‘Beautiful in its decay’

REBECCA WHITE, Evergreen managing editor

A faint dripping can be heard entering the abandoned St. Ignatius Hospital. The walls are peeling and covered with graffiti messages, and the scent of mildew and guano fills the air.

After walking down the hallway for a few moments, Valoree Gregory, the unified executive director of the Colfax Chamber of Commerce and tour guide to the St. Ignatius Hospital, asks us to turn off our flashlights. Every window and door is boarded up and nailed shut to keep out squatters and amateur ghost hunters. It’s half an hour before sunset and the building is pitch black.

“The paranormal teams that have spent the night in here have told us the day time is more haunted,” Gregory said. “I know this for a fact.”

Gregory, who was born in the hospital in the 1960’s, said St. Ignatius Hospital has been the stuff of urban legend since it was built in 1893 by the Sisters of Providence. She has heard stories from nurses who worked in St. Ignatius when it was a hospital, as well as from care workers who worked there when the building became St. Ignatius Manor, a home for the developmentally disabled.

Many of the rooms in the hospital are named after specific patients who lived in those rooms or emergencies that happened there. Gregory said paranormal researchers, television shows and a psychic that have come to St. Ignatius have identified a few rooms in the building, nicknamed Rose’s Room, The Children’s Room and Dave’s Room, as places of high activity.

Some guides and tourists refuse to enter Rose’s room because of the eerie feeling that accompanies it, Gregory said. Rose, whom Gregory knew personally, was a patient when the building was St. Ignatius Manor. For a while she remained part of the community, but eventually the staff had to stop letting her leave because of her aggressive behavior.

“We’ve got lots of recordings, lots of voices and the psychic says she’s very angry,” Gregory said.

On the first floor there is a hallway which Gregory has nicknamed the ‘left is dead’ hallway. When patients entered the emergency room in the hospital’s early days, if they were taken right, they were considered treatable. If they were taken left, their injuries or illnesses were considered too serious to treat. On the right side of the hallway is an elevator that goes up to surgery or infectious disease. On the left, there is an elevator that goes directly to the morgue.

Gregory and another guide, Nancy Cochran, said they have both seen full-figure shadows and heard snatches of conversations and slamming doors when no one else was in the building.

“(I am) scared of everything,” Cochran said. “The first time I came in I was holding onto Val’s shirttail and I was like, ‘Val, don’t lose me.’ I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can go off a little bit by myself.”

Cochran said part of the reason the hospital is so intimidating is its size. Not including the basement, the hospital has five floors. The first is the emergency room; second is the obstetrics and gynecology wing; third is infectious disease; fourth is surgery and X-ray; and the fifth was where the Sisters of Providence and nurses lived.

“When you first come in here, there’s never-ending hallways and they go all sorts of different directions,” Cochran said. “Often when we bring people in, they forget what floor they’re on. It’s so confusing because it’s so big.”

The building looks as if it’s been abandoned for a century, but Gregory said the manor only closed down in 2003. The heavy damage was caused by water and trespassers.

A year ago, she approached the owner and asked if she could give tours. He told her he doubted anyone would pay for it, but she still wanted to try. She said all her three-hour weekend tours, costing around $45 per a person with 20 people per tour, sold within hours.

Other guides and Colfax community members, such as Errin Nelson, the daughter of a former employee, said they don’t want St. Ignatius to turn into a commercialized fright show, like Haunted Palouse and other scary attractions in the area.

“It’s beautiful in its decay,” Nelson said.

Gregory and other long-time Colfax residents see the historical value of the property, which includes a power plant and a house where nurses used to go to school. The real purpose of the tours is to attract investors to renovate the building.

“I’ve given 17 tours to investors and realtors,” Gregory said. “Our goal is to not do these next year, because we will be renovating it.”

Plans for the hospital once they find an investor are to turn it into a community center, an apartment complex and a haunted hotel, Gregory said.

Guides give tours of the hospital every weekend, as well as a few extra days per week. This year, they are also introducing sleepovers at the hospital. Gregory said many of the guides are almost addicted to the historical and haunted aspects of St. Ignatius.

“We want to preserve the authenticity of the stories and the experiences people have,” St. Ignatius guide Jeanine Burke said. “We want them to enter the building and not have it hyped; the experiences are what is actually happening.”