Part 1: Under a Blue Hunter Moon
Before there were any stories about the Eddy Street Massacre House, there was just a big, old, empty house that no one wanted. By the early 1990’s, it had been unwanted for so long, and for so many reasons. It was haunted. People had died there. Too, too many people. Even the most brazen and ambitious local historians could not keep track of everyone who had met a tragic end on the property. The absolute number of deaths had been an ongoing debate in official circles for a long time. But, once upon a time, there was only one death that people actually really cared about.
The original owner, Dr. Oscar J. Craig, had died in the house. But, he died of natural causes, and no one ever had any reason to suspect otherwise. After all, Professor Oscar Craig, the first President of the University of Montana, was not a young man when he first began construction on his luxury dream home. It was to be the finest home of its kind in Missoula, MT. After a decade of endless delays, constant frustrations, and terrible accidents, the bedeviling mansion was finally complete. However, poor, beleaguered Professor Craig only lived in the house a few short years before dying.
When Dr. Craig died, everyone began to believe the house was not only haunted, but also very unlucky. Therefore, despite its size, beauty, and proud legacy, nobody was willing to take it on at any price. People with enough money to purchase and maintain it were far too often greeted by the sight of a ghostly form in the high turret window. As the years wore on, the spectral shade that haunted the room where Craig had died was seen more and more often. Word spread rapidly, and soon enough, no honest person would even consider crossing the threshold. And, all the while, the house sat alone with only its ghosts to ruffle the tattered shades, gaze out its windows, and move time slowly towards its terminus.
Years came and went, dragging on ceaselessly, and the house slowly changed. Its grand facade took on a forbiddingly grey and unlit temper, which served to invite further corruption and sadness to inhabit its desolate corridors. In misery, the mansion became infested with drunks, thieves, and other ne’er do wells. They were the only ones who didn’t mind sharing a room with spirits who tapped, and shrieked, moved things about, and brazenly walked around as pitchy black shadows that were visible during both the day and night.
Frightful stories bloomed around the Eddy Street Mansion like a garden patch of fetid roses. One of the most disturbing was the story of an ill-turned vagrant, a woman, who was only ever known as Jane Doe. One night in early 1916, a woman burst from the property, screaming that she had been set on fire. To those who were present to hear, she babbled loudly in a language of ravenously garbled syllables. But, one thing was clear in spite of her maddened ravings, Jane Doe believed that there was a demon in the house, and it had set her aflame. She chanted words in backward circles, crying out in agony that the wicked, green-yellow flames were licking her bones clean.
The puzzled neighbors and onlookers scratched their heads, unsure what to do. No one else could see any dastardly flames, especially not of a devilish, green variety. All they could see was that the woman was out of her mind, and naked in the snow in the dead of night. By the time police arrived on the scene, Jane Doe was scratching herself raw, rolling in a snow bank, and still screaming that the demon flames were burning her alive. But, as soon as the officers pulled her from the snowy ground, she suddenly went silent, and refused to speak to them. She just stood, blinking widely, blindly naked, stoically silent and, all the while, regarding them with suspicious, deranged eyes.
When they began to question her, she looked at them blankly, and then began twisting and pulling at her hair so ferociously that a great wad of it tore loose from her scalp. She held the bloody, blond wad of matted hair out with a smile, almost as if it were an offering to the officers. This gesture of supplication was just too much for the bewildered policemen. Not knowing what else to do, they handcuffed her, folded her frozen, redly-striated body in a wool blanket, and took her straight to jail. It was too late that night for a doctor to come, so they left her raving in her cell. For once the bars had slammed home, she had begun the unhinged litany once again.
Unfortunately, no doctor was ever able to untangle her jumbled web of possessed lunacy, and uncover the truth of what had actually happened to her. Long into the night, Jane Doe finally had gone silent. After that, according to the other prisoners, there had (thankfully) been no other sounds. The next morning, police had found her hanging from a makeshift noose tied to the bars of the window in her cell. The noose had been made from the shredded remains of the woolen blanket she had been given the night before. As the officers approached her lifeless body, the floor was sticky slick, and almost caused them to slip, and something crunched sickeningly underneath their heavy, black boots. The cell was dim, even in the early daylight, and they had looked to each other in confusion.
