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Published: Sunday, 10/31/2004

Travel guide for ghost-hunters

By MIKE KELLY

BLADE TRAVEL WRITER

HAUNTED PLACES IN AMERICA: A GUIDE TO SPOOKED AND SPOOKY PUBLIC PLACES IN THE UNITED STATES. By Charles A. Coulombe. Lyone Press. 272 pages. $16.95.

The year was 1898. Gold had just been discovered in Alaska, and with people pouring in from around the world to seek their fortunes, towns were springing up overnight. Among them was Skagway, where the Golden North Hotel served as something of a city center.

One would-be gold miner brought his fiancee, Mary, to the hotel and left her there, planning to return for her after he struck it rich.

Nobody knows what happened to the miner, but Mary fell sick with pneumonia while awaiting his return. She died in Room 23, choking to death from her disease.

The Golden North Hotel is still in operation, and strangely, guests staying in Room 23 have often awakened in the middle of the night choking and gasping for breath. Some have also reported seeing the figure of a woman, reaching out as if to choke them.

Whoa. Spooky stuff, huh?

This is one of the dozens of stories contained in this unusual travel guide to "haunted" places in each of the 50 states. The author is a veteran California writer who specializes in religion, history, the occult, and the paranormal. (But he apparently dabbles in other topics as well; his most recent book before this one was last year's The Muse in the Bottle: Great Writers on the Joy of Drinking.)

There is no shortage of titles out there that deal with haunted houses and the like, but often the sites mentioned are private, and outsiders are not welcome. Coulombe's book is different; all the events he describes take place in public buildings, such as hotels, restaurants, and even churches.

Unfortunately, much of the writing is dry, which makes parts of Haunted Places read more like a textbook than a series of spooky yarns.

In his collection of 50 tales, Coulombe describes all sorts of places plagued by restless spirits, among them a Florida hotel where one of Al Capone's boys still lurks, a Washington saloon where a prostitute and a policeman hold forth, and Edgar Allen Poe's house in Maryland, which is said to be occupied by an "undead female."

Not surprisingly, Colorado is represented on Coulombe's haunt parade by the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, the very same place that inspired horror writer Stephen King, a onetime guest, to write his best-selling book The Shining.

Ohio's entry is a church in Somerset, a tiny town near Zanesville, but to tell the truth, the story is pretty lame as hauntings go. It involves a deceased priest who keeps extinguishing altar candles while other priests are preparing to say Mass.

In Michigan, the haunted site is a restaurant in Traverse City, where lights turn on and off and fireplaces light themselves.

At the end of each entry, the street address and even the phone number of the site is given, so anyone who feels so inclined can easily check out the places themselves.

Of course, if you're a little spooked by spooks, you can always settle for a phone call to see if maybe you can speak with somebody from the Great Beyond.

Just be sure to call collect.

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade.com or 419-724-6131.



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