The Phantom Fisherman
A ghostly boater in the Valley of Shadows
“You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food,” he thought. “You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive, and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?” - Ernest Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea”
Not long ago, I caught part of “The Old Man and the Sea” on a cable channel. Of course, Spencer Tracy will always be the “Old Man” for me. He brought to mind another story Dad told my brother and me to entertain us one Christmas Eve when he was still able to remember things.
It was shortly before the time I related a couple of years ago concerning the Blacktail Lookout incident in the ‘30s.
This one occurred a year or so after Dad was out of high school. He had gone out fishing for white fish to sell to a supplier for Spokane restaurants—anything to supplement the meager finances of the Depression years.
Dad would often put in at Bottle Bay Marina, which was then little more than a dock with a tiny lunch counter. He had managed to hook about a hundred white fish. At the usual twelve cents each, that would bring $12, a damn fine payday.
Long gone now, the old lunch counter consisted of an eight-foot bar with several stools. They served coffee, tea, keg beer, bologna sandwiches and, on good days, a hot, fried cheese sandwich. One summer they even had hot dogs. Whiskey was a special order for a real warm-up.
There were three men inside when Dad came in and ordered: the owner, his brother-in-law, and another older guy Dad recognized as a fellow fisherman trying to get by.
Dad apparently had just walked in on the end of a conversation as the older fisherman laid a couple of coins on the bar, nodded to Dad, and headed out.
Dad ordered his coffee and sandwich, and asked what the now-departed man had been talking about. Bringing his order, the joint’s owner said he had been relating how he had seen the Ghost of the Green Monarchs, a slumped figure wearing an old oil rain slicker and traveling in a long-style fishing boat who was occasionally seen on the lake and river. No engine—no oars, either—but that boat appeared to be making five to six miles an hour over the water.
Dad had little patience for such malarkey. A week later, though, on his final fishing trip of the year, he came to reevaluate that attitude. It was the week of Halloween. The weather had mostly featured a high, thin overcast, cold but not stormy and just right for fishing. He had put his boat in at Fry Creek, just over a mile from Grandpa’s house on the road past the present day Sagle School. Dad paddled out to the river, coming out just east and below where the current Cafe 95 is located.
After several hours, the late morning chill set in and Dad decided to head in after getting a measly 20 white fish. There, in the late-morning haze about a hundred yards away in the direction of Contest Point, was what appeared to be an old-fashioned long boat with the figure of a man just sitting there, not rowing. The boat moved across the water just the same, in the direction of what would later become known as Dog Beach, silently, effortlessly... ghostly.
Epilogue: The Tug Boat
More likely, it was a small mail boat during the earlier years of the century and of Sandpoint. Without being specific as to the location, a boat up on horses and blocks, sitting in the middle of a small field surrounded by birch trees and now-unused buildings, is perhaps the scene of a simple haunting.
Surprisingly close to town, the boat had been there some time. In fact, when I was in my mid-teens, I saw it there while out on an extended bike ride. (As compared to the short distances I used to ride until about 20 years ago.)
In the years, or even a decade or so, on either side of World War I, a mail boat serviced Bayview, Bottle Bay, and Hope, along with other stops. There was also tug boats that corralled the logs that were floated down the river to the mills.
In any event, while I did not experience anything unusual during my brief stop, a couple of neighborhood brothers who, shall we say, weren’t in the habit of pulling stunts or talking out of one of their orifices, told me that they had been riding their bikes north of town and decided to detour and investigate the boat that I had told them about.
Now, I hadn’t climbed onto the deck or the small wheelhouse, but apparently the brothers had and, after a couple of minutes without seeing anything interesting, they decided to head out. But before they could climb over the side, they distinctly heard a man’s voice ay, “Hey, you brats! Get off my boat!”
They didn’t need to be told twice. Maybe the spirit of a mailman was still making his appointed rounds through rain, sleet, snow, gloom of night... and even death.