Turning on their flashlights, they first saw the bed. It was covered in blood, with the sickly, yellowed stump of a torn molar the only break in a sea of crimson. It lay undisturbed on a bed whose threadbare white-and-navy striped sheet was still tucked tightly under the thin mattress. Jane Doe’s face was a caved-in, bloody mask, barely recognizable as human. Soon after, the coroner confirmed that she had smashed her face into the concrete floor so viciously that every bone in her face had been broken, and almost every tooth in her mouth was shattered. Only one tooth had survived to be extracted intact. It was the perilous molar found on the bed. She had used it to rend the thick, navy blanket into thin, distressingly precise strips of fabric.
Apparently, the coroner continued, Jane Doe had used the belabored pieces of ripped fabric to fashion her frail noose. The coroner was shocked to his skin that any person could go through such an ordeal, and still remain conscious enough to improvise the implement of their death by inches over the course of hours. And, beyond that, judging by the overlain pattern of ligature marks on her neck, he theorized that she had attempted the hanging three or four times before succeeding. One thing was sure, he said with a sad shake of his tired, gray head, it had been a long, cruel, anguished death. She had not so much died from the hanging as she had slowly choked to death. It was perhaps, in his words, the most grueling, self-imposed end he had ever seen a person travail to accomplish.
The woman was never identified beyond her generic moniker, and her remains were quickly consigned to a public gravesite. The mass grave lay beneath a blank marker at the very edge of the county cemetery. At the time, it was the only place for the faceless, nameless persons who met mortality without ever having given the authorities sufficient motive to discover their true origins. Jane Doe was quickly forgotten, but her story was harder to bury. It rankled in the minds of those who knew it, and eventually became just another weird, unfortunate event; just another reason to avoid the house, and the dangerous secrets it held.
The police had immediately tossed the house again, laying it bare of any living residents. Then, the house quieted, and stayed quiet for a long time. Even the ghost in the high turret windows went unseen for so long that people questioned whether he had ever been there at all. Memories changed, and soon the ghost, the screaming woman, and the other unhappy events were just eerie stories that became more and more fantastic over time, and less and less true. People still listened to the stories, adding their own embellishments from time to time, until the once real events became nothing more than tall tales to be told around a keg and a bonfire.
Uncaring time marched on and, by 1921, the Eddy Street mansion had been abandoned for ten full years. The homeless drunks and addicts, the loonies who had escaped their bin, and the hopeless shells of glassy-eyed drifters had long since taken it back over, polishing its steps with vomit, and filling its rooms with inert, unsober bodies. However, the house itself was still young enough, and attractive enough, to catch the unlikely eye of Mrs. Erma Patricia Watson.
Erma Watson had never heard the whispers about a dire haunting. She was a stranger to Montana, and not one who was likely to linger about abandoned properties, taking in the foul air of oppressive tragedy. Still, there was something fascinating about the old mansion. And, certainly, she had no need to care that the place was filled to the rafters with wicked bankrupts, that it had been plundered to its cellars, robbed to its bare stilts, and was littered with all manner of foul detritus; human, animal, and otherwise. After all, these were all problems that could be easily solved with lots of money.
Luckily, Erma P. Watson was married to Mr. Jonathan Andrew Watson, who was widely regarded as the richest man present in the state at that time. After two years of traveling, Erma Watson needed a settled project, and desperately so. For her, it had been a difficult transition from the fantastic rigors of life in New York City to Montana’s vastly depressing wilderness, which was filled with dazzling beauty, and little else. However, her husband, Jonathan, loved the sense of ineffable peace that only the high mountain vistas, which seemed to end only a scant heartbeat shy of eternity, could provide. It was something he had not found anywhere else and, once found, it was not something he was willing to let go.
