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Valley of Shadows

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Valley of Shadows

The strange case of the mysterious spectre

“Not these, but the buried strangeness which nourishes the known; that springs from which the floor lamp drinks now a wilder bloom, inflaming the damask love seat and the whole dangerous room.” -Richard Wilbur


I barely know where to begin telling this account that I learned of last winter. As with other columns, the party(ies) involved wish to remain anonymous. While the original individuals involved are deceased, this affair was told to me by a descendent of the parties involved.

The corner grocery store is now a thing of the past. The closest analogy is the stop and shop, usually attached to a gas station and quite anonymous. They offer pop, dairy, snacks, beer, wine and commonly a smattering of canned goods along with bread and buns. For a full range of food and nearly everything else, there’s only supermarkets or ultra-markets such as Fred Meyers and most Wal-Marts.

Safeway began here in Sandpoint in the 30s where All Smiles is located now. It moved to the corner of Second and Alder, now the Creekside medical building across from the old library, which itself was the original post office. The store survives to the present day on Fifth Avenue.

Scattered through town were a number of small markets back in the day. About the size or slightly larger than the modern convenience store, they carried a selection of most every basic food group including a butcher’s case, a freezer section and produce. Of course, in the days before the major supermarkets, there was only a limited selection of two or three styles of any one product.

Here in Sandpoint there were seven or eight, at least as far as I can remember in either my lifetime or what I was heard or told about by my parents. There was the Ella Avenue Grocery at the intersection with Larch, and there was one at the corner of Pine and Forest where, in my early days, my father would buy steaks for BBQ when I was in grade school. There was another at Second and Pine, and at First and Church where the Parson’s Construction office is now. There was another at Main and First that became the original Merwin’s, which is now used for a book store. Still another was at the corner of Larch and Boyer; it later became Keg’s Mexican Chow House, as mentioned in my first column, across from the new (to come) Super 1 Foods. The last survivor of the small, neighborhood market was the Main St. Grocery. I remember going there for candy and to pick up a couple things for my mother, only a few blocks away.

Last, and certainly least, the Panida newsstand, forerunner of a Stop and Shop.

It was in one of these stores in the late summer of 1949 or 1950 (my source(s) weren’t sure) that the events related in this month’s column took place.

This particular store which was, at the time (60 years ago), on the outskirts of town, served a developing residential area. Most of the streets west of Boyer were still dirt or gravel back then, but the city would usually oil them a couple times a year to keep the dust down.

One day, coming in early to meet a delivery truck from Dub’s (yes, founder of the current drive-in) bakery in town, the owner/manager discovered that someone had apparently broken in during the night. But the burglar actions made little sense. No money was taken from the till, and the only stock violated was the bottles of quinine (tonic) water.

Retired locals usually arrived about 7:30 in the morning to hang out in the front where several straight chairs and a table were placed near the window. They played cards and shot the breeze most of the day. The first arrival found a very puzzled owner.

Asking what was going on, the owner related what he had found and that he had called the police, who had found no signs of forced entry.

As the day progressed the owner tried to forget the unusual break-in, going about serving his customers, most of whom were housewives whose husbands worked in one of the area’s sawmills; Pack River Lumber in Dover, and the Hedlund Mill on Boyer across from the Lincoln Elementary School.

The store’s owner had three employees; a butcher, a produce manager and a part-time stock boy who shared the duties of stocking the four aisles of canned goods while he mostly waited at the one check stand. The old gents at the front of the store would spend the day talking about the weather, baseball, the war that had ended a few years earlier and those they knew who had fought in it. Today, however, it was speculation as to what type of nut had broken into the store and stolen only quinine water. The verdict was that it made no sense—a conclusion the owner had come to five seconds after discovering the theft.

The owner had more of an adventure before him than he thought. One night a couple of weeks after the tonic water thefts, the owner was closing up and literally, turning the key in the lock, looked to the back of the store and saw an odd, indescribable glow. In the middle of it, a vision that could only be described as a “mushroom man.” It stood over six feet tall and seemed to be a cross between a man and mushroom. An anvil shaped head, two huge dark holes for eyes and a slightly larger dark oval where the mouth would be. A bony ridge ran in an oval shape connecting these three features.

The body was an upright, oblong shape and from what he could see, had the texture of dried out fungi. The feet, if you could call it that, was little more than a pseudo-pod, generally the shape of a dolphin’s tail flipper but ridged. The thing’s entire color was a sickly grayish white.

Taking several seconds to come to his senses, the owner turned on the lights and the... whatever it was, vanished, never to be seen again.

The store closed about fifteen years later and sat vacant for a number of years afterward until it was demolished and a couple of houses built on the site.

What was behind this eerie visitation? A visitor from an alien dimension or other bizarre realm that we can only glimpse and conjecture about from time to time, as I’ve related before in this column?

The old saying applies: “The universe is not only as strange as we can imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.

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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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