As the evening sky darkened, distant flashes illuminated the
gathering clouds, followed by a low and ominous rumble as the
thunder rolled across the sky, accompanied by gusts of wind shaking
the alders and pines that surrounded our diminutive camp.
A handful of paranormal enthusiasts — along with an invited,
spirit-beckoning “medium” — and a confirmed skeptic (myself)
gathered together July 11 outside the McReavy
house, perched atop the steep hillside overlooking the
Hood Canal in Union, which has stood empty of
living residents for nearly 40 years.
The purpose was to investigate purported paranormal activity
(read: ghosts) that might be present at the site. My job: to help
document the event in video and still digital images. The
image above is of the medium channeling “Mary,” a young girl who
told us, through tears, of her having great difficulties while
swimming alone. The blurred effect is a result of a slowed shutter
speed due to only two dim light sources, one directly behind the
chair he is seated in and a second coming from a video camera
off-screen to the left.
Built by John and Fannie (Gove) McReavy in 1883, the house
certainly held the charm of being home to unearthly spirits. Willed
to the local historical society by the heirs of the last couple to
live in the home — McReavy’s daughter, Helen (who wrote “How, When and Where, On the Hood
Canal,” 1960 Puget Press) and her husband — it has
long been cleared of most of the interior furnishings. In fact,
before the couple died (in 1969 and 1970) it appears they had come
into some money and had started a major renovation of the home,
both inside and out.
They removed the Victorian style pitched roof in favor of a flat
beam and plank venture, essentially lopping off a third-story room
just visible in some historical photos. And the
first and second floors were in various array of having the
interior wood plank wall coverings replaced by sheetrock.
As a result, much of the internal charm was boxed up, as fancy
moldings and cornices that framed the doors and windows had all
been removed to accommodate the remodeling work.
The reality struck me as a far more poignant story. Imagine
remodeling your entire home and in the middle of the work, your
spouse dies. For upward of a year, you continue to live in the
home, but never complete the work, instead living our your days in
a home with one foot in the 19th century and one foot in the 20th
century. It must have been a lonely final year for Mr.
The only remaining vestiges of the home’s original interior were
the doors, hinges and some wallpaper remnants stubbornly clinging
to some surfaces. The unfinished basement provided tantalizing
clues to former occupants with a mishmash of home knickknacks from
rolling pins to teacups and records to steamer trunks covered in
the dust of dried mildew. One item of particular interest was the
front page of a Good Housekeeping magazine dated 1894 — it was
found lying on the floor where it had doubtless been tread upon for
Ivy tenaciously invaded one eastern window, preferring the
controlled climate inside to the harsh weather blowing off the
canal’s shores to the north.
The house itself had stories to tell — an intriguing one
lingered about the internal fireplace with a partially dismantled
brick chimney and insert installed. The backside of the fireplace
faced a back room where the wall was exposed, showing burned
timbers where a chimney fire must have put quite a scare in the
residents of the time. They were lucky indeed that a timber house
of well-seasoned and dried wood didn’t literally explode in flames,
as so many homes of that era would do when exposed to fire.
And where the chimney had been removed, a member of the party
discovered a large piece of cut tree trunk, bark still clinging to
it, wedged between the first floor ceiling and second floor
flooring. We surmised it must have been some tradition of putting a
piece of unfinished wood from which the home was being built into
the home to either bring good luck or ward off bad.
In an unfinished crawl space along the western side of the home,
a large knarled tree stump measuring several feet across was left —
obviously deemed too much trouble to try and uproot, they cut it to
its base and built the home above it.
But if there were spirits lingering about with stories to tell,
they remained elusive to our party.
The medium — by his reckoning — was successful in raising a
half-dozen denizens of the past. But proof of this reality must be
measured in quantifiable facts and every attempt to question a
channeled spirit on a detail that could be fact-checked was
adroitly side-stepped or ignored.
For example, when asked what book they last read, each and every
one of the channeled spirits answered, “The Bible.” And of the
channeled McReavy himself, an important businessman and one of the
signers of the state charter, whom you would think would be in keen
touch with the world around him and the comings and goings on in
his own personally named “Venice on the Hood Canal.” But when I
asked him what was the name of the newspaper in town, he replied,
“I don’t care about newspapers.” Remember: this is the late 1800s
when no other form of mass communication existed. Do you really
think a man of his stature wouldn’t care to keep up on the news in
I caught the medium in a few outright errors as well (that
hopefully the rest of the group will pick up on as they review the
videotaped sessions). His first spirit said he was a visitor in the
home in 1880 (remember, it was built in 1883) and later when he
channeled McReavy, presumably John as he referred to the home as
his and wondered at the renovations, he said he built the home in
the 1870s and later referred to the master bedroom as a guest
Some of the party saw validation of their beliefs in the
medium’s manifestations while others maintained their doubts, but
having been a theater major many years ago, I must admit that to me
the mood lighting and channeled spirits who each rather
conveniently “had to go” after a few minutes seemed more like a
poorly staged one-act play than anything even beginning to approach
To get a glimpse of the fun we had that night, check out the
video here — apologies for the poor
quality, but the lighting was limited.
I know one other member of our expedition was as skeptical as I
when he asked a spirit if they liked to eat salmon.
The evening petered out around 4:30 a.m. with everyone
succumbing to the Sandman, slinking away to find his or her
sleeping bag or tent.
For what its worth, I will share my notes and observations with
the group and they are free to include or exclude whatever part
they desire as they prepare their report of the happening of the
As for me, I continue to remain skeptical, having not seen or
heard anything that would change my mind. Although the stories that
flowed around the room between channeling sessions and also around
the campfire outside were anecdotal and filled with provoking
details of secondhand sightings, I chalked up the night as being
akin to a grown-up version of camp night, where the campers would
gather about a fire nestled deep amid rustling trees and snapping
branches as a camp counselor weaved a tale of suspense and terror
of a haunted night long ago at the very site.
The scariest moment I had was while driving away and pointing
down Main Street on a very, very steep incline and imagining the
brakes giving way to a fast and furious ride down the hill, across
a short gravel parking lot and straight into the cold waters of
Hood Canal. That would be a chilly fright indeed.