Mysterious sounds of footsteps at night in an old house.
Orbs of light floating in darkened rooms.
A door that had been locked, found flung open with moonlight pouring into the room.
These are just a few of the mysterious ghostly accounts in “Ghosts of the Last Best Place,” the latest ghost book written by Helena’s Queen of Halloween Ellen Baumler.
Baumler, an interpretive historian with the Montana Historical Society, takes you to some of Montana’s “most spiritually charged spaces” in her fifth book of ghost stories that has just been released.
She is holding two book signings this week. Today, (Halloween), she will be at Leslie’s Hallmark, 1609 11th Ave., from 2 to 3:30 p.m. And on Friday, Nov. 4, you can meet her at the Fall Art Walk, from 5-6:30 p.m. at Birds & Beasleys, 2 S. Last Chance Gulch.
And on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 6:30 p.m. she will tell some “spooky but true tales” from Last Chance Gulch at the Helena College Lecture Hall, 1115 N. Roberts.
Virginia City spirit
From the opening page, Baumler sets the mood by sharing her own eerie encounter staying in the historic Daems House in Virginia City.
The former home of early day physician Levinus Daems, the house is sometimes used as a temporary residence for state employees.
After settling in for the night, Baumler, who was the sole resident that evening, heard the front door open and a voice announce, “I’m home!”
She checked the house, but found nothing, but writes that the air had suddenly grown heavy.
She proceeded to lock the doors and pull the shades for the night and also took some digital photos of the rooms.
Later, when reviewing them, she found an orb of light appearing in many of the pictures, she said. The orbs are believed by some to be evidence of the supernatural.
Baumler went to bed but awoke at 1 a.m. and realized that her room was no longer dark, she said. She got up to check the house and found the back door, which she had locked, flung open with moonlight pouring in the door.
Baumler describes another paranormal encounter while she was telling ghost stories at Grandstreet Theatre, which has tales of a resident ghost that dates back decades.
Grandstreet Theatre's Clara
The ghost is believed to be the spirit of Clara, wife of minister Stanton Hodgin, at the time Grandstreet was a Unitarian Church.
Clara, who was beloved in the community, died at the age of 34 from cancer in 1905.
Theaters, according to Baumler, are “notoriously haunted places.”
And Clara, who loved children, is apparently a protective spirit who watches out for the many children attending Grandstreet’s theater school and summer camps.
In 2014, when Baumler was telling ghost stories on stage, she invited the spirit of Clara to join them, she said.
A short time later she noticed something dark near her feet. Inky black, “it kept slithering in front of me and then retreating.”
Baumler admits, it was hard to focus her storytelling with this dark presence near her.
Some “psychically intuitive” members of the audience recounted later on Facebook what they saw that night. One man reported a female spirit moving down the aisle and standing behind Baumler protectively.
It all started with mystery radio
Baumler got interested in ghosts because of her own strange encounters in her historic Helena home.
The first night after her family moved in, she awoke to hear the sound of a very staticky radio playing, she said. “There were threads of music and talking.”
She got up to search the house, but couldn’t find the source.
It happened the second night.
And then the third.
She told her husband something was waking her up. "He looked at me in this weird way and said, 'Have you heard the radio, too?'”
"We all heard it," she said, including their daughter. "It was always in the night. We heard it over the next few years."
Sometime later, a former resident of the home, Art Seiler, came to visit. He and his sister loved the house and would tell them stories about living there.
“Art who was an engineer and an electronic genius,” Baumler said, "always had the first electrical everything."
On one visit, when the Baumlers were giving him a tour of the house, he said, “We had Helena's very first radio operation set up in that bedroom. It took up the entire room and my mother hated it. People came from all over town just to hear my radio."
"We played that radio so much, it's energy is probably absorbed in the walls."
It was the radio encounter, Baumler said, that spurred her to further explore the idea of "residual energy.”
"I think a lot of what I write about is the residual energy," which replays, "almost like a time warp."
Browning's restless spirit
Baumler’s favorite story in her new book is that of Lane Kennedy, a rancher in Browning of Blackfeet/Irish heritage, who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation.
As a young man, he struck out, looking for a better life, first becoming a bronc rider and later working construction in California before returning to the Browning area to raise sheep.
One blizzardy night he was in his barn, helping a ewe through a difficult birth. On his way back to the house hours later, he saw a dark figure down by the road with his arms folded trying to protect himself from the wind.
Kennedy beckoned and yelled to the man to come in out of the blizzard.
As Kennedy went down the driveway, he saw the figure was wearing a dark skullcap, and had a long black queue hanging down his back.
As Kennedy approached, the man ran away.
A few days later, while he was preparing for bed, his wife ran into the room and said, “There’s someone in the house, and he followed me down the hall!”
Kennedy dashed down the hallway and saw a fleeting figure disappearing around the corner. It was the same figure he’d seen in the blizzard.
These appearances continued.
Puzzled, Kennedy turned to both his local priest and his tribal elder.
It was then he learned of a nearby murder that had occurred in the 1890s, when a party of drunk Irishmen reportedly invaded a nearby camp of Chinese railroad workers. At least one of the Chinese men had been killed, writes Baumler.
The tribal elder then pointed out that Kennedy had invited the spirit into his home.
On the advice of their priest, the Kennedys began to pray for the spirit, who they believe longed to return to his ancestral home in China.
After they began to pray for him, mysterious objects from the 19th century began to arrive at their gate as tokens or gifts.
As to the fate of the spirit, it reportedly still swishes through the living room on occasion.