Editor's Note: Everyone loves a ghost story. Whether told during a long, dark winter power outage or while hunkered around a camp fire on the beach, ghost stories are sure to hold the attention of all - believers and skeptics, young listeners and old, dreamers and realists. The more familiar the people and places involved, the more intriguing the stories seem. In this series, Sydney Stevens shares some of the ghost stories of our area - stories that may even have been told at your own fireside.
When I first moved to Oysterville some thirty years ago, the old Ned Osborn house was owned by Norm Dutchuck and his wife, Dolores. In a village known for its 'characters,' Norm was among the most colorful. In fact, when he died some fifteen years later, Dolores had 'The Mad Russian of Oysterville' carved on his tombstone - "not mad in the sense of angry or insane," their son Mike is quick to explain. "More the wild-and-crazy-guy kind of mad."
Norm was a fun-loving, people and party person. A salesman in the Portland area, he frequently offered a get-away to his Oysterville house as a bonus to his clients. Invariably, they became friends and during the 30 or 40 weekends a year that Norm, himself, was in residence, there was often a party going on. If the weather was good, the party was more than likely in the front yard and Norm's end of our quiet village street could be said to be 'a little boisterous,' perhaps reminiscent of Oysterville's rip-roaring pioneer days of a hundred years past.
A Matching Glass EyeNot only did Norm have a bigger-than-life capacity for fun, he looked the part of a 'character,'too. An inveterate hunter, he had lost an eye from a stray pellet on a pheasant hunting expedition in Eastern Oregon. His one glass eye, though a good match for his real one, gave him a distinctive, somewhat zany appearance.
(Mike, with a sense of humor to match his dad's, has kept Norm's glass eyes - there was always a spare - and has plans to place them somewhere in the house, perhaps imbedded in a brick above a doorway, to keep watch over the comings and goings of the household.)
It was a Sunday 'morning-after' that I met Norm. He came dashing around my Uncle Willard Espy's neighboring cottage where Wede (as Willard was often called), his wife Louise, and I were having a leisurely cup of mid-morning coffee. Introductions were made, a cup provided for Norm and, without much preamble he asked, "Were we too noisy last night, Wede?"
"Not at all, Norm," Willard chuckled. "In fact, I thought the party broke up a little earlier than usual."
"Yeah, I had to send them all home. That's what I want to talk to you about. Around midnight or so I went into the house to get another beer and a man I'd never seen before came down the stairs. It was the damndest thing. He said to me 'Get those people the hell out of here.' And I could tell he meant business. So I sent everyone home. I was wondering if you had any idea who that man was."
"What did he look like?"Willard looked very interested, though somewhat amused, I thought. "Well, what did the man look like?" he asked. "Short or tall? Did he have a beard? How old do you think he was?"
Norm answered each question, elaborating with detail, and at that point I wondered which man, if either, was pulling the other's leg. Or were they both serious? I wish I had listened more closely to Norm's answers for, after some time, Willard said, "You know, I think that was Ned Osborn. At least that's what I remember him looking like when I was a boy."
"Well, that's what I wondered," said Norm. And both men lapsed into silence.
Louise and I, full of curiosity wanted more information and, at our urging Norm and Wede told us what they knew of the man who had built and lived in the house that the Dutchucks now owned.
Osborn was born in Kalmar Sweden and went to sea as a young boy, along with his good friend Charles Nelson. The two of them eventually wound up in Oysterville and settled along Fourth Street (now Territory Road) on neighboring parcels of land. Ned went to work as a sail maker and, in 1873, began building a house for his bride-to-be.
Like many of the old residential buildings of Oysterville, Osborn's house may be classified as 'carpenter' style architecture. It is a simple 'T' shape in plan, of frame construction with a pitched gable roof and shiplap siding. The covered front porch, sheltering stacks of stove wood, a barrel full of long-handled garden tools, and an old fashioned porch swing, provides an inviting entryway to the house.
