In search of spirits: Your humble correspondent recounts night spent in Port Townsend’s most haunted hotel

*Originally published in the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader

I never expected to see a ghost.

And, to be fair, “potential paranormal encounter” wasn’t exactly counted among the offerings in the official description of my accommodations.

In fact, there is nary a mention of Manresa Castle’s supposed ghostly residents anywhere on the hotel’s website (though a paragraph in the Guest Services Directory does address the stories, in a somewhat bemused tone).

However, even just a cursory Google search of the historic Port Townsend edifice reveals it to be something of a singular destination for seekers of the supernatural.

Two of the top five results alone confirm it. One is a link to and a collection of photos from the episode of “Ghost Adventures” that saw Zak Bagans and company visit the castle and do their thing, that special (and undeniably fascinating, in it’s own way) bit of performance art that so perfectly combines “Scooby-Doo” and “WrestleMania.”

The other is a booking service, “Haunted Rooms America,” which specializes in helping would-be visitors locate and make reservations for “Ghost Hunts, Haunted Hotels, and Haunted Locations.”

Additionally, the castle was featured prominently in “Most Terrifying Places in America,” a documentary series, also from Travel Channel, which takes viewers on a tour of mysterious, infamous, and supposedly haunted places in every state.

I love ghost stories — fictional, nonfiction, good or cheesy, I can’t get enough.

I saw all the shows.

I read all the stories; even the pages of The Leader have previously recounted the reported haunted happenings at Manresa Castle.

But still, I never expected to see a ghost during my stay.

Though I’m of a Mulder mindset, my heart belongs to Scully.

I do, however, love the hunt. So my expectations were guarded when I checked in just before 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, the day before Halloween in this savage year of our lord 2020; a rare month containing two full moons, one of which actually falls on All Hallow’s Eve itself. Also known as Devil’s Night, in many places an annual orgy of vandalism and arson. A night of tricks. Mischief Night. The 82nd anniversary of the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre.

But Welles’ tale had only the trappings of journalism, presented as it was in the style of an honest-to-goodness radio news broadcast, and I’m the real thing, thus professionally obligated to write about whatever I might experience during my stay at Port Townsend’s reputedly most haunted hotel.

Read the rest here.

Luke’s List: ‘Trick or Treat’ is ghoulish, glamorous — and the perfect Halloween movie

The latest installment of my regular ongoing series for the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader wherein I highlight films unfairly overlooked, depressingly underappreciated, and bizarrely compelling, all ripe for rediscovery. This time out: the 1986 Halloween flick that “stars” Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons!

We begin with a trick, of course.

To say this movie “stars” rock legends Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons, as its promotional material is wont to do, isn’t exactly fair.

Certainly, they are both here — Osbourne as a fire-and-brimstone TV preacher, Simmons a sinister radio DJ — but their collective screen time is paltry and their performances … unique? Osbourne’s impression of the sort of showbiz Bible-thumper who so long condemned him in real life is fun, and Simmons is passable as the walking bad influence who (inadvertently?) sets the atrocities to come in motion.

And that, boils and ghouls, is where the treat is found. 

Because even without its two rock star “stars,” 1986’s “Trick or Treat” had all the talent it needed and then some. And although it’s tragically underviewed today, the distinct directorial style, powerful performances of the two actual leads (Marc Price and Tony Fields), unique visual aesthetic, and legitimately awesome soundtrack — thanks, Fastway! — makes it the ideal viewing experience on a dark night during the spookiest time of the year.

Read the rest here.

Northwest nature writer marks release of new collection, first feature film

*Originally published in the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader

The recently released film “The Dark Divide” is the first narrative feature adaptation of the writings of noted Northwest author Robert Michael Pyle, based on his nonfiction account of a Guggenheim Fellowship-funded Sasquatch investigation.

But it is not the only title in the filmography of the Yale-trained ecologist and renowned lepidopterist (butterfly expert).

That’s a whole other story, one that involves Michael Crichton, Tom Selleck, and a little 1984 sci-fi/action outing “Runaway” (which The Chicago Tribune called a “routine chase thriller”).