Month following month, they had traveled further and further into the unwashed hinterlands of Western Montana. And, with each passing day, every barren, endless mile succeeded, Erma’s dismay grew more dense, became more crystalline in feature, so that it might be invisible and overlooked by others, but was a hard and heavy weight that she secretly carried in her heart. Where others only saw raw beauty filled with possibilities, Erma could only see waves upon waves of mountain ranges irretrievably separating her from any notion of a civilized life.
Day by day, her husband’s wandering feet brought them closer and closer to the edge of the map, and she despaired that Jonathan would only find happiness at the very ends of the earth. A place where skyscrapers and feather beds would be an even further gone memory, if such a thing were possible. A life of woolly discomfort lived out in largish burlap tents loomed impossibly close, and she felt powerless to escape such a wretched and unexpected fate. But, of course, Erma never shared these fears with her husband.
Firstly, she had been brought up to believe it would be terribly bad form, and would lie ill of the proper duties of a wife. But, mostly, Erma was frightened that if she shared this picture of life, this awful and lonely destiny, Jonathan would callously sweep aside her fears, and rush headlong to bring her quaking vision into inescapable reality. Then, her life could only continue as it had come to be, with Jonathan growing happier every day while she painted on her false smile and hid her misery. Erma knew she would do it, she would do it forever, if necessary. It was her job, and what she had been raised to do, but she dreaded it.
Only the fact that she loved Jonathan more than the moon, the stars, and the sky above kept her from fleeing back to New York on the soonest available train. Still, if there was any way to avoid a destiny lived out on the desolate edge of the known world, she was determined to find it. But, as day by day passed with no fresh answers to her prayers, Erma began to accept that her best days were behind her. New York City was behind her. Only a vulgar, rustic hell awaited her at the end of their long journey. So, on yet another day, another beautiful, but cheerless day, Erma gazed out the window of their chauffeured limousine, and pretended to join in her husband’s mirth and jovial, high spirits.
Mr. Jonathan Watson, third son of an immensely wealthy railroad tycoon, was falling in love with Montana, she could see it. It was written all over him. The boredom that had always hung about him, the unshakable gloom that had worried her so in younger days, was gone and, for that, Erma was glad. Truly, she wanted him to be happy, dizzily happy, if possible. But, did it have to come at the price of a constant, inexhaustible pull towards a life she did not want? It seemed unavoidably so. Because, for all that Erma wished it, she could not want this bemountained destiny that he hungered for.
She could not want what she saw before her each day, not even for Jonathan, whom she loved with every hopeless piece of her soul. Even more exhausting was the knowledge that this was a battle that she was not going to win, could never win. And, even if she could, how would she ever find the heart to fight it? If this is what Jonathan had decided their life would be, she could only do her best to try and find some happiness amongst the ruins of her dreams of a perfect life. A perfect life lived in the epicenter of civilization, not a million miles away from it. So, with despairing eyes, Erma took in another day of touring available properties. This time, it was in a town called Missoula.
For the Watsons, Missoula was nothing more than another stop along the trail of their ambling westward adventure. They had no specific intention of buying anything. And, for Erma, it was just another day in some mercy-forsaken town that made her wish to be anywhere else than where she was. Getting up that chilly October morning, there was no reason to think Missoula would be any different from the other dozen or so other Montana towns they had visited. Beautiful, yes. They were all beautiful. Beautiful, lovely, sometimes even devastatingly so, and also completely devoid of anything that could ever replace what she had left behind.
When Erma Watson first laid eyes upon the Eddy Street mansion, it made a poor impression. There were hobos on the steps, and black holes where expensive stained-glass windows had once been. Cockeyed hanging shutters, peeling paint, and a chimney missing half its bricks completed the portrait of neglect. A cold chill ran down her spine. Instantly, she hated it. The house stood impassively, stalwartly dissolving, shaken to unfragile ashes by indifference and constant misuse. Its visage seemed to invoke something unearthly, something cold and foreign.
