Do traces of residual energy or kind or cranky ghosts linger in homes, buildings, or places? Helena resident Ellen Baumler, a historian and author of five paranormal books, leads curious Halloween celebrants on Haunted Helena Trolley Tours, allowing people to draw their own conclusions every October.
“People love to visit haunted places,” Baumler said of the popular 90-minute tours that sell out. She organized the tours around 2005, while working as an interpretive historian for the Montana Historical Society in Helena.
Although Baumler, 70, retired last year from the Society, she still leads the tours.
After decades of investigating paranormal events in Montana—starting with her own home—Baumler accepts living with unanswered questions and knows how perplexing the paranormal can be.
Based on interviews, she speculates that, even after death, some people’s spirits linger because they want to protect or be near a sentimental object, building, place, or person.
After Baumler, her husband and their daughter moved into their historic Helena home 30 years ago, they sometimes heard—and still do—radio static and people murmuring.
“You can’t distinguish music or words,” she said. “It’s not uncomfortable or eerie to hear, and we love living here. Our house was the last one the realtor showed us. As soon as we crossed the threshold, we felt like we’d come home. It seemed to beckon to us. Are those unusual noises caused by ghosts or residual energy? We don’t know.”
A clue to partially solve the mystery came from a former resident, Art Seiler. He dropped by to visit and told Baumler he had set up Helena’s first radio operation in a bedroom, and townspeople came to hear the broadcasts.
The radio room has become the Baumlers’ spare bedroom.
Leading the Haunted Helena tours, Baumler never embellishes the facts while telling stories at about a dozen stops.
“The truth is always more interesting than anything someone could make up,” she said.
At the pioneer Benton Avenue Cemetery, a misty apparition resembling a woman and two children occasionally has been seen gliding in a grassy area or among the headstones. During an 1885 diphtheria epidemic, Mary Dunphy was caring for two children who had the disease, contracted it herself, and they all passed away.
“People speculate they appear now and then to make sure the cemetery is being cared for,” Baumler said.
Meanwhile at the Grandstreet Theatre, once a Unitarian Church, Clara Hodgin’s presence is said to linger to protect children attending theater workshops and summer camps.
While Clara’s husband was working there as a pastor, she loved being around children. In 1905 at age 34, she died from cancer.
One of the gloomiest and most sorrowful places is a residential neighborhood where the town’s hanging tree once stood around 1875.
“A friend and I were walking there, and I didn’t tell her about it,” Baumler said. “She’s sensitive to the supernatural and told me she felt ill because she knew how people were hanged. They were put on horse with a noose around their neck, and the horse was made to run away, leaving them dangling.”
For those who prefer an armchair tour of Montana’s most eerie and mysterious places, Baumler wrote several books: Haunted Helena, Spirit Tailings, Beyond Spirit Tailings, Montana Chillers, and Ghosts of the Last Best Place.
During an investigation at a theater, Baumler met another author of Montana ghost tales, retired librarian Karen Stevens of Billings. Dubbed the Queen of Halloween for being born on Oct. 31, Stevens will be 76 this year. Like Baumler, she lives contentedly with the unexplained.
“Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of something drifting past me when no one is there,” Stevens said. “Or I smell cookies and a lady’s 1950s type perfume. She made her presence known to me about a year ago when I was sitting at the dining room table, moodily reflecting that my recovery from rotator cuff surgery could take up to a year.”
Suddenly the unmistakable scent of chocolate chip cookies filled the room.
“At the same time, it felt like someone leaned over me, placed a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the table and said, ‘There, there, it will be all right.’ After the sense of her presence left, I did indeed feel much better. But I wish the milk and cookies really would have been there.”
“Many readers of my books have told me they use them as travel guides to the paranormal,” Stevens said. “One woman even spent her entire vacation driving from one haunted place to another. There’s a woman after my own heart!” MSN
In Helena, haunted tours may be booked at Last Chance Tours (lctours.com) Oct. 21, 23, 25, 26, 28 and 30. Bozeman Paranormal leads tours October 18 and 19 at the Sunset Hills Cemetery, providing information on Facebook.