The front door opens directly into the kitchen, a cozy space dominated by a round dining table and wood cook stove - a room that is obviously the heart of the old structure, for it gives access to all other parts of the house. To the left are the parlor and the downstairs bedroom; to the right are the pantry and the bathroom. Along the rear wall, next to the kitchen sink and counter, a door opens onto a generous back porch. It is from the kitchen, too, that the stairway leads to the large dormitory-style bedroom above - a room which can sleep as many as 12, says Mike.
Upstairs Never FinishedWhether Ned intended to make separate bedrooms upstairs is unclear. As the house was nearing completion, he sent to the 'old country' for his true love, but learned that she had recently died. Though he lived in the house for the rest of his days, Ned never married, nor did he finish the upstairs portion of the house. Perhaps he had soured on life, Norm and Willard speculated; perhaps that was why he didn't hold much truck with partying into the wee hours.
By the time they had finished telling the tale, both Norm and Willard seemed convinced that the man who had come down from those erstwhile unfinished rooms was Ned Osborn, himself, though dead for more than fifty years. No one of us ever said the word "ghost" or "haunted" or "spirit." The facts as presented by Norm and dignified by Wede's careful questioning seemed to warrant more respect than to be called a "ghost story." However, Ned Osborn became a 'person of interest' in my mind and when more information about him surfaced many years later I was intrigued.
It was while I was cleaning out a closet in the Espy family house that I ran across some notes on the back of an old envelope, stamp cancellation date 1947. In my grandfather's familiar, cramped handwriting down the length of the paper, almost in poetic form, was 'new' information about Ned and his house!
Ned Osborn House
Built by Edward (Ned) Osborn
Batched there all his life
Died of stroke 1906
Alga Fagenstrom (?)
Engaged to & built house
For but engagement was broken.
He never married.
She did years later
Just before the upstairs
Was finished which was
Then never completed.
Wood - rough wood from South Bend
Finished lumber from California
The first thing that struck me was that Ned's sweetheart had apparently jilted him by choice, not through death, and that it wasn't until she married someone else that he gave up hope and stopped working on his house. It also sounded as though the young lady may have been a local girl, not the sweetheart left behind in Sweden of Wede's story. Try as I might, however, I could not find anyone by that name in nineteenth century Pacific County. The nearest in spelling was "Alma Fagerstrom" who may have been an early student at the Smith Island School located on the south end of a wooded knoll on the west bank of the lower Nasel River. No other name came close.
Remembering Ned?But, more astonishing to me than the "new" facts about Ned's intended was the date of Old Ned's death - four years prior to Willard's birth date. Oh that Willard! 'Remembered' Ned indeed!
When I confronted Willard with this discrepancy of dates, his eyes opened wide. "Really?" he said. "I'm absolutely sure I remember him!" And he said it so convincingly that I could actually empathize with the feeling. Many are the stories that I have heard so many times that I truly believe I witnessed the events myself. Still...
Norm and Wede remained friends for all the many years they were neighbors in Oysterville. Willard was fond of telling about Norm's prowess as a Russian dancer and about the time, in front of his own cottage fireplace, that Norm had demonstrated his ability to do the high leaps and squatting kicks of the traditional Cossack dance. Willard also remarked from time to time that Norm's late night partying had all but stopped.
Whether or not the two men ever discussed Ned Osborn's visit again, I don't know. Apparently, it wasn't something that Norm often talked about. In fact, when I spoke with Mike recently, it wasn't until I was well into the story that he remembered hearing his dad tell about 'the man who came down the stairs'. As far as Mike knows, there were no further encounters but, for awhile, it was not uncommon to hear furniture being moved around upstairs even when all members of the household were accounted for downstairs. Family and friends took for granted that it was Ned.
"All that stopped in the mid-eighties," says Mike. "Ned's wooden grave marker was getting pretty beat up at the cemetery, so my dad replaced it with a replica and brought the original here to the house for safe keeping. We have it in a protected area in the front yard. Ned, of course, is still up at the cemetery, but once his wooden marker came to the house, the upstairs noises stopped."
Mike and I sat and thought about that for awhile, much as Norm and Willard had pondered the mysterious visit years before. We didn't come to any grand conclusions - just that maybe Ned Osborn simply wanted someone to care.