Erma could not specifically define her foreboding, but later she contented herself that it had to be because she was unused to seeing such blatant and unresolved poverty displayed before her. Puddles of excrement, crumpled piles of trash, and empty liquor bottles still wrapped in brown paper bags littered the front porch. Erma turned her head away in disgust, nauseous at the sight. Maybe it had been beautiful once, as the bland broker who accompanied them garrulously claimed. The man never shut up, especially about this Eddy Street property, but Erma didn’t even like to look at it.
However, before she could overrule her senses, and demand that the driver move on, and quickly, she looked to Jonathan expecting his demeanor to mimic her own. Shockingly, and to her horror, he wore an expression she had never seen before. It was a mix of stunned amazement and anxious hunger, boiled down into a blanket mien of fraught desire. Most worrisome, her husband did not appear able take his eyes from the place. Erma spoke his name, quietly, gently. He did not hear. Then, she was forced to practically shout in the small space, which awakened him immediately. He said nothing, just looked at her.
Shocked disdain colored his handsome features, as if she were the one who had suddenly lost all sense of comportment. Then, he returned his rapt gaze to the house. The broker’s face split into an obscenely pleased smile. While Erma’s first thought was that the atrocious site ought to be condemned, Jonathan was strangely agog, his tender mouth uncharacteristically agape. This turn pleased Erma not in the slightest, but there was nothing she could do. Soon enough, they were off to a better block; but, from then on, Jonathan only wanted to talk about the derelict Eddy Street mansion. He was verily obsessed with it, and all the promise it held.
Some weeks passed, and Erma finally began to see the house Jonathan’s way. By then, they had gone to visit so often that she felt she might as well already live there, even though they had yet to cross the threshold. With all the no-accounts skulking about, it was far too dangerous for them to do more than look out from the safety of their limo, and speculate about what could be. After three months spent in a modest hotel, but the best Missoula had to offer, Erma finally relented, and agreed to make the mansion her new home.
All in all, it wasn’t so bad, or so she told herself. The town was beautiful, if not a little barren and isolated. There were worse places and, in the last two years, she had seen far too many of them. She decided to try to see the best in things. Besides, it was hard to deny her heart, and Jonathan was her heart. Over the course of their prolonged stay, Erma had even come to like the house more. As she came to learn its history (for the chatty broker considered himself something of an an amateur historian, and definitely an expert on the mansion), its tangible aura of anti-cathartic woe, its trenchant sadness, slowly began to make more sense.
One night, while braiding her hair into a single long plait before bed, Erma had a flash of understanding. Perhaps, it was all meant to be. Maybe she and Jonathan were the ones who were meant to save the mansion from utter ruin. It was hard to deny that it had the potential to be a wonderful, enviable home. And, Erma knew that only a truly exceptionally home could make her forget about her life in New York. There would never be anything under Montana’s broadly deep blue sky that could ever compete with the Manhattan she had left behind, but if Montana is where Jonathan believed that he could be happy, then she would set the wishes of her own heart aside, and try to fill the void as best she could.
Surely, Erma convinced herself, even such a charmingly backwards hamlet in the middle of nowhere could offer something, something...It simply had to. The past couple years had been especially difficult for them. More so than any of the other places they had visited, the fact that they were not actually from Montana had been a particular issue. It was as if it was simply not acceptable to be from someplace as grand and far away as New York City. The few members of the haughty, but ragged mountain gentry with whom they did spend time never saw fit to let them forget it either.
For Erma, it was frustration without end. These people didn’t even know what money and power were all about. How could they? They were pleased to orbit their lives around cattle and snow and sunsets, never dreaming, or even caring, that the world held so much more. In Erma’s mind, these friends were nothing more than a bunch of moneyed peasants, dirty-handed sorts who made their paltry fortunes digging rocks from out of the earth. Meanwhile, her husband, Mr. Jonathan Andrew Watson, was heir to the P & W Railroad fortune, while she herself also came from a very good and wealthy family.
