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Ghost sightings at downtown Anchorage hotel draw paranormal investigators

Katie Medred
Loren Holmes photo

As the pale light of midday briefly touched the cityscape on a December afternoon in 2004, Terri Russi stood behind the front desk of the Anchorage Historic Hotel, checking logs and paperwork. The petite blonde with a pixie cut glanced up from her work into a mirror on the wall in front of her.

"That's odd," she thought.  "What was that?"

Russi spun around to face a painting on the wall behind her, looking for the "smoky silhouette" of a white dress she swore she'd seen drift by the mirror just seconds before. There was nothing. The dim painting, a woman's portrait encased in gold frame, offered no hoped-for explanation, no white dress. The painting is just a weathered face cast in the style and attitude of Francisco Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Sons." Unsettling enough on its own, it was even more so when Russi realized that there was nothing resembling the reflection she'd just seen. She shook her head in disbelief, dismissed the vision, and returned to her work.

Later on in the week, a boyfriend of an employee passed the time with a self-guided tutorial on how to tie a tie. He was seated in a chair next to the narrow lobby fireplace, with Russi, again, behind the front desk. As he practiced, a framed picture of notable Alaskan artist Sydney Laurence spontaneously catapulted itself from the mantel across the room, shattering a glass coffee table on impact. Russi was stunned.

Assuming it was an earthquake, she looked around to see what else was shaking. The chandelier was still. The room was quiet. The man turned to her, his untied tie hanging from his neck, and casually suggested, "Maybe it's your ghost."

History of a Haunting

The Historic Anchorage Hotel takes up the corner opposite Rum Runners at 4th Avenue and E Street, extending about a half-block. If you weren't looking for it, you'd almost certainly miss the modest structure. Its single entrance on E Street is outfitted with a bulbous white dome awning and the glass paneled French door is set back from the street.

The current Hotel site is an annex to an original. The Annex, built in 1936, is the only lodging structure in Anchorage listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original hotel building was located on the corner of 3rd and E before it was torn down to make way for new growth in the city.

Over the years the hotel has acquired a haunted reputation. Until Russi's arrival most of the stories were just whisperings; a friend-of-a-friend had a sister who worked there and experienced something. Urban legend type stuff.

After Russi's "Christmas Spirit" encounters she decided it would be interesting to see if other guests experienced the paranormal. She started to chronicle the hotel's haunting in a ghost log that's prefaced: "Please record all your encounters with our 'friends,' the ghosts of the hotel. Include ... what you saw or heard, and where."

Accounts range from mundane, like the entry on May 30, 2007: "The guest in room 202 called saying somebody was pranking them by tapping on the door and then running away.  He said her heard a couple of children giggling. No children in-house." Others are terrifying, like an October 2011 entry that describes a guest's heart-stopping encounter with "a small child ... standing in the closet smiling" up at the patron.

Most of the log's reports include lights turning on-and-off or flickering, indescribable noises (giggling, coughing, whispering), temperature discrepancies, shadows, figure and the feeling of being leaned on or pushed.

Russi says she's unsure how many people actually choose to share their experiences with the log. She says, "(it depends on) who decides to tell you about it. Cause some things just happen and you think 'Oh, that was nothing' when really it could have been something."

Why the Anchorage Historic Hotel is reportedly so haunted?

Over the years, Russi has invited mediums, ghost hunters and paranormal experts into the hotel. Traffic and interest have naturally increased as more and more reported "happenings" began circulating around the paranormal community with some regularity. Seven years later haunting has become sort of their thing.

What they've learned from their expert guests, according to Russi, is that nearly three dozen spirits occupy the hotel at any given time. Some are regulars, others are just passing through.

Russi says, "There's a little boy and a little girl, they didn't die in the hotel, but at the hospital when it was over there on L Street." She points in the direction of long gone structure, "and they always come back here to play because their family, it was a family of nine, lived here. And so they come back to see them.

"How a psychic sees these things, I don't know," Russi muses, "but I had two of them here at one point and they both said they saw them."

There's also the "prominent woman of society from the 1920s" thought to be an adult daughter of a wealthy local family. "And then there's a man who always follows you as soon as you walk into the door," Russi continues. "And the jilted bride who hung herself ... and Chief Sturgus, the first Chief of Police, who was shot in the allyway there ... with his own gun. The case has never been solved."

Alaska medium Angelique Conrad has worked with Russi and the hotel for years. Her insight has helped to identify a few of the building's most-prominent visitors -- and most active rooms. Conrad explains that the Earth, like a body, has its own energy field. She likens Earth's meridians to the energy flow, or Qi, in acupuncture.

"When you have a spot in the Earth where the energy gets upset it creates a vortex which is essentially distress in the energy field," Conrad explains. Negative or low level spirits need to have energy to survive because their energy isn't positive enough to move on and is not strong enough to stick around on its own. So they blindly seek out a direction. It's why these spots of disruption (like the Anchorage hotel) often attract paranormal activity ... like moths to a flame."

Conrad's colleague, paranormal expert Dan Barnhart notes that ghosts often attract the attention of the living if the living are "tuned in," but even those tuned in can miss the message.

"It takes less energy for an entity to make a sound than appear ... and the likelihood of getting a ghost on tape is greater than 'seeing' one," Barnhart said. But he adds it's ultimately up to the specter if it wants to be known. Barnhart says it all "depends on whether it can draw up enough energy from the surrounding area ... from an electronic source or from people, or from a vortex."

Perhaps the Anchorage Historic Hotel isn't the only downtown spot with an energy issue.

"A lot of bizarre stuff happens in this block, a lot of negative energy surrounding the hotel and that general area," Conrad said.

Contact Katie Medred at katie(at)alaskadispatch.com