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I have lived in Walla Walla for four years and I plan on living out my days here. I have been writing about local buildings for three years now and am so grateful to have so many fascinating places to research.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Isabella's Ghost?

No one who knew Isabella Kirkman would ever think of her as having potential to "haunt." Isabella and William Kirkman were, as most locals know, the hardworking wealthy citizens who built the Kirkman House on the corner of Colville and Cherry. Their elegant home was finished by 1880 and Kirkmans lived there until the 1920s when Isabella gave it to Whitman College. It was a dorm for a few years and then an apartment for many more, and was pretty much a disaster when rescued in the 1970s--just before it was about to be demolished--by a group of history-conscious citizens. The restored home is a now a charming museum furnished with Kirkman belongings and those of their era. William died in 1893 and was so admired that mourners filled the front yard and spilled into the streets. Isabella lived until 1931, a supportive wife, a loving mother and grandmother. The Kirkmans did have their share of family heartaches. Isabella gave birth to 10 children but only four of them lived to grow up. Photos of Isabella show a round-faced rosy looking woman who was content with her lot in life. Like I said, not a scary lady. And yet, there are frequently "occurrences" at Kirkman House--noises, voices, footsteps--and some hold Isabella responsible.

I asked around, questioning staff and board members. I was intrigued by the idea of Kirkman "ghosts." Yes, some folks had heard "things" in the house, but the "voices" one person heard turned out to be just the whine of the paper shredder. Another noted the sensor going off at the front door when no one was around, but it was just the wind leaking in and setting off the motion detector. Those are the spooky happenings that can be explained, but there are occurrences that have no easy explanation.

During the annual Kirkman Psychic Tea, the dining room light flickered when a participant asked a question of someone on the "Other Side." The front door is locked with its big old skeleton key on days when the museum is closed and staff is working in the office. And yet later the door is found unlocked. Footsteps scurrying down the main hallway have been heard upon opening the door in the morning. Lights turned off at the end off the day--especially those in Isabella's bedroom--have been found burning brightly the next morning. And it is Isabella's bedroom door that has mysteriously closed just as a tour guide approaches it with a group of visitors.

And then there is my favorite story--a very recent one. My Kirkman board member friend was working alone in the upstairs office at 3 in the afternoon, heard something odd, and followed the sound into a bedroom. She described it as not having a recognizable face but as "human" in form and clothed in swirling drapery. And it giggled. And giggled. And followed my friend when she left the room.

"Weren't you afraid? What did you say to this presence?"

"I said 'Welcome to Kirkman House.' I followed it into some other rooms and then just told it 'Sorry but I have work to do.'"

"Wait a minute. You followed it? Weren't you afraid?"

"Susan, it was giggling. It seemed so good-natured. Friendly. Not at all threatening."

The spirit followed her into the office, swirled around the room a few times, and then disappeared. And my friend got back to work.

Dang it. It's not fair. I volunteer at Kirkman House. I have spent hours there giving tours and doing research alone in the library. I would be more than willing to meet the Giggling Ghost and would be as hospitable as my friend. I'll be patient and attentive and maybe I too can have a encounter with Isabella, or whatever spirit happens to be visiting that day.

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