Still, she knew that they needed friends in order to settle down and build a real life. And, if all there was to choose from was a bunch of jumped-up, gold-mining paupers, then so be it. Erma knew that she still needed to make a good impression and try to fit in, for Jonathan’s sake, if nothing else. Perhaps, she thought, restoring such an important piece of Missoula’s history could turn things around. Montanans might not like transplants, but with the right investment of time and money, certainly the steel-jawed, mountain aristocracy would come around. After all, there was not much in the world that money could not buy.
As she began to accept the plans as reality, Erma’s mind swirled with images of what she could do for the house, how beautiful it could be. Fancy dinner parties and holiday gatherings danced in her head. She smiled, imagining how impressed her new friends would be. She could show them what having real money meant. Perhaps, and she found herself smiling at the idea, it would not be so bad after all. Erma prided herself on being a good wife and, as the best of wives, she would learn to love the restored mansion, and their new life in it.
She would write her friends in New York, send them invitations for a new adventure. Surely, they would turn up out of curiosity, if nothing else. It was plumb boring in Montana, but she’d neglect to mention that. Perhaps, they’d be too distracted by the spectacular views to notice. Her mind whirled, and a stubborn determination set in. Eventually, she would find ways to fill the mansion’s grim hallways with laughter and mirth. She would decorate it with the most expensive furnishings that could be brought in by mail-order. And, of course, she would bring her own special dash of unabashed aplomb to the sad state of the unloved manse. Yes, they would be happy. Or, as happy as clams taken out of the sand could ever be, Erma told herself.
Before signing the papers, Erma and Jonathan never thought to ask questions beyond what they had already been told. Questions were for lawyers, as was paperwork. But, the Watson’s lawyers never thought to ask about ghosts. Dubiously, the close-lipped sons and grandsons of the old-time Copper Kings, their supposed friends, also never bothered to mention that it was haunted. However, they all found it to be a great jest, and laughed heartily in private, taking bets as to how long Erma and Jonathan would last in the decrepit old house. It was the same with the City official who gleefully came calling to collect their cash, and hand over the keys to their new hereafter.
Once Jonathan felt that he and Erma were in accord (for he did suspect what was in her heart, even though he would not condescend to say so), he had not hesitated to plunk down the cash to buy the Eddy Street mansion. He hurried to do it, as if he were competing against a dozen other motivated buyers, instead of being the only interested party, ever. He did not bother to negotiate. Such behavior was beneath him, or so he had been brought up to believe. The price was the price, and Jonathan counted himself lucky to hand over what amounted to a lifetime’s wages for a house that no one wanted. A house most people would not live in, even if they were paid a king’s ransom to do so.
For a brief moment in time, it appeared that the old mansion had escaped its own tragic and inimitable destiny. For that moment, the house might not have become a filthy and disreputable needle mill, and (eventually) the site of the most heinous killing spree in Montana history. Suddenly, and without notice, the resources with which to manifest a happy ending had appeared. But, it was not going to be easy. First, there was a great deal of work to be done. The restoration process was going to be long and arduous. Not only did all of the resident hobos, beggars, and drunks have to be removed, but the house would have to be stripped back to chaste lumber in order to be re-built better and grander than ever.
The Watsons were not about to spend all that time in a smallish hotel room, even if it was the best in town. Once Jonathan’s regrettable ‘Missoula or Bust’ mentality had been satisfied, Erma insisted that they head back to New York for a while. Jonathan was too pleased to not relent, even though he hated all the hustle and bustle, the endless social obligations, and worst of all, time spent with his overbearing father and brothers. They were the ones who ran the business, invested the enormous earnings, and fed their ever-growing, green-eyed empire.
His father and brothers were titans of industry, but Jonathan never had a mind for business. He had been born a poet; just a quiet, blue-eyed, artistic soul. In a room full of wolves, he was the black sheep. ‘Useless’ was the term his family used most often, whether or not he was in the room. Only his mother seemed able to love him in spite of his gentle nature, his bashful inadequacies. And, when she died, he had no more reason to stay in a place he hated. Enduring it all again was too much for Jonathan to handle. After a few weeks, he proposed the one thing that could tempt his beloved Erma away from everything New York City had to offer. After all, Jonathan knew his wife well enough to know that she would not turn down a year-long cruise around the world on a luxury liner. And, in this, he was not at all wrong. Within a week, the Watsons were packed and on their way.
