The San Juan Historical Society and Museum presents a history column the first Wednesday of each month on The San Juan Island Update (www.sanjuanupdate.com). It is a volunteer project of Museum members Shaun Hubbard and Robin Jacobson.
Cry Baby House
Here’s this month’s history column from the San Juan Historical Society and Museum…
Local history sometimes includes tales of a decidedly unearthly – or at least spooky – nature. Perhaps the most well-known of this island’s spooky tales are about the Cry Baby House. Once a homestead landmark at False Bay, this house is pictured here in an undated photograph.
Some islanders who were children here in the 1940s and 1950s may remember passing this house on their school bus route. It was already an old farm house then, reportedly standing since at least 1880. Those who were teenagers in the 1960s and 1970s are more likely to have experienced the house as the Cry Baby House, a place where strange things happened. Regardless of age or generation, people here have passed down stories about the Cry Baby House for years.
Many of these ghost stories are about a crying baby inside the house. But the house is found to be empty. No one there. Another is about a woman who is seen walking along False Bay Road in search of her lost baby. Reportedly, a woman who once lived in the house did have a baby who died in a fire there. Another story about her is that she buried money somewhere in the field where she could see it from her rocking chair. A rocking chair which still rocked when no one was in it.
A Mrs. Smith lived there in the early 1940s. She is said to have left crackers and milk out every night for a girl ghost who would appear. After Mrs. Smith’s time in the house, renters in the 1950s and 1960s reported hearing eerie noises from an upstairs bedroom. They would sometimes hear the faint sound of a child crying. Once a visitor to the home saw the image of a woman coming down the spindle staircase but disappeared before setting foot in the room. Another time, a visitor to the home swore she saw an object fly on its own across the living room.
Roy Hammers lived in the house in the 1960s, although we haven’t heard any stories involving him. Later in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Grace and Boyd Miles lived there after it had been empty for a while. They were either joined or followed by their daughter Norma Smithrud and her sons David and Gary.
Vacant once again, for sale and abandoned by the early 1970s, teenagers would drive out to the house to look for ghosts and go about scaring each other in the process. Seances by candlelight were an attempt to draw out spirits of the night, or at least signs of an additional presence in the room. An often-told tale of the house burning to the ground in a spectacular fire one Halloween night is confirmed in some detail by an article in the San Juan Journal dated November 7, 1974 which led with the headline of “Ghosts Gone.” This article referred to the house as San Juan Island’s “haunted house” and the “century-old Smith place near False Bay.” It goes on to say the house “was reported to be haunted by a crying baby, strange lights, and a ghostly black car.” Oral tradition is that some teenagers were in the house that night, as usual on Halloween, when an accidental fire started by candles got out of control.
Driving by the site of the house today, all that can be seen is an open field. But when daffodils bloom in the spring, that’s the time to go look. There will be some daffodils, planted long ago in a line where there was once a driveway up to the house, set back from the road about 200 feet.
If you have a story or memory to share about the Cry Baby House, or a correction to our timeline, please leave a comment for the San Juan Historical Society and Museum. It’s all part of our island’s story.