The hallways are dusty and dank. Strips of paint and gypsum board swollen with moisture dangle off the walls. Cobwebs and piles of insect scat can be seen everywhere. If you are a member of the Elks, the top floors of the lodge in Hoquiam, which are currently closed to the public, are the last place you’d want to be. That is unless, perhaps — you are a former member who liked the lodge in its glory days so much that even death couldn’t keep you away.
This week, members of the Hoquiam Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks will auction off an overnight stay at the lodge this Saturday where winners of the auction will join a team of paranormal investigators and two lodge members to study the reputed strange happenings at a building now more than 100 years old.
The auction is an attempt to raise money for a series of ambitious renovations at the lodge. Monica Ewing, leading knight at the lodge, hopes the improvements will help return the lodge to its former glory and revitalize the chapter.
“We want it to be historically accurate, as close as to what it originally was, but with modern conveniences like electricity,” she said.
The Elks constructed the lodge in 1910, on the corner of 7th and K streets. It was listed on the City of Hoquiam’s registry of historic places this past year. The lodge has gone through several renovations, the practical nature of which striped the inside of the building of much of its character giving it a “utilitarian” appearance, Ewing said. In previous renovations, the high vaulted ceilings of the lodge were replaced with tiled “drop ceilings” and part of a guide rail of an ornate varnished hardwood staircase was abruptly sawed off to make room for new construction. Members of the lodge are now consulting with Rader Rieger, an architecture firm in Tumwater with experience renovating antique buildings. Ewing said she doesn’t know how much the renovations will cost, so the lodge will be raising money piecemeal until it has the entire amount. Serious talk about renovations began after an anonymous donor gave the lodge $50,000 to start rebuilding.
The Elks are a fraternal organization that, among other things, gives medical assistance to children in need. The lodge and the organization have also historically been places for people to gather and socialize, something known in today’s vernacular as networking. Currently the Hoquiam chapter has about 300 members.
Last year the Washington State Ghost Society approached the Elks with an offer to investigate the premises. For years people at the lodge had reported strange goings on in the building. Bartenders cleaning up late at night would hear stirrings in parts of the building where no one was supposed to be. People who went upstairs to retrieve items said they could feel a presence following close by, as if they were being watched.
In years past, the upper floors of the building were used for a boarding house, so there is no traditional reason why the building should be haunted. Oh, except for possibly that shooting.
The Elks tell this story. At the start of the Great Depression, a sea captain walked into the main meeting room distraught over his sudden descent into poverty. When he spotted his banker, he pulled out a handgun and fired one shot. The banker quickly returned fire, so the story goes, and dropped the sea captain to the floor. He died on the spot.
John Paulson, a loyal knight at the lodge, said he doesn’t know what causes the bump-in-the-night incidents, but he has seen things that can’t be easily explained. About three years ago the Elks were renting out the dance hall at the lodge when the plumbing went haywire. Paulson called a plumber and they went to the basement of the building. Paulson unlocked the padlock to the basement and hung it on a latch on the outside of the basement door. After leaving the basement to check to see if the pipes were working again, he returned to the basement to find that the lock was missing, the door was shut and couldn’t be opened. Paulson went back upstairs to get a screwdriver to pry open the door, but when he came back down, “The door was open, just cracked as if it had swung open,” Paulson said. “And I looked around for the lock and it was hanging on the inside of the door. And I thought this is weird, this is too weird.”
Then things got creepy.
“So I go down the stairs and I go over to turn out the light switch and I run smack into this palm tree, this huge, huge palm tree. It’s a (stage) prop and I go, ‘Wait a minute, this is freaky,’ ” Paulson said.
When Paulson called the plumber to see if the prop had been there all along, the plumber said it hadn’t been in the room at all.
“The tree had to have come from upstairs. I knew exactly where it came from. It came from upstairs, but there is no one who could have gotten upstairs because all the doors are locked. So how did that palm tree get from the second floor that is under lock and key into the basement? There is definitely something going on here.”
Anyone interested in bidding on the overnight stay with the ghost hunters may call the Elks Lodge at 532-0590.