Oregon, are the old houses. With its many Victorians and steep, hilly streets, Astoria reminds me of a smaller version of San Francisco. The most famous house in Astoria (besides the Goonies house) is the Flavel House. This Victorian mansion was built in 1884-1885 by Captain George Flavel, an important bar pilot on the Columbia River. Both the interior and exterior are gorgeous, and the house is worth a visit to see the architecture and learn about the history. It is rumored to be haunted by the captain, but the house is more interesting than creepy. Perhaps it would be more frightening if you were there alone, after dark.
There is another Flavel house in town, almost as famous as the captain’s. It was built by his son, George Conrad Flavel, who was also a captain. Built in 1901, the Colonial Revival-style house has wonderful views of the river and beautiful stained glass windows. After George Conrad Flavel’s death in 1923, his son Harry M. Flavel inherited the house, where he lived with his wife Florence and their two children, Mary Louise and Harry S. Flavel.
Although the second Flavel house is not rumored to be haunted, it has a dark history. At age 20, in 1947, the younger Harry allegedly attacked a neighbor with a hatchet. After that incident, Harry and his mother and sister were rarely seen in Astoria, becoming recluses in their own home. Years later, in 1983, Harry S. served time for stabbing a man. When he was released from prison after seven years, he and his family disappeared from Astoria. For twenty years, the house remained abandoned and derelict until the city of Astoria claimed the property. With signs of neglect and boarded up windows, the house certainly looked haunted, even if it’s not.
There is a happy ending to this story, however. In 2015, the house was sold to Greg Newenhof, co-owner of Astoria’s City Lumber Company. Since taking possession of the house, Mr. Newenhof has begun restoration, a long process to bring the house back to its former glory. In a partnership with the Clatsop County Historical Society, Mr. Newenhof recently opened his new home to the public, offering tours. Hundreds of people bought tickets. I was one of them—like the other visitors, I’d been interested in this house for years, and was so excited to finally be able to see the inside.
I wasn’t disappointed. The house has gorgeous historical details—paneled walls in the dining room, carved pillars in the sitting room, a beautiful fireplace in the living room, and marble sinks in each of the four bedrooms. My favorite room was the attic, because it still held some of the Flavel family’s belongings: an empty cradle, a tattered jacket, a drum, and old books.
One of the reasons I wanted to see this house is it served as inspiration in my novel, Sunset Empire. I imagined one of my characters, Phantom, living in the house with his mother. To tour the house, and look out the windows at the Columbia River as I imagined my characters doing, was absolutely thrilling. It will be exciting to see the evolution of this house as Mr. Newenhof restores it. I hope he hosts a second open house when the renovations are complete.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
A friend recently told me a story about a crying ghost in the house where she lives. This wasn’t her first brush with the supernatural. When she lived in a different house, she once woke up to see the spirit of an elderly woman sitting in the rocking chair in her bedroom. The ghost seemed to be benevolent, to her family at least. The spirit never did anything to frighten them.
When one of her daughters was seriously ill, my friend and her family had to make a temporary move so they could have better access to health care. The girl was on a list for a lung transplant. They ended up letting a friend and her partner stay there to house sit. The agreement was the couple could live at the house for free, so long as they paid the utility bill while they were there. The couple agreed, but soon after, my friend got a huge heating bill. She called the friend staying at the house, and the woman explained that she had cranked up the heat. She promised to pay the bill, but didn’t.
This was a huge problem for my friend. She was in the middle of a medical crisis with her daughter, and then she was burdened with a large, unexpected expense. She called her friend again, urging her to pay the bill.
Not long after that, the ghost intervened. The woman called my friend to tell her strange things had started happening in the house. Whenever the couple wanted to watch a show, the television would switch off on its own. They would turn the TV back on, and off it would go again. There wasn’t anything visibly wrong with the television set—it was plugged in and had worked fine before. There were also weird noises coming from the kitchen—like someone was walking around in there, rifling through drawers and banging cabinet doors.
Eventually the couple moved out of the house…and they paid their bill.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
This week a friend shared a story with me. She’s lived in a number of houses—some that are peaceful, where nothing supernatural happens, and others that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. You can guess which type of house she lives in now.
