Spokane Has Some Crazy Stories in its History
In a city best known for its family friendliness and athletic events, it’s easy to forget about some of the whacky, scandalous, and downright crazy stories that Spokane is built upon. But have no fear! We’ve curated some of the best tidbits from Spokane’s history for your reading pleasure, from the pleasantly surprising to the downright ghastly.
Bigfoot Lives Here
Washington state has more sasquatch (Bigfoot) sightings than any other state in the country. In fact, there are more than 500 sightings to date, and with the dense forests all in and around Spokane, a large portion of those sightings have happened right here in Eastern Washington. And these stories aren’t just a modern phenomenon. For centuries, Native Americans in the region have told tales of tall and hairy man-like creatures that would steal salmon from fishing nets and eat it raw, like a bear. The sasquatch was known to wander the forests, shambling on two legs.
Later settlers and missionaries in the area wrote about creatures that left behind tracks that were a foot and a half long. These creatures were said to sneak into settlers’ cabins, dragging still-sleeping men back to caves in the mountains, for lord only knows what purpose. These sightings and the resulting stories about the sasquatch have continued to this day, and if anything, have become even more prolific in recent decades.
Bigfoot mania experienced a resurgence in the 1960s after the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film of the sasquatch strolling through the woods. And in 1994, another famous film was shot just outside of nearby Walla Walla, which purports to show a bigfoot family.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want a chance to see the beast for yourself, check out one of the local sasquatch sighting tours in the area, like the ones offered by Extreme Expeditions Northwest, who even hosts an annual Sasquatch Roundup.
Murders at the Helena
The Helena, now renovated and rebranded as the Pearl on Adams, was once home to several grisly murders. The whole ordeal began in 1998, after developmentally disabled resident Kelly Conway had gone missing. Apartment building manager Stanley L. Pietrzak, had bragged to another resident that he had violated and murdered Conway.
In April of 1999, the police finally received a tip about Conway and the misdeeds at the Helena. Upon searching the building, the police found a piece of human scalp with the hair still attached (yuck!) which was hanging from a gas pipe in the basement. Additionally, a box was found in the building’s furnace that contained a staggering 1,350 pieces of bone! Through the investigative process, it was discovered that Conway had died in Pietrzak’s bed, with drugs and alcohol in her system. Luckily for Spokane’s residents, Pietrzak wasn’t very good at covering his murderous tracks. Pietrzak had actually bragged about the murder to several other residents of the Helena. These residents stepped up to testify against the ghastly building manager, who was ultimately convicted of the murder and sent to prison.
Further investigation into Pietrzak leads to the conclusion that he likely killed at least two other women living in the Helena. The coroner on the case matched the manner of death to two other women who had died in Pietrzak’s bed in the Helena, in 1976 and May of 1998 (only a few months prior to Conway’s death). The court decided these cases were inadmissible as evidence, and the jury never got to decide upon them.
Apartment living can have its benefits, but if you’d rather not risk a murderous building manager, go ahead and check out these properties for sale in Spokane.
Bing Crosby’s White Christmas
On a lighter note, many people don’t realize that Bing Crosby, who sings the uber famous version of the 1942 classic White Christmas, is actually from Spokane! Crosby grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga University (go Zags!). His influence in the city is so great that in 2006 the Clemmer Theater was renamed the Bing Crosby Theater and is affectionately referred to as the Bing.
White Christmas has sold over 100 million copies.
The Legend of Irish Kate
In 1889, a staggering fire swept across Spokane, taking out the Spokane Falls and 32 city blocks. Within days of the fire, stories started to spread about Irish Kate, and her culpability in the destruction.
As legends tell it, Irish Kate was a barmaid in Spokane. One fateful night, Irish Kate stood at the bar, sipping her favorite drink – whiskey and water, when a drunken patron began to make unwanted advances. Irish Kate rebuked him and retreated to her bedroom. Unwilling to accept “no” for an answer, the man followed Kate and tried to force himself upon her. In her panicked attempts to get away, Irish Kate knocked over a lantern, starting the blaze. While Kate fled for her life, the fire roared, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake.
While the legend of Irish Kate is poorly supported by evidence, the legend of Irish Kate is alive and well in Spokane, with bars and locally made whiskeys named after her.
Someone Rode Over the Spokane Falls in a Dugout Log – And Lived!
Driving past the Spokane Falls in Downtown can be an inspiring experience. After all, they are big, beautiful, and powerful! But nearly 100 years ago, back in 1927, adventurer Al Faussett looked at the Spokane Falls and decided he wanted to go over them, the hard way. Faussett had gained a reputation for himself through a series of similar stunts. But with the Spokane Falls, Faussett may have bitten off a little more than he could chew.
Faussett was attracted to the Spokane Falls because of their 146-foot drop and swift current. To navigate and ride the Falls down, Faussett planned to use a 15-foot dugout spruce. Faussett’s creations are part boat, part container, and were a huge part of how he conquered so many waterfalls with minimal injury. For the Spokane Falls, Faussett reinforced his dugout spruce with iron bands and oak roots to help protect him from impacts during the fall. But when launch day arrived, on June 1st of 1927, Fossett and his team couldn’t get his “boat” through the intense current of the Falls.
As Faussett continued to try to breach the current, his boat (with him inside) ultimately got caught and launched into the air, plummeting over the Falls. The estimated 20,000 – 40,000 people who came to watch the spectacle were quick to assume Faussett’s demise, but the rugged adventurer resurfaced after spending nearly a minute submerged underwater at the foot of the Falls. Faussett was taken by ambulance to the hospital, and luckily lived to tell the tale.
The Mother of Father’s Day
If your family celebrates Father’s Day, you can thank Spokane for that. The holiday was started at the local YMCA in 1910 by
Spokanite Sonora Smart Dodd. Dodd created the holiday to celebrate her own father, Civil War veteran William Jackson
Smart. Smart was a single father who raised six kids – no small feat, as any single parent knows!
Today, Father’s Day is celebrated nationwide and internationally. The Dodd House, home of Sonora Smart Dodd, is even on the National Historic Register as well as the Spokane Register of Historic Places. If you take a tour through this incredible historic building in Spokane, don’t forget to invite your dad!
Want to Make Your Own History in Spokane?
If you’re looking at buying or selling a home in Spokane, we’d love to learn a little more about your move and help you find the perfect space. Whether you’re looking to upgrade, relocate, or downsize, we can help you find what you’re looking for. Contact the Real Estate Agent Spokane Team today to set up a custom search and learn more about Spokane’s diverse land and housing offerings.
The Carrie Meyer, leader of the Real Estate Agent Spokane team, is passionate about Spokane, its history, and your future. She specializes in relocation transactions, and helps locals find their perfect home. Whether it’s forever or for now, Spokane has the house you’re looking for!
Start your home search now, or contact us at (509) 774-4060 to learn more about the area and our team!