Pyle, who was the film’s uncredited caterpillar wrangler, isn’t exactly raving about it either. And that experience, plus participating in a few documentaries and Japanese and Bavarian TV productions, didn’t leave him longing for the lights of Tinseltown. His work is often introspective, he said, and cerebral, not quite the action-flick fuel of which blockbusters are made.

And yet, “The Dark Divide” — starring comedian David Cross as Pyle, Debra Messing as his ailing wife, and written and directed by Tom Putnam — is raking in rave reviews.

The mostly true retelling of Pyle’s actually embarking on a dangerous, life-changing trek through one of America’s greatest wildernesses at the urging of his dying wife is just one of a triumphant trio of accomplishments that have made 2020 a banner year for one of America’s preeminent natural history writers, in addition to the release of a new collection of essays and a book of poems.

Given other recent developments — the pandemic and forest fires and political turmoil all come shrieking to mind — he’s well aware of the irony.

“It’s been quite a time,” Pyle said.

“By all means, I’ve been having way too much fun of a plague, much more than most folks. Actually, I’ve been having quite a good time and I feel almost guilty about it.”

Three projects long in the works came to a head at the same time this year, the author said, at what initially seemed “like the worst possible time.”

However, both the film and books have been thus far well received….

Read the rest here.

Review crew claims top prize in state newspaper contest

Even though Brian Kelly and I are no longer at the Bainbridge Island Review, having both accepted new positions at the historic, independent Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, our last year “in the trenches,” so to speak, did not go unrewarded. The Review earned the coveted first-place General Excellence award in the 2020 Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspaper Contest!

It’s a huge honor and very exciting for us, having twice taken second but not winning the top spot in some time.

Brian also nabbed awards in several other categories, including photography and page design, and yours truly claimed a second-place award in the Feature Writer of the Year contest.

The staff at our new paper were also recognized in the contest, hauling in a hefty heap of honors. And you can read the whole thing here.

Thanks, everybody!

Luke’s List: The brutal and brilliant final films of Stuart Gordon, scary genius

The latest installment of my regular ongoing series for the Port Townsend Jefferson County Leader wherein I highlight films unfairly overlooked, depressingly underappreciated, and bizarrely compelling, all ripe for rediscovery. This time out: the final two films by legendary Master of Horror Stuart Gordon!


Darn that decapitated doctor.

The infamous “head” scene in Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” is the perfect example of how the writer/producer/director’s career was …

Read the whole story here.

PT Film Festival Fiesta #2

The second batch of a slew of stories I wrote recently for the Port Townsend Leader about the annual Port Townsend Film Festival.

Story #4
FAITH, FAMILY, FILM: Iram Parveen Bilal’s latest feature is ‘the opposite of escapism’
They don’t make ’em like this anymore.
But that’s OK, because Iram Parveen Bilal does.
Raised in Nigeria and Pakistan, Bilal is a physics Olympian turned filmmaker known …

Story #5
‘A MOST BEAUTIFUL THING’ WHOSE TIME HAS COME: Documentary director talks rowing, racism, redemption in her latest stranger-than-fiction film
Too good to be true.
That was Mary Mazzio’s first reaction.
A team of at-risk teens, some members of rival gangs and all raised on the crime-riddled streets of Chicago’s Westside …

Thanks for reading!

31 Nights of Halloween – My 2020 viewing list

Here it is, my own personal 31 Nights of Halloween 2020 viewing list.

I’ve already taken a bit of guff from several spooky-minded acquaintances for including three Rob Zombie flicks this year, but frankly I think he’s one of the most interesting and original artists working in the horror genre today and I’m an unabashed fan.

Being honest, I do not expect to watch a movie every single day. I see a few double (or even triple) features in my future if I’m going to get through the whole list – but I’m OK with that, too.

Feel free to poach as you please and skip as you like. I’m so stoked: It’s my favorite time of year!