Several nights ago, she woke to the sound of crying. It was kind of a sniffling cry, and sounded like a young girl. She opened her eyes to see a dark figure standing at the foot of her bed. Thinking it was her daughter, she sat up and asked, “Are you okay, sweetie?”
There was no answer.
She reached over to the nightstand to find her glasses. She put them on and looked at the foot of the bed. There was no one there.
Puzzled, she got out of bed and went to her daughter’s room. She opened the door and said, “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
Groggy, her daughter answered, “Nothing’s going on. I’m trying to sleep.”
“You weren’t just standing by my bed, crying?”
“No,” the daughter answered.
“What’s weird,” my friend told me later, “is earlier that evening, I could have sworn someone was standing in the doorway, but when I turned to look, there wasn’t anyone there.”
I asked her to keep me posted—I want to know if the crying ghost comes back.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
Bath time with a toddler can get pretty crazy. There’s giggling and splashing. Multiply that times two when you stick twins in a tub, and it gets loud and wet. Kneeling by the side of the tub when my boys were little, I usually ended up soaked.
That’s all right—my kids and I have fond memories of those times. I would turn on music and let the boys play. Sometimes we used bath paint or I would put a few ice cubes in the warm water because the boys thought it was funny to watch them melt.
Once, after my husband made a grocery run, I decided to give my children a bath. Since he was out running errands, I cranked up the music louder than he would have preferred, and we had a bathtub party.
The shindig was in full swing when something odd happened. My back was to the bathroom door, and just behind me was the sink. Sitting on the sink counter was a bottle of baby lotion. The lotion bottle flew over the toilet and hit the side of the tub, as if someone had picked it up and lobbed it. Startled, I whipped my head toward the door, fully expecting to see my husband standing there, trying to get my attention.
That was the explanation that first came to mind, because it made the most sense. The music was so loud, I would not have heard him come in. But he wasn’t there.
I rose and poked my head out the door, looking up and down the hallway. There wasn’t anyone there. Puzzled, I ducked back into the bathroom and studied the lotion bottle, lying next to the tub. It had not simply fallen off the sink. If it had fallen, it would have landed between the sink and the toilet. Instead, it had landed more than two feet from the sink.
Not wanting to leave toddlers unattended in the tub, I quickly rinsed the boys’ hair and got them out, toweling them off and getting them diapered before checking out the house. Then I went room to room, scared someone else was in the house. I saw no one, and my husband didn’t come home until later. So here’s the question: who—or what—was trying to get my attention?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
I’ve talked about seeing shadows at work, in Old Main and the Nugent building, and how co-workers shared their own odd experiences with me. I also had a weird experience seeing a shadow in my house.
After work, I’d come home, feed and bathe the kids, and get them to bed. Then, relishing a few hours for myself, I would write.
Sometimes I’d stay up late writing and pay for it the next day when I had to get up early for work. Sometimes my husband would go to bed, and then, hours later, would come out and remind me not to stay up too late. When I was into a story, it was easy to lose track of time. My husband worried about me not getting enough rest, especially because I often had trouble getting to sleep when we lived in that house.
I had experienced a number of unsettling things in the house, so I tended to be on edge, waking at the slightest noise. Sometimes the noises weren’t so slight. For a while, I’d wake up to someone screaming. When you have young children, your sleep is often interrupted, so I was already sleep deprived and hyperaware, listening for their cries. Once I was fully awake though, I’d realize it wasn’t my boys screaming. I would go check on them, and they’d be sleeping peacefully.
A few times I woke up thinking one of my boys was standing next to the bed. I’d sit up and slip off the covers, ready to take my son back to his bed, but there was no one there. Again, when I would check on the kids, they were in their own beds, fast asleep. Night after night of that was slowly making me nuts, and I needed more sleep than I got. That’s why staying up late writing was not the best of ideas, but it was a nice escape from other stressors.
One night I was sitting at the kitchen table, writing. It was late—probably eleven—and my husband had been in bed for about an hour. In the middle of typing a sentence, I stopped, struck with the feeling I was being watched. In the periphery of my vision, I saw someone standing in the hallway. I thought it was my husband, coming to tell me not to stay up too late.
