Fugitive Weekend at a Haunted Hotel
This year’s hide-out-from-the-holidays road trip was, for me, the fulfillment of an idle wish I’d been carrying around in the back of my head for years.
We spent four days in Tokeland, Washington, a tiny little town on the coast just south of Aberdeen.
The reason I was so jazzed for this is because, for the last eight years, in my capacity as a part-time printshop guy, I’ve been producing brochures and menus and such for the Tokeland Hotel. But in all those years I’d never set foot in the hotel itself– in fact, I’d never even been through Tokeland at all.
I’d always been curious. So, on a lark, Julie and I made a day trip down there last August to deliver some newly-printed invoices, and we fell completely in love with the place. From the moment we stepped into the lobby, Julie and I both knew it was our kind of vacation spot.
The Tokeland Hotel is the oldest resort hotel in Washington, built in 1885. It’s absolutely not a modern kind of resort; there’s no phones or television in the rooms, nor were we able to get cell reception.
That might put some people off, but for Julie and myself that’s a big selling point. We call this annual tradition of ours Fugitive Thanksgiving for a reason. We were delighted to just hole up and read. And Scott and Katherine, the owners, treated us like family, as did all the staff. (We grew quite fond of Jessie, our usual waitress, who was a cheerful young blonde girl with a wicked sense of humor.)
Tokeland itself is on a bleak and stormy stretch of coast known primarily for its cranberry farms (Ocean Spray has a big plant nearby, and there’s actually a Cranberry Museum in Grayland.)
It was gray and rainy for almost our entire stay, but we didn’t mind. Julie loves the ocean in any weather, and I like the way the rain chases away tourists; it generally means we have the shops and restaurants to ourselves. Moreover, there’s a certain Gothic feeling to that bleak, rain-swept Northwest coast country that I’ve always liked.
Even though we were mostly content to settle in and read, we did venture out to do a little bookscouting and thrift-shopping on Friday and Saturday. It had been a while since we’d spent any time looking around Aberdeen, so we started there. (I had a vague idea that maybe we’d find a comics shop and I could check out the new Hulk book from Mark Waid and Leinil Yu; I’d looked up bookstores on Google before we’d left and I knew there was supposed to be some sort of comics/skateboard place in Westport.)
So we figured we’d start at Aberdeen and work our way south.
There’s no real bookstores in Aberdeen, and pickings in the thrift shops were pretty slim. The Salvation Army did have a Hulk book of sorts, though.
It was an odd little children’s book for beginning readers called Follow The Leader. Apparently there’s an entire line of HULK RAGE board books for toddlers. Which I kind of love. If we had a youngster of appropriate age to pass it on to I’d have scooped it up, but since we don’t, I settled for a photo.
I did find a couple of mildly interesting comics-related books there, though: Great Cartoons of the World volumes two and four.
These books were put together by John Bailey, who also writes wonderfully scholarly introductions. The series ran from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies or so, nine volumes in all. The cartoons themselves are a mixed bag– some are hilarious, some are so outdated as to be incomprehensible, and some are just odd.
I like them more because of the cultural snapshot they represent than anything else, really. They’re like a time machine of sorts, relics of the era when being a magazine cartoonist for the ‘slicks’ was one of the highest goals a comics artist could have. And these books include a lot of the greats like Syd Hoff and Charles Addams, as well as more obscure guys from France and Belgium.
Best of all, both books were in great shape for fifty cents each. (There wasn’t a mob or anything, but we found that the thrift shops were doing Black Friday specials– usually half-price for everything.)
There’s a new Goodwill in Aberdeen, as well, in a mall on the east end of town. We decided to take a chance on it, even though being in a mall on Black Friday is not our thing at all.
The new Aberdeen Goodwill is a beautiful store, I’ll give them that. But the trouble is that there’s really nothing interesting in the books section, as lovely and modern as it is.
On a whim, I picked up an anthology called Escape From Earth, mostly because I approved of the mission statement — to try and rekindle the kind of juvenile SF adventure Robert Heinlein used to do so well in books like Have Space Suit Will Travel or Rocket Ship Galileo. There are six stories in all, including submissions from Orson Scott Card, Joe Haldeman, and Kage Baker.
But really, we had much better luck just driving around on the side streets and noodling around residential neighborhoods. In Aberdeen, for example, we stumbled across a rummage sale at the Polish Club.
They were mostly about the kitchenware and Christmas decorations.
But there were a few boxes of books in the back.
In the midst of dozens of mildewing Harlequin romance paperbacks and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books collections, I bumbled across two fairly nice hardcover finds — the first American book club edition of You Only Live Twice, which I’ll grant you wasn’t as exciting as finding an actual British first edition Fleming from Jonathan Cape, but nevertheless was a nice little score. Usually see it for ten or twelve dollars, maybe.
And in the next box I found the first of the Donna Parker books from Whitman, Donna Parker at Cherrydale, from 1957. So I snapped both of them up. This was, strictly speaking, an investment; I bought them simply because it would have been idiotic not to at that price, because the Parker is also a ten-dollar book in the first edition, at least when it’s in good shape. They’ll go in the same pile with the Trixie Beldens I keep meaning to list on eBay; Donna’s no Trixie, but she did have a following, and there’s always a market for James Bond.
