Every minute that passes is another minute I've spent delaying my reason for coming here. As I move through row after row of lichen-encrusted gravestones, some so old and forgotten one can no longer make out the markings, I can't help but wonder whether or not this is such a good idea. Local legend holds that those who lie upon Bayview Cemetery's most infamous monument, known as The Deathbed, curse themselves to die a premature death—and unfortunately, lying down in this tomb is exactly what I'm here to do.
I am not the first amateur ghost hunter drawn here by the cemetery's urban legends. In fact, tales of paranormal activity, ghostly apparitions and unexplained bumps in the night have been common in the City of Subdued Excitement for decades. Every October, in preparation for Halloween, much of the world becomes ghost-obsessed and I am no exception. In my 22 years of life, however, the only experience I have had with ghosts are kids in white sheets and TV shows about hauntings and exorcisms on the Discovery Channel.
Troy Cunningham has been the park technician at Bayview Cemetery since 1988. Cunningham grew up in the area and remembers hearing the same tales of witches and curses that still surround the historical cemetery's largest monuments today.
As a boy in the 1970s, the stories never bothered him much. He would cut through Bayview on his way to school, past the resting places of familiar local names such as Higginson, Mathes, Eldridge and Roeder.
“I just never bought into that. It's interesting how people take things and put twists on them, but if you do the research, it's like ‘that's not even close!'” Cunningham said. “But maybe there is some truth about it that you don't know.”
On the western edge of the cemetery, among a neat cluster of oak and maple trees, stands another of Bayview's haunted attractions, a 12-foot statue of an angel nicknamed Angel Eyes. As I near the stone effigy, the silver light of the waning October moon falls upon the face of the angel, illuminating her somber features and sending a chill down my spine. There are many legends surrounding Angel Eyes. One version tells of a young woman who was thought to be a witch and burned at the stake as a result. Her body was reportedly buried underneath the statue, and it is said that one will find blood seeping out of the statue's eyes during the full moon.
“When I cut through here as a kid that's the story I was always told,” Cunningham said.
Where these legends come from no one can say, but it seems they are still being told today. Blood-red paint mars the face of Angel Eyes tonight, most likely some kid's idea of a practical joke.
Whatever the original source, a couple of hours spent doing research in the library is enough to discredit most of these local legends. According to The Bellingham Herald archives, buried at the foot of Angel Eyes are the bodies of William H. Bland, his two wives and a few other members of the Bland family. Bland, one of Bellingham's earliest pioneers, had the statue erected in Bayview for his first wife, Hattie, who died of tuberculosis in 1910. However, disproving the stories' origins doesn't necessarily disprove the eerie encounters and ghost sightings here.
“Many times ghost stories almost become urban legends but sometimes they may have a kernel of truth and then people add to it and add to it,” said Ankhasha Amenti, a professional psychic and paranormal investigator based out of Issaquah.
“That's why it's important on an investigation—a real investigation, not just some of the things you see on television—to do historical research on the place that you're going to because if you can't connect things historically and factually, then it's difficult to really explain to people what's going on there,” she added.
Further research reveals that Bland, once a wealthy businessman, fell on hard times after the Great Depression swept the United States in the 1930s. According to the Nov. 9, 1936 edition of The Bellingham Herald, Bland became “despondent over financial affairs and sickness in his home,” and thereafter he committed suicide in the basement of the Whatcom County Courthouse.
The story surrounding the inhabitant of The Deathbed is equally tragic. According to Jeff Jewell, a photo historian at the Whatcom Museum of History & Art, the tomb only houses one body, even though it was built for two. On May 9, 1916 Edmond L. Gaudette suffered a fatal stroke at the age of 58. He was buried in Bayview Cemetery two days later beneath one-half of the six-columned monument resembling a miniature Parthenon.
The other half was to be the resting place of his wife. However, according to Jewell, when Laura Gaudette passed away in 1925, a legal battle ensued over her body and she was buried in Seattle instead. The space reserved for Laura remains empty to this day.
Whether or not Bayview Cemetery is haunted remains a mystery. If there is some seed of truth behind any of the ghost stories, it seems likely to this amateur that the stories may have stemmed from the tragic events that preceded the deaths of the Gaudette and Bland families. But could it be that William or Hattie Bland still wander the cemetery in the afterlife? Or that some part of poor Edmond Gaudette is still waiting for his wife to join him in the grave?
“In the contacts that I've had with true spirits and true ghosts that are in a place, for the most part they are there because this is the place that they may have had either some unresolved business or it may be the place that they were very, very happy,” Amenti said.
Whatever the answer, the legend of The Deathbed got the best of me this night. I've always planned on reaching the triple digits in life, therefore messing with the paranormal seems like a bad idea. Think you've got what it takes to test The Deathbed? Try it after midnight in the glow of the next full moon. I dare you.
Many other places in Bellingham are reportedly haunted, from the Mount Baker Theatre to the Old Town Cafá©. Even Western's very own Wilson Library has been associated with ghosts and spirits.