Author explores the weird side of Washington

While locals appreciate a lot of things about Olalla, outside of the area it’s probably known for only two things — its annual Polar Bear Plunge and Linda Hazzard, who starved rather than cured people in her sanitarium on Orchard Avenue.

All the buildings the convicted murderer used are gone now, but while one still stood Jeff Davis, co-author of the new book “Weird Washington,” traveled to the site with a clairvoyant to investigate reports that the home used by Hazzard was haunted.

“She stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up and started to cry, then ran out of the building,” Davis said, explaining that the woman was very emotional and said she could “almost see all these people who had been trapped there and were too weak to get out. It was bizarre — I was a little freaked out.”

Davis describes that experience, along with investigations performed by the group Washington State Paranormal Investigation and Research (WSPIR), in greater detail in the book’s chapter “Haunted Places.”

Since then, the family who lived in the “haunted” cottage tore it down to build a new one, but Davis said it wasn’t because of the spirits they believed lived there, too.

“They just needed more room,” he said. “They had kids and they had outgrown it.”

In fact, Davis said the Olalla family was surprising “calm and mellow” about the spirits, and even “got along with them.”

As a Washington native who grew up and still lives in Vancouver, Davis said this state seems to be full of people who don’t mind, and even welcome, spirits and other strange things.

“We’re weird up here — we’re weird enough for two books,” he said, attributing a lot of Washington’s unique characteristics to the hardy souls who managed to cross the Oregon Trail successfully in the mid 1800s. Also, Northwest residents tend to be straightforward and honest.

“We tell the truth no matter what — that sets us apart,” he said.

That does-n’t mean Washington-ians can’t weave a good yarn, however. One of the stories he was assigned to research in the book was the “flying men” seen in Chehalis and Longview. Since the sightings of the winged men were 60 years ago, he researched the events by looking up old newspaper reports from January and April of 1948.

Davis noted first that the stories were contained in the local papers and had not spread to the larger dailies in Tacoma and Seattle. Even more telling, the day before running the flying men story, one of the papers ran a story about it being “National Laugh Week” and announced a competition for sending in the funniest story.

Digging through old newspapers was nothing new to Davis, who said that was the “low-tech” way he started his career documenting ghosts and other weirdness for the first book he began writing in 1995.

As for why he is interested in ghosts, Davis isn’t really sure, and definitely can’t blame it on an early encounter with a spirit. In fact, Davis says he’s never seen a ghost.

“I’ve never been pushed down the stairs or even seen an apparition,” he said with obvious disappointment. “I’ve had stuff come up on audio and photographs, or had things pop up in odd places in the room, but that’s about it.”

Instead, Davis said he lives vicariously through other’s experiences with ghosts, such as the family in Olalla.

“I hear about a haunting and I check it out, to gather the story and get the facts down,” he said, explaining that most e-mails to him relaying possible supernatural experiences begin with, “You may think I’m crazy, but ...”

And most of the time, people reporting such experiences want to share them in the hopes that someone else will see or hear something, too. “All the people want (most of the time) is assurance that they’re not crazy,” he said.

Davis had such a good experience working on Weird Washington, he is now working on the series’ next book about Oregon, which he said is full of odd people and places, both around Portland and in the eastern part of the state.

However, he jokingly added that probably no state is as odd as where the series started — New Jersey.

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