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Valley of Shadows

Spring Heeled Jack and the Wailing Ghost

The Wailing Ghost

“At the earliest end of winter, in March, a scrawny cry from outside seemed like a sound in his mind.” -Wallace Stevens

Strange noises in the night. Have you ever heard an odd noise after dark, a howl, or cry? This story may be related to the “Shadow Creature” (Valley of Shadows, April 2008).

The Banshee, or “woman of the fairy mounds,” as Irish mythology calls her, is usually seen as a death omen from the otherworld. A Scottish versions is called the “bean shish.”

According to Celtic and Irish folklore, a Banshee can appear in a variety of forms: a Hooded Crow, goat, hare, weasel or... the Hag of the Mist in Welsh folklore.

Rarely seen, the mourning call or cry usually heard at night near woods or as she capers around on rooftops. The cry has been described as a thin screeching sound, a cross between the wail of a woman and an owl. Other times there are wolf-like qualities to the call.

The most common origin tales of the Banshee relate that she is a fairy, or is a form of ghost; usually of a murdered woman, or one who died in childbirth.

Banshees are usually dressed in white, grey, or other dark cloaks with long, fair hair.

Why the lesson in this lore? Well, maybe they account for some nocturnal noises I and several others

I’ve spoken with over the years have heard, usually at particular times of the year. The spring and autumn equinox, the winter solstices and off and on through the winter during certain weather conditions.

Sandpoint could be classified as “near the woods.” It’s a relatively small town surrounded by forests, mountains and the lake.

Have you ever gone out at night in the winter, or woken up at 1 am in October or been coming home long after dark in March and heard... a sound in the distance? A mournful cry, a distant wail that you might have passed off as that of a lonely dog or a combination of wind and a distant train? Yet within the next few days, you read about a particular death in the area that caught your eye in the newspaper? Could you have heard the cry of a Banshee?

Spring Heel Jack

“...Herbie Marsten will get you if you don’t... watch... out!” -Stephen King, “‘Salem’s Lot”

For this one, we leave the “Valley of Shadows” and head to the Spokane Valley. But first, some background.

Spring Heel Jack was a mysterious figure that haunted England during most of the 19th and early 20th centuries who was the centerpiece of many penny dreadful periodicals of the period. He could jump effortlessly from roof top to roof top pulling pranks, sometimes serious ones such as accosting young ladies. Theories have been all over the board to explain this figure. From out and out fabrication—aka, tall tales—to a prankster(s), a supernatural entity, or maybe he was an alien from a high-gravity planet thus explaining his leaping abilities such as our astronauts on the moon experienced.

Spring Heel Jack is the antagonist in Robert Downey Jr’s current film “Sherlock Holes,” as portrayed by Dominic Keating.

“Jack” came to this country in the 1950s. A figure resembling some of his descriptions was sighted in a pecan tree in the yard of an apartment building in Houston, Texas by Judy Meyers and Howard Phillips. The assailant was described as a man in a black cape, skin-tight pants and high boots, with grey clothes.

Now, the local connection. My Uncle Con and Aunt Joyce lived in Opportunity (Joyce still lives in the same house), now Spokane Valley, since the 1950s. Uncle Con died in 1980, but Aunt Joyce continued to visit us for several more years until her, let’s say personality conflicts with my mother finally told her it was time to stay home.

Mom was old school, rather a prude; a typical mid- to late-20th century housewife and good mother. Aunt Joyce was, and still is at 95, an intelligent, and very independent, lady and world traveler. “Housewife,” though, she wasn’t.

It was October, early ‘80s, not long before Halloween, and she kind of invited herself to dinner one night. Talking in the kitchen, a discussion was going on about the womens’ movement. Aunt Joyce piped up and said that the only movement she was part of was the bowel movement. That did it for my mother. You don’t talk that way in mixed company.

Anyway, before leaving the topic of Halloween came up and Joyce told us about a weird summer in the 1950s not long after she and Uncle Con moved into their home in Opportunity. In those days, the development hadn’t yet spread out that way. The area was still mostly rural. Apple orchards and farms, and no I-90.

Most of what went on happened from late July through roughly Labor Day. Eisenhower was in the White House, drive-ins, duck-and-cover campaigns and the Cold War, I Love Lucy and the early Jackie Gleason were on the TV along with Steve Allen hosting the Tonight Show.

That late summer though saw something else—dogs, that would suddenly begin barking in the middle of the night; people reporting their outbuildings being broken into but nothing stolen, just trashed; gardens robbed of their vegetables. At sunset, one person said they saw what appeared to be a man hopping from the roof of a house to a shed and down to the ground. The next day, lawn furniture appeared on their roof.

Aunt Joyce was a very practical woman and shrugged it off, ascribing it to a dog days of summer phobia until one evening, just at sunset, when she glanced across the street as she was gathering some veggies from her raised garden. There was what looked like a man standing on the roof of a neighbor’s house. She oculdn’t put her finger on it, but there seemed to be something odd about the proportions of his body. It could have been what he was wearing, but she didn’t think so.

The figure suddenly became aware that he had been watched and jumped over to another rooftop, then to the ground and he was gone. With that sighting, the mysterious events came to an end.

What prompted me to relate this memory was the vandalism this past winter at Sagle School and the evidence that whomever the vandals are, they were on the roof of the school. Little doubt the work of regular pranksters, but one can only wonder... is Spring Heel Jack still around?

(Author’s note: About the stories I mentioned in January that I was planning for this year, one is off the list for now: Spirit Lake. After doing some preliminary research, it appears that the ‘spirits’ spring from a Native American version of the Romeo and Juliet story. Spirits of two Indian lovers can be either heard and/or seen on particular nights or times of year. Nothing more to write about there.)

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Author info

Lawrence Fury Lawrence Fury is an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer, and a conservative conscience for this area of North Idaho. He's also an expert on local ghost stories, and is compiling a group of them for future book publication. You can read more about him in a Love Notes feature for the River Journal

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