After that we decided we were done with Aberdeen and headed back down towards Westport. We spent a ridiculous amount of time circling through the town trying to figure out where this alleged comic/skateboarding emporium was, and finally stopped to inquire at the Westport library.
It’s a really nice place and seemed to be doing a lot of business despite being relatively tiny.
A helpful librarian explained that the comics place was gone and Google had lied to us, there was an espresso joint there now. Oh well.
We consoled ourselves by stopping at another rummage sale. The woman running it was stacking stuff on shelves in the back and just waved us on in. “Don’t mind me, I’m remodeling.”
And again, amid a bunch of fusty old worthless junk books, I turned up a really nice one. The second UNCLE novel, The Doomsday Affair.
I already had a copy, but this was in much better shape than mine… almost new looking, except for a small crease on the cover. Amazing considering the fact that it was almost fifty years old and buried in a moldering shitpile of a junk shop.
I asked how much for the books and the woman said, “Twenty-five cents.” After a moment, she added, “Fifty cents for Westerns or romances.”
Well, clearly she knew her demographic. I gave her fifty cents anyway, because I felt guilty– the book was worth twenty times that.
That was about it, though. Honestly, we were enjoying the hotel so much we didn’t see much need to go out during our four-day stay.
The Tokeland dining room was far and away the best restaurant available. Everything was homemade and we found a table near the kitchen that was just the right distance from the wood stove and also provided a great view of the surrounding countryside.
It became our ‘usual’ spot and since we were so convenient to the kitchen, Scott or Katherine occasionally would come sit at our table and chat for a little while, and we also enjoyed talking to Jessie while she totaled her tickets at the end of her shift. “It’s not like a hotel,” Julie observed, “It’s like going to Grandma’s house.”
I didn’t miss bookhunting, either, because there were all sorts of interesting finds in the hotel itself. There were informal library spaces both upstairs and downstairs and the pickings were better than anything we’d seen shopping.
For example, in the downstairs library there was a hardcover first edition of Nora Ephron’s Scribble Scribble, a collection of her pieces for Esquire. In great shape, too. Usually you see that for upwards of fifty dollars– more since her recent passing.
There was also a hardcover of Thackeray’s Henry Esmond that I knew had to be at least a century old. (I looked it up when we got home– it was one of a ten-volume set of Thackeray’s works, published in 1910 or thereabouts.)
And there were others. If I were less honest I’d have looted the place.
As it was we were content to hang out and browse and occasionally converse with our fellow guests, virtually all of whom were contemporaries of Julie and myself, and all with similar tastes in leisure. (One evening Julie looked around at the six or eight of us loafing and reading in front of the fireplace and sighed happily, “It’s so nice to be in a room full of book people.”)
A topic of conversation that kept coming up was “the ghost,” as in, “Have you seen the ghost?” After we’d been asked this by three or four different people, and compared notes with some of the other guests who’d also been asked the same question, Julie looked it up.
Apparently the Tokeland is haunted by the spirit of a Chinese immigrant from the early 20th century, back in the days when it was common to smuggle in coolie labor. He was hiding in a secret recess behind the fireplace and accidentally suffocated there, and now his spirit wanders the halls. Those in the know refer to him as “Charlie,” or sometimes “Charlie Chan.”
Julie was very intrigued by this. I was skeptical. “A building over a hundred years old, on the boggiest part of the coast, sitting on a jetty where the wind comes howling in here all the time. Of course you’re going to hear weird noises and things are going to fall off shelves. The thing is, people really want to believe that these things are supernatural and they talk themselves into it. Look how excited you are just to hear the story.” I snorted. “Just so long as there aren’t a bunch of bearded nerds from the SyFy Channel running around here getting underfoot with their green-screen monitors while they’re NOT FINDING ANY ghosts, I’ll be happy.”
(It turned out that there have been several visits by paranormal organizations– Scott told us that he insists they just book the entire hotel because he doesn’t want them upsetting the other guests with “their cameras and equipment and what-all.” )
The weird thing is, everyone at the hotel absolutely believes it. Scott, Katherine, and Jessie all had stories, and though I could poke holes in each of them, they were all so utterly convinced that it half-persuaded me that there was some kind of weirdness going on there. When Julie told Jessie that “Greg is sure there’s a rational explanation,” Jessie shot back, “Of course there is. We have a ghost.” Duh.
Scott was philosophical about it. “I don’t know what it is. I’m not convinced it’s a ghost. But there’s something, some protective presence here. I’ve seen people walk in the front door and suddenly come over all panicky, they have to get out. It’s always bad people. Good folks, on the other hand, they walk in and they feel instantly welcome, like they’ve come home. It’s nothing anyone says or does. And bad folks who decide to stay anyway, they have all sorts of crazy accidents. Things falling on them and such.”
I couldn’t help it. When Scott told us that, I instantly flashed back to the day in August when Julie and I had delivered the print job. We’d walked in and felt instantly warm and welcome and happy. It hadn’t felt like arriving at a hotel, and it certainly hadn’t felt like dropping off a job to a customer. The moment we walked in the door, it had felt like coming home.
I’m still skeptical. But if there IS a resident spirit haunting the place, it’s nice to know that Julie and I apparently passed the test.
Because we’ll be back. Apart from everything else, Katherine makes the best homemade desserts on the west coast and that’s worth braving any number of supernatural dangers. Trust me, the peanut butter pie is definitely out of this world.
See you next week.