My husband, Dan, is no stranger to creaky floors and unsettling apparitions that frequent remote areas after dark. Grimm’s Fairytales uses such settings as backdrops and metaphors for stern parental warnings against wandering off the beaten path.
Dan’s parents, Shirley and Harvey West, Jr, probably didn’t use the other “G” word when the decision was made to move the family and begin the process of resettling the virtually abandoned town of Graeagle in 1958, but the operative descriptive phrase was
G h o s t T o w n
Things that go bump in the night are scary enough for a child, but add to that the crumbling century old remains of a remote mountaintop mining town that once was populated by men who went all in with their last ounce of dwindling gold dust and lost….
In spite of the post war baby boom stats, children were not abundant in Graeagle and surrounds, but there were enough to form a Cub Scout pack and that’s plenty for some hair raising adventures.
One of Dan’s frequent haunts was up the hill from Graeagle at his friend, Donnie’s house in Johnsville. Donnie’s dad was a ranger at the newly emerging Plumas/Eureka State Park and staying all night at Donnie’s was a chapter right out of Boys Life Magazine.
Here’s how Dan describes a night at Donnie’s:
“In the evening, when I was staying at Donnie’s, I can tell you, those places were haunted up there, and that Stamp Mill was one of the scariest places in the world.”
“If you went there at night, as young boys, and you heard noises and you heard footsteps up in the rafters…we’d be back in his bedroom before…we didn’t even know how we got there!
And the old hotel, we used to go in that. It was a three story hotel right about where Jeff Long built his house across from the Iron Door. That place we could get into and walk through, and by the time you got to the third floor you were so scared you could hardly get back down and get out because you heard every little noise.”
After a wild night on the town, what does any red blooded mountain boy run home to?
Well Goldilocks had her bears, but terrified Dan and Donnie dived into bed with a tame deer aptly named Spooky….a deer smart enough to stay indoors at night.
Come daylight though, Dan describes Spooky’s favorite pass time…
“… that deer would come right upstairs and Don’s bedroom was there and he’d sleep with us in the bed!
And in the summer he’d walk out and bum cigarettes off people in cars because he’d love to eat cigarettes !”
You’ve got to put this into perspective, everyone smoked in those days, that’s why they invented Smokey the Bear. Spooky was probably just out preventing forest fires.
Hear That Mournful Whistle Blow
The Graeagle Lumber Mill shut down on the last Saturday in October of 1956.
To commemorate this event, the mill whistle blew for five solid minutes signifying that the last log had gone through the band mill.
Back to 2018
Possibly the only remnant of the nighttime spooky ambience of Dan’s childhood is the haunting, echoing sound of a midnight Western Pacific locomotive whistle.
I like to imagine that this will occur tomorrow night after the children have been tucked in with visions of their bag of Halloween candy dancing in their heads and when their parents linger under the stars waiting for the witching hour…
As it happens, that day, the day that signaled the demise of the old Graeagle, way back in 1956 , was Saturday, October 27, the day The Graeagle Merchants Association will host their annual Halloween festivities this year.
The mournful last whistle blow of a dying town is just a ghostly memory now.
Trick-Or-Treat in downtown Graeagle on a Saturday night, October 27th, from 4-6pm at the local businesses and merchants. Bring the whole family for a spooktacular time! The event is free to everyone!