Ghosts on island?

Are the islands haunted?

Are the islands haunted?

Robin Jacobson loves local history, whether she is helping people find their ancestors’ graves or digging up island ghost stories.

“People are fascinated with the unknown and the concept of death,” Jacobsen. “So when you combine them, it is really a powerful thing.”

As a local genealogist, she has spent years researching at the San Juan Historical Museum and Washington State Archives online and in their Olympia office. She has also talked to local residents about historic buildings dating back to the late 19th century and other areas that may be potential haunting grounds for ghosts – not because she believes in ghosts, but because it’s a way to engage people with history.

“Ghost tales passed down over time become valuable as part of the lore of the building or site — distinguishable from what we know to be true,” said Sandy Strehlou, Town of Friday Harbor historic preservation coordinator, who is also interested in uncovering ghost stories.

And Jacobsen and Strehlou’s research has uncovered  local ghost stories abound – from eerie happenings at Rosario Resort to a hanging and haunting in Friday Harbor.

The case of Alice Rheem

Orcas Island residents have spotted what is believed to be the spirit of Alice Rheem, whose husband Donald purchased the Rosario Resort property in 1938. Rosario was Donald’s vacation home for 20 years, but Alice lived there permanently. According to Rosario’s General Manager Christopher Peacock, Alice was quite a character.

“She liked to party and was very playful,” he said. “I think her spirit is continuing that playfulness.”

Alice was known for driving into town on her Harley motorcycle, dressed in a red negligee, to play cards with the local boys. Most of the ghostly incidences at the mansion involve the sounds of high heels clicking across teak floors. When the mansion was shut down briefly in 2008, caretakers often heard someone moving about on the second floor only to find that no one was there. Another employee felt someone push in a chair that she was seated in only to turn around and see no one there.

Peacock added that a paranormal investigation was once held at the mansion and a “high level of activity was found.”

The case of Richard Straub

In 1895, Richard Straub killed Leon Lanterman on Blakely Island. Straub, a school teacher with a history of anger management issues, claimed he killed Lanterman while defending a teenager named Irving Parberry. After the incident Straub and Parberry rowed to San Juan Island and Straub confessed to authorities.

“It’s a really sad story,” Jacobson said. “He probably didn’t think he would be hanged.”

After the confession, Straub spent two years shuffled between the San Juan Island and Bellingham jails. While in Friday Harbor, he stayed in the jail now located on the San Juan Historical Museum grounds. Straub was tried at the Oddfellows Hall, now the Whale Museum, and found guilty.

According to Jacobson’s research, some spectators viewed the hanging, the only one ever held on San Juan, from the second floor of the Oddfellows Hall. That floor is where people now claim to feel a ghostly presence exuding a positive or neutral energy.

Jacobson said she doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she said if spirits did exist, Straub would have a reason to haunt the museum at the scene of the trial, where he was found guilty. Jacobson said there is another possible historical figure who could be haunting the museum: Sheriff Newton Jones.

“I’ve heard from descendants that he was never the same after 1895, when Straub was hanged,” said Jacobson.

Soon after the trial, Jones’ wife died and he moved off the island, never to return – at least not in human form.