I turned my head and saw a tall, dark shape standing in the entrance of the hallway. Motionless. Watching. Then the figure vanished.
I probably should have gone to bed at that point, but I was so unnerved, I just sat there, my fingers poised above the keyboard. Somehow it seemed like a bad idea to acknowledge the entity. I thought, “Nope. I did not just see that.” Then I kept on writing.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
The house I live in now is lovely. It’s not my dream home (that would be a house with a wide front porch and a view of a lake), but it has beautiful features, like a coved ceiling in the living room and a gorgeous tree out back that explodes with white flowers each spring. The neighborhood is pleasant, and my family is happy here. I feel content living in our house, which we’ve rented for almost five years. More than that, I feel safe living here.
That’s a contrast to our old house. It looked normal enough—it was built in the 90s in a middle class neighborhood, and had a pretty front porch with brick pillars, a welcome respite from the sun. We bought it as a foreclosure, and quickly got to work renovating it, installing new appliances and cabinets in the kitchen, and countertops in the bathrooms. By the time we were done fixing it up, I was familiar with every inch of the place, having painted the entire house inside and out. I even taught myself how to tile.
I never had the same sense of peace in that house as I do in our current house, and I didn’t realize how edgy I felt until I moved. My sense of unease started when we first looked at the house with my in-laws. They had brought their dog with them. The poodle went everywhere—she was smart and house-trained, so there was little fear of her messing up the place. Still, when she followed us into the bedroom that was to become mine and my husband’s, she acted strange. She padded over to the wall where our headboard would eventually rest, and squatted down as though she were going to urinate on the white carpet. It was completely out of character, but there was nothing visibly unsettling about the house. It looked like a regular house.
A number of strange things happened in that house. I’d see shadows out of the corner of my eye, or get a sense of someone watching me. A year after moving in, I gave birth to twin boys. That was a tough time. Although I was thrilled to have my sons, I felt constantly overwhelmed and sleep-deprived. It was easy to blame the things that happened on a tired mind, particularly since my husband never experienced anything odd. That was better than the alternative, that what I was experiencing was real, or worse, that I was having a psychotic break.
Now that we live in a peaceful house, where I’ve never experienced anything remotely supernatural, I do believe that those things were real, and I wasn’t experiencing some kind of post-partem insanity. I may be eccentric and overly fond of ghost stories, but I’m sound of mind.
After the boys were born, we were drowning in baby gear. Some of it was electronic, with flashing lights and cute sounds designed to keep infants entertained. Sometimes those toys would go off by themselves. My husband blamed it on static electricity, or a button that got pressed and stuck.
One night, when he couldn’t sleep, my husband decided to go grocery shopping at a store that was open 24 hours. (When you have young children, you do odd things like that. It’s easier than dragging kids to a store.) Meanwhile, I was having a nightmare.
The dream was so vivid, I thought I was awake. I sat up in bed, and looked over at our closet. The door was open, which was weird, because I always insisted on sleeping with it closed. My room was dark, but I could make out the white louvered closet door, and the darker interior of the closet. There was someone—something—standing in my closet, a shadowy form even darker than its surroundings. Frozen in fear, I watched it for a few seconds, and I could feel it watching me. Then, it took a step toward the bed.
I jerked awake, breathing hard, my heart thudding in my chest. Immediately I looked at the closet door. It was shut tight. But my husband was missing from his place in the bed, and that’s when I realized he wasn’t home. It was just me and the boys.
I sat there in the dark, trying to calm myself, shaking off the nightmare. Then, out in the living room, one of the baby toys went off by itself, playing its happy little song in the middle of the night, in our otherwise silent house.
I stared into the hallway toward the living room and then looked back at the closet. I decided I didn’t want to sit there by myself in the dark, and I didn’t want my children to be vulnerable to whatever was paying us a visit.
I turned on some lights and checked out the house. There was no one in the living room. No one had broken in and tripped over the toy, setting it off. I went through the rest of the house and found nothing.
My kids were safe in their room, sleeping peacefully. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep again, and certainly not alone. I grabbed some blankets and my pillow and made a bed on the floor of the boys’ room. Having other human beings near me helped, and somehow I fell back to sleep, this time with no dreams.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015