Back in Missoula, work on the Eddy Street mansion had begun, and it continued at a breakneck pace. Unfortunately, none of the problems that plagued the original construction site had changed, even if the passing of years had dimmed their memories. The site was still haunted by strange accidents, ghostly sightings, and bizarre turns of bad luck, just as it had been before. Some of these stories drifted to Erma and Jonathan, but such troubles were more than a world away. It was too hard to focus on bad news when they were touring India’s sun-kissed coastline, sunning themselves along the French Riviera, or deep-sea fishing in Alaska’s cold, blue-green waters.
Besides, delays and problems were only natural for such a large project. Workers who quit, died, or fell ill were quickly replaced, and the work continued unabated. Mostly, the Watsons heard facts and numbers, projections and postponements. Not accidentally, the stories they did not hear were the ones from the people who worked the site. The foreman, a no-nonsense bear of a man, was not about to jeopardize the heftiest paycheck of his career by passing on a bunch of superstitious nonsense to the new owners.
It was not that he had no reason to believe what his people said. He worked the longest hours, and had seen and heard as much or more than anyone else. Sometimes, the cold fear he encountered at the site kept him up until the wee hours. It would not be until he saw the sun break the horizon that he felt comforted enough to sleep. And, by then, it would be time to return to work. But, no matter, a job was a job, and the money he was making on Eddy Street would support his family for years to come. If the Watsons were foolish enough to live in a house everyone knew was haunted, then that was their business.
After three years of travel, three years of delays and setbacks that they never saw or felt, word came that the house was complete. It was 1924, and time for them to move in. Later that year, the Watsons moved themselves and their gargantuan mounds of luggage into the Eddy Street mansion. After that, they seemed to live the happiest of lives for the next thirty years. They loved each other, their children, and their fine, beautiful home. Over the years, their family expanded to include seven children. Erma and Jonathan became pillars of the community. They supported the arts, were seated members of various important boards, and financed many charitable efforts to support those in need in their adopted town.
As was only natural, their children also grew to be models of success. With the backing of their parents, they pursued various careers in education, business, and the military. Everything seemed to be as perfect as life could be. Money, family, health, happiness, and success were the hallmarks of the Watson family. And, not one of them could have wished for anything more, which is what made what happened next utterly confounding to everyone in the community. On October 11, 1953, twenty-nine years to the day since they had moved in, the Watsons left the Eddy Street mansion, and Missoula, forever.
In the season of a full Hunter moon, the elder Watsons were seen leaving the house early one morning. It was an especially early hour, even for Erma and Jonathan, who were known as the neighborhood early birds. The bright lights of a yellow cab had awakened their sleepy neighbors who watched the proceedings with tired, befuddled interest. The Watsons carried only one hastily-packed suitcase apiece. Without looking back, they climbed into the back of the cab, and left. Despite their beneficent history with the growing city of Missoula, that was the last anyone ever saw, or heard of them. Mr. and Mrs. Watson never again returned letters or calls from their old friends and neighbors.
They simply vanished into their old world of wealth and privilege without a single word of explanation to anyone. Even their limousine was left behind, parked in the garage for more than two decades until it was secretly hauled out by one of the grandchildren they barely knew, and sold to a collector. Until the morning they left, no one had ever seen them go anywhere without their latest limousine and driver. And, certainly, no one had ever seen them in anything as pedestrian as a bumblebee yellow cab.
But, that is how they left for New York. If not for their grown children, no one would have ever known what became of them. They did not return for holidays, or for the births of their grandchildren. And, while several of their grown children decided to stay in Missoula, none of them ever lived in the house again. It simply became another piece of property in the family’s vast holdings.