Arts and Entertainment

Paranormal Port Gamble piques interest of ghost hunters aplenty

Blackwolf Paranormal member Francine Criswell gathering investigation evidence at Port Gambles infamous Walker-Ames house.  - Bill Mickelson/staff photo
Blackwolf Paranormal member Francine Criswell gathering investigation evidence at Port Gambles infamous Walker-Ames house.
— image credit: Bill Mickelson/staff photo

We find out why, spending a night at the infamous Walker Ames house with the ghost hunters of Black Wolf Paranormal.

Francene Criswell, a member of the local upstart Black Wolf Paranormal Investigators, has long been in tune with the enigmas of the occult.

For most of her life, she said she’s often felt as if she’s been “visited” by spirits, even connecting with deceased family members, including her mom, dad and brother, at times.

But it took a trip to the paranormal hot bed of Port Gamble, on an investigation with Black Wolf Paranormal, before she really “believed.”

“I knew things had happened to me over the years and I could never explain them,” Criswell said. “But when I heard the ‘Gustav,’ that’s when I believed, when I actually heard it, that’s when I believed ... It sent chills down my spine.”

“Gustav is here!’” The voice growls in a low, groveling tone, slicing subtly through the white noise.

It nearly knocked Criswell out of her chair, she said, as she reviewed the Electronic Voice Phenomena from a recent investigation at the Port Gamble cemetery. During the investigation, the group had set out EVP recorders at different locations throughout the cemetery on the off chance that they would pick something up. Criswell said they didn’t hear Gustav that night — though the group’s leader, Colette Talkington-Pfaehler, had reported seeing a top-hatted apparition pacing back and forth at the far end of the cemetery.

As Criswell reviewed the evidence, ‘Gustav’s’ voice manifest itself on the recording.

It seems direct evidence of the paranormal given that there’s only one man in the Black Wolf group, and Criswell says he was nowhere near the EVP at the time. Plus, one of the best-known graves in the Port Gamble cemetery belongs to Gustav Englebrecht, one of the graveyard’s earliest residents, said to be killed by British Columbia Indians on Gamble Bay in 1856.

But for the skeptic, a hollow scratchy voice on a digital recorder just wasn’t going to cut it.

So I asked to go along on the group’s reveal (where they handed over their evidence to Port Gamble town manager Shana Smith) and I ended up with a spot their next investigation to the Walker Ames house — one of Port Gamble’s most regal and spine-tingling buildings, where numerous sightings and experiences have been recorded and documented.

“Yep, mmhmm, the floral smell,” Smith nodded along nonchalantly as the group revealed their findings from the cemetery.

Among the evidence were a few EVPs, including Gustav and one with a couple of kids laughing somewhere off in the distance, in addition to Talkington-Pfaehler’s apparition, the smell of roses, errant cobwebs and an unexplained drain of their electronic devices’ battery power.

“And then you got to the bottom of the hill and they kicked back on right?” Smith posited. It was almost like she’d heard it all before. And it’s not that the evidence wasn’t convincing. It seems Smith, a Port Gamble resident since the late-80s, is convinced that some sort of paranormal activity certainly exists in the town, though she tries to keep it all at arm’s length for her own sanity.

The Walker Ames house had been especially active. Reports from that house alone range from uneasy feelings of dread to handprint-shaped bruises manifesting on a visitor who’d complained of being grabbed by something that she couldn’t see, while in the basement.

Seemed like a good place for a skeptic, so I tagged along with the Black Wolf when the investigated. Still not completely convinced about the EVP recordings which they’d shown me from the cemetery, I was excited to see some action. When we got in, I went straight for the basement, which I’d heard was one of the most haunted areas of the house.

But aside from a few abnormal readings on various meters, it was pretty quiet.

Until Criswell came to the basement, complaining aloud that she didn’t feel like there was anything down there. All of a sudden, the walkie-talkie she was carrying to communicate with the rest of the group, starting acting erratic, beeping sporadically, in something of a morse code fashion.

At first, I thought it might have been Criswell looking to create her own experience, until I watched her closely and the beeping continued.

She was having an almost playful conversation with whatever was at the other end of the walkie-talkie, until the Talkington-Pfaehler came downstairs, unintentionally upsetting the mood, and sending the walkie-talkie into a chaotic and angry-sounding static. As she conceded and headed back upstairs, the static stopped and the playful beeps returned. Creepy.

I felt like a total loon relaying the experience to my co-workers. As one Black Wolf member said, “You don’t want to tell anybody that you hear voices, because they’ll put you in a straight jacket.”

Still, ever since, the experience of that erratic beeping has resonated in my mind along with Criswell asking matter-of-factly, “So do you believe now?”

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