Halloween is almost here and students can enjoy it by learning about some of the myths, legends and lore of haunted Alaska.
When people think of haunted houses and ghost stories, they may picture abandoned 18th-century Victorian mansions in old neighborhoods like the house in “It.” They don’t readily think of the majestic state of Alaska as a hotbed of paranormal activity. There is however much activity, with spooky accounts of ghosts from the Gold Rush, a northwest version of the Bermuda Triangle and legends of Native Alaskan creatures that abduct humans. Alaska is, after all, the last frontier and that also means many have met their untimely death here.
The Alaska Triangle is a vast area of wilderness in a triangle shape with touchpoints of Anchorage, Juneau and Barrow. Over 16,000 people have disappeared within it since 1968 without a trace. The area first began to draw attention after the U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, Alaska Congressman Nick Begich, an aide, Russell Brown and their bush pilot, Don Jonz, vanished during a flight from Anchorage to Juneau while flying over the triangle in 1972. A month-long search involving 90 people and covering 32,000 square miles provided no trace of them or their plane. The disappearance of people in the area could be explained by bears who consume everything and nature taking care of the rest, but there are other creepier explanations.
A Tlingit legend called Kushtaka or “Otter Man,” tells the tale of a creature hungry for raw flesh. In Tlingit folklore, Kushtaka was once human and the son of a fisherman. He got a taste for raw flesh when returning from a fishing trip one a day and began his metamorphosis into the mythical creature. He is amphibious, with otter-like features melded with humanoid characteristics. It is said that Kushtaka lures travelers while in the triangle to their deaths with trickster tactics, such as appearing to be a regular human man trying to help lost people, making a sound like a crying baby or woman, or shape-shifting into another creature or person that travelers are drawn to. Most encounters with Kushtaka are in the Thomas Bay area of Southeast Alaska. There are also paranormal sightings closer to home.
UAA has its own ghost stories about the Wendy Williamson Auditorium. There have been reports of haunted activity and six ghosts are said to lurk in the auditorium, according to the UAA Wendy Williamson webpage. Shane Mitchell is the auditorium manager and spoke about some of the experiences his staff have had during an interview in 2019 with Micthell about the haunted space.
“The night cleaning staff has requested that we leave the lights on for them. There is a piano in the auditorium and they will say that they constantly hear it playing and when they go to check, no one is there,” Mitchell said.
Some of the ghosts that reportedly haunt the Wendy Williamson Auditorium include a little girl who can be heard giggling during a good theatre performance, an angry man with a penchant for pushing or shoving brunettes and a male musician, who constantly knocks down a portrait of Williamson. There is a great article about the auditorium in detail written by Victoria Peterson from 2016 for TNL. There are darker stories of spooky activity to be discovered in Anchorage, such as a haunted bathroom stall at The Captain Cook Hotel.
In 1972, a girl committed suicide in one of the stalls. That stall is still there, but has been permanently locked. Her ghost is said to harass bathroom-goers with loud bangs, toilets flushing on their own, water faucets running on their own and a general sense of unease. It doesn’t help that the bathrooms are in the hotel basement and that there is a black color scheme. Three women are said to have collapsed in the bathroom for no reason.
There are many places in Anchorage with paranormal activity. For a fun list of creepy locations, visit The Alaska Ghost Hunting website.