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Valley of Shadows

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The Bernd Building: is this what's behind the ghost?

I have failed my publisher up until now. For whatever reason I’ve been procrastinating about the Bernd building here in Sandpoint ever since I started this column three years ago. There were easier stories to write, those I knew and a number that came my way when others learned of this column. Also, even though it would be considered a very, very cold case, it does involve the witness to a possible murder. If records are still kept from the 1920s, the veracity of this account could be determined.

For the most part, the accounts are second-hand tales of occupants and of visitors to the Bernd building. What I relate here is unique, as far as I can tell. This is the story that was told to me by an elderly neighbor of ours back in the late 70s—when he was in his early 80s—about the possible source of the Bernd haunting.

My witness, who I’ll call “Andy,” and his wife, “Ellen,” who used to waitress at Lee’s Cafe in the years around and shortly after World War II, were long time residents of Sandpoint, and both are now deceased for over 30 years. While not going into detail on the history of the building, he did tell me this interesting story from when he was a young man.

After serving in the Army during World War I, Andy returned to Sandpoint and, as was the case with many young men, took up logging.

He and his wife, Ellen, were friends of my grandmother, who lived not far away. I continued stopping by to visit with Andy and his wife occasionally until his death.

Andy seemed to enjoy a younger generation stopping by to talk with an old man and often related tales of this life. One was from the 1920s.

Andy and his buddies would come to town on weekends and visit the Lincoln Hotel. Gambling, a little drinking and, on the second floor (in the building that houses the upstanding location of the current Coldwater Creek retail outlet and wine bar), ahem... distractions for healthy young men. Many of these distractions were girls of the evening, and I do mean girls. Some were only in their mid or late teens.

Madams plied their trade to be accommodating to many a taste, from young to old. Today, some of their clients would be considered perverts, child molesters. But in the Roaring 20s, just about anything went. Up to and including, apparently, hiring out one’s own daughter.

In recent decades, the upper floor was an abandoned labyrinth of vacant hotel rooms. Later in the 20th and early 21st century, they were converted into apartments, offices, retail spaces and lastly, the aforementioned wine bar. Most tenants reported nothing; some, though, were driven out by strange events. An old-style claw-footed bathtub is mentioned by some storytellers, along with a girl with long, brown hair, dressed in white.

A police report from the time reported a teenage girl drowned in a bathtub, though what it didn’t report was a reason why a healthy, teenage girl would drown in a shallow bath.

Andy told me 50 years after the fact that he was pretty sure it wasn’t a natural drowning. His version of the story says the girl, tired and disgusted of the business her own mother had forced her into, revolted one night.

Andy had peeked out of the room he was temporarily occupying when he heard the rough voice of a huge, bear of a man right outside his door who quickly disappeared down the stairs. Andy saw a girl, probably 17, come out of another room two doors down. A white sheet wrapped around her, Andy considered the big man he had just seen had likely had his way with her.

The girl went across the hall into what Andy knew was a bathroom, and he soon heard water running in the tub.

Getting dressed, Andy started out the door after making payment, but backed up when an older woman came from a room at the far end of the hall and let herself into the bathroom. 

A moment later came a yelling match between the girl and the woman, who was apparently her mother. The gist of the argument was the mother saw the daughter as a source of income. She chastised the girl, pleading with her they would be out on the streets, at the mercy of who knew what if she didn’t continue in the business. The girl, however, continued to refuse. Sudenly there came a splashing sound and, after a minute or so, utter silence.

Suddenly, the mother fled the bathroom and hurried down the hall into the room she had come out of, slamming the door behind her. Al quickly left, and his direct knowledge of events ends there.

A few hours later, shortly after sun-up, he and his fellow loggers were heading to the cafe for breakfast before leaving town when they saw the police at the Bernd building. In town the following weekend, he heard that the woman had told authorities that she had found her daughter’s body in the tub upon awakening.

Considering the known nature of the residents of the Lincoln hotel, the police did only a cursory investigation and listed the cause of death as accidental drowning.

As to the validity of this account, I cannot say it is anything more than an elderly man’s tale to amuse a friend and neighbor. As to why he hadn’t stopped forward, I felt it was obvious—he had been engaged in an indiscretion of his own. All parties are long dead, no evidence, no witnesses... none alive, anyway.

This illustrates, however, that just because you hear reports from all levels of society these days, attesting to the barbarism of people, it does not indicate we have a modern monopoly on such happenings. It’s just that today, there is mass media’s 24-hour news cycle of reporting.

Not to mention that decades ago, some things were, let’s say, swept under the rug for the best interest of the community’s reputation?

An excellent story on the supernatural side of the Bernd building was written by David Gunter, and appeared in the October 31, 2010 issue of the Bonner County Daily Bee. It was entitled “Ghostly Tale Lives on Downtown." you can read it here: 

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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

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, ghosts, Bernd Building, David Gunter, whorehouse

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