1. House of 1000 Corpses

2. The Lords of Salem

3. Something Wicked This Way Comes

4. The Witches

5. Society

6. The Stuff

7. Sleepy Hollow (1999) 

8. Lady In White

9. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

10. Jacob’s Ladder (1990) 

11. Halloween (2007)

12. Halloween (2018)

13. The Uninvited

14. The Spiral Staircase

15. The People Under the Stairs

16. The Serpent and the Rainbow

17. Spider Baby

18. Race With the Devil

19. The Devil’s Rain

20. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

21. The Manitou

22. The Changeling

23. The Canal

24. Satan’s Slaves 

25. The Wailing

26. Shutter (2008)

27. Halloween III: Season of the Witch

29. Ginger Snaps

30. Hocus Pocus

31. Trick or Treat (1986) 

PT Film Festival Fiesta #1

The first batch of a slew of stories I wrote recently for the Port Townsend Leader about the annual Port Townsend Film Festival, which, of course, is virtual this year, like everything else.

However, the crop of offerings is promising and I had a great time chatting with several filmmakers and festival officials for this series. Check it out, because this year you can stream the festival’s lineup from anywhere!

Story #1
Virtual film festival boasts lengthy, diverse lineup of features, shorts
The 2020 Port Townsend Film Festival may have moved online, but it has lost nothing in the transition. A truly diverse array of offerings — feature films and docs, shorts and specials…

Story #2
SMOOTH STREAMING? Film festival leaders talk challenges, rewards of going digital, celebrate the event’s evolving legacy
Cut. Fade to black. Roll credits. Show’s over … or not.
It was very nearly a wrap (at least temporarily) for the beloved cultural calendar staple that is the Port Townsend Film Festival this year, a reluctant move on the part of event officials when faced with mandatory restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bunch of people sitting close together in an enclosed space was the opposite of recommended behavior, and there was just no way around it.
Or so it seemed…

Story #3
LOCKED OUT, LOOKING IN: The origin story behind Casimir Nozkowski’s ‘The Outside Story’ 
Based on true events.
No four words inspire more powerful feelings of equal parts anticipation and trepidation in a cineaste’s heart.
Adapting reality for movies has given us some of the …

Thanks for reading!

Time Enough At Last – 4

The latest additions to my ongoing year’s reading journal. These are the books I’ve read since June 28, my previous “Time Enough At Last” update.

I’m quite busy these days, so the title of this series is not entirely accurate anymore, but I’m making it a priority to remain diligent about getting through my still-epic To-Read List. Again, my favorites are marked with an asterisk.

A Nest of Nightmares by Lisa Tuttle*
The Scarlet Ruse by John D. MacDonald
Dune by Frank Herbert*
Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer*
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
The Answer Is… by Alex Trebek*
I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down by William Gay*
Another Country by James Baldwin*
Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard
Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy by Margaret Sullivan*
Peaceable Kingdom by Jack Ketchum*
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager*
Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due*
The Terror by Dan Simmons*

Bookmobile, anyone?

Recently, I had the chance to write a feature for the Port Townsend Jefferson County Leader about the county library’s bookmobile. I have such great memories of the bookmobile where I grew up, it was very cool to revisit this often overlooked aspect of the library.

“They just keep coming.

“A woman in Port Ludlow is looking for knitting magazines and the first season of ‘Yellowstone’ on DVD. Series star Kevin Costner is, she said, ‘not hard to look at,’ though she dislikes the show’s salty language.

“A man in Quilcene is looking for the latest Donald Trump tell-all, a scathing bestseller by the president’s niece Mary L. Trump. Finding the waiting list considerable, he settles for Tom Brokaw’s ‘The Fall of Richard Nixon’ instead.

“Also in Quilcene, a woman comes urgently seeking a bagful of books to occupy her speed-reader husband. Things are, she said, getting desperate at home.

“‘[He] was down to reading romance novels,’ said Kathy Barth-Sheats.

“All three, in addition to many others, find information and entertainment alike through the primary outreach vessel of the Jefferson County Library’s Mobile Services: the bookmobile.”

Read the whole story here.

Take care and be safe out there — thanks for checking in with me!