Finding the weird in Washington

By Jacques Von Lunen, Herald staff writer June 24, 2011 

The expert on all things weird in the Northwest returned Thursday to the Tri-Cities.

Author Jeff Davis spoke before about 60 people at the Kennewick branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries, where he had similar success at an event last year.

Davis writes about creepy, haunted and just plain weird places in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

This time, he came to Kennewick to promote the latest edition of A Haunted Tour Guide to the Pacific Northwest as part of the library's summer reading series.

The theme of this year's series is travel. And the Haunted Tour Guide, despite its creepy theme, is a travel guide first and foremost.

It lists nearly 200 spots in the Northwest that include a ghost among their tourist attractions. For each place, Davis meticulously lists hotels, restaurants and entertainment options, replete with directions.

He follows these tips for travelers with brief stories designed to raise neck hairs. Given how many places he covers in just more than 220 pages, the stories are just long enough to whet the appetite of amateur ghost hunters.

He's co-authored tomes that treated such subject matter at greater length. Davis' name graces the covers of Weird Washington and Weird Oregon.

There's a simple explanation why Davis writes books about ghouls, he told the Herald.

"I'm just weird," he said dryly.

He has a long history of weird. When Davis was a kid in the early '70s, he suffered from insomnia. Awake at night, he watched reruns of Boris Karloff movies.

He's been hooked on ghosts ever since.

And seeing Karloff play a mummy influenced his career choice too. Davis has a Master's degree in archeology. He never got to dig up mummies, but he worked in spooky places around the Northwest as an archeologist for the forest service.

By the late '90s, he had collected enough stories to put together a book. To this day, he's done his story-gathering within a day's drive of his Vancouver, Wash., home.

But he does visit haunted places when on vacation with his wife and has thought about doing an international edition.

The most poignant fodder for such a book likely would come from his time in the armed forces. Davis served in the Army for three years before college and has been in the Army Reserve since.

His work for the Reserve has been as a war historian. Davis has recorded the living memories of hundreds of soldiers in such places as Bosnia and Afghanistan.

And while he's not in those war zones to pick up ghost folklore, sometimes the ghosts find him.

In the mid-2000s, Davis worked out of a bunker below Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. He and other Army staff used plywood to create individual office spaces.

One man's job required him to stay in his office space around the clock. He couldn't sleep but didn't know why.

Bagram Airfield was the site of relentless battles during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war that followed it.

The walls of the man's cubicle were covered in faded stains -- people had been executed there.

"When blood hits concrete, there's a chemical reaction and it stains the concrete," Davis said Thursday.

Similarly, soldiers camping out on Afghan plains told Davis about noises they heard at night that couldn't be explained by anyone's movement.

"We were there for serious business," Davis said. "But we still lived normal lives too."

And for Davis a normal life includes telling ghost stories.

He said writing books about odd places has been "tremendously rewarding." And it's given him opportunity to meet a lot of, er, characters at his readings. But he said no more than if he were writing about any other topic.

"You pick anything people do as a hobby and you'll have people taking it too far," he said laughing.

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