When working as a reporter for the KHNS radio station, which serves Haines, Skagway, and Klukwan, James P. Devereaux decided to gather ghost stories from community members for a Halloween broadcast. The range of places ghosts were reported to haunt were various: The Alaskan Hotel, Baranof Castle, the Silverbow Inn and Bakery, McCabe College, and even Sawmill Creek Road. While the broadcast never came to fruition, the stories served as the beginning for the book he’d later write: “Spirits of Southeast Alaska: The History & Hauntings of Alaska’s Panhandle.”
Devereaux earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and moved to Alaska in 2005 to work as an archaeologist for the U.S. Military. He spent nine years in Alaska, also working for the National Park Service as an archaeologist, as well as a river and mountain guide and a log cabin carpenter. He returned to the Lower 48 and now works for Effigy Mounds National Monument in Wisconsin, but he carried the stories from Alaska with him, finally sharing them with the world in 2016.
The Weekly caught up with him to learn about the creation of his collection of spooky stories.
CM: Can you expand on how you knew you had the makings of a book?
JD: While working for KHNS radio as a reporter out of Haines during this time of year back in 2012, I had the idea to do a short piece on ghosts in Southeast Alaska. After some simple queries I realized that I had something much larger than a five minute radio piece on my hands. The response was overwhelming. In a few short weeks I had accumulated enough firsthand accounts to fill a whole series of books. It was then I began looking into the literature already available on the subject. Though much of it was fascinating, I found that the stories tended towards being rather general accounts, or dated in regards to what I felt contemporary fans of the unexplained and paranormal activity had come to expect. I wanted to create for the reader a book based strongly in the rich historical, cultural and environmental traditions that these tales were born in. I wanted to create something that was absolutely a ghost book, but was also a look inside the rich tapestry of life, history and archaeology in Southeast Alaska that gave birth to these ghostly tales.
CM: How did your training as an anthropologist affect your approach to the creation of the book?
JD: In my time working for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park as an archaeologist, and as a river and mountain guide on the Chilkoot Trail, I found myself often in the company of visitors who were enthralled with the flora and fauna of Alaska, with the adventure one finds, the romance of life on the last frontier, etc. They were full of questions and curiosities, but what really held them was the history of the region. To my surprise and delight, much of the history I was able to relay to them was new to their ears. One of my favorite ways to relay to them my passions of archaeology and history was through the guise of ghost stories. Wrapping historical events and tales of archaeological sites in the blanket of paranormal activity helped even the most indifferent of listeners take in the events that helped shape the places we live in today, and allowed me to create a more detailed picture of the ground they were on. This style of narrative proved to be the backbone of this book.
CM: What was your research and verification process for the stories?
JD: In terms of methodology when creating “Spirits of Southeast Alaska,” I tried very hard to approach my research and writing in the spirit of the writing I often do as an archaeologist. I made sure that there were credible sources for the stories, and if possible, more than one. I made sure that the historical and archaeological information was sourced and accurate. I approached it as if it were to be a peer-reviewed scientific publication, as I hoped every reader would be able to read my work and know that the facts within would stand on their own and were just that, facts.
CM: Any particularly memorable moments writing the book?
JD: Some of my most memorable moments were when I interviewed people for the book. Sometimes, I’d find myself face to face with someone who within moments I could reasonably discern was a few salmon short of a net. One or two ghostly encounters are just fine, maybe more if you are blessed/cursed with the sixth sense some seem to possess in regards to the dead. But, when I’m just making up stuff and you’re telling me you had that exact experience I’m not going to buy you any more beer or include you in my book. However, more often than not the people I spoke with were genuine. They were earnest, intelligent, and often wary of being made fun of for what they absolutely believed they encountered. There are strange occurrences that defy current scientific explanation in this world that are very real, and some of them were witnessed by those I chose to include in the book.
CM: Do you have your own tale to share of an encounter with a ghost or spirit?
JD: Indeed I do. But you’ll have to buy my book to hear it. :)
CM: Any projects in the works?
JD: Actually yes! I am currently putting the finishing touches on my second book, The Ghosts of the Gold Rush, which focuses on paranormal activity along the routes to the Klondike as well as the boom towns involved in the major gold rushes throughout Alaska and the Yukon. It follows a similar format to the Spirits of Southeast Alaska and is chock full of new unexplained tales and rich in our fascinating boom town heritages. I am also in talks with a production company to do a television series that looks at historical mysteries, but this time on a national and potentially international scale. I’m hoping we start up on that in the spring, mainly so I have time to drop twenty pounds and get my teeth whitened before production starts so that my old friends don’t know how much I’ve let myself go!
Physical copies of “Spirits of Southeast Alaska” can be purchased through Amazon, Indie Bound, and Barnes & Noble. The e-book can be found through Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Nook, and Kobo. To learn more about Devereaux, go to jamespdevereaux.com.